3 Questions for Twilio – The Convenience of Text-Enabled Customer Service

As companies look for new ways to reinforce their brand and extend their services, Toll-Free Numbers continue to play an important role. Voice connections remain strong, while text enabled Toll-Free Numbers provide complementary services that meet the evolving communication needs of today’s consumers.

TwilioTwilio is a cloud-based communications platform that allows customers to code applications to send and receive text messages and phone calls through Toll-Free Numbers. The company has added a suite of voice products alongside traditional services for groundbreaking startups such as Uber, Airbnb, OpenTable and Box, enterprises such as Coca-Cola, Walmart and Home Depot as well as over 450 non-profits including Doctors Without Borders and The Red Cross. Twilio is the certainly one of the most innovative and technologically advanced companies in our industry.

We sat down with Lisa Weitekamp, who has been at Twilio for nearly six years, and serves as the Product Manager for Phone Numbers. We talked about the current landscape of texting to Toll-Free Numbers, the trends shaping Twilio’s customer behaviors, and where she sees the industry going in the years to come.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. At Twilio, what are some ways that you’re seeing your customers use text-enabled Toll-Free numbers?

Lisa: Twilio has been working on Toll-Free SMS since fall of 2013, but we fully launched Toll-Free SMS in June 2014, and we have enabled basically every single Toll-Free Number that we own in the US and Canada. We also launched a beta of hosted SMS for several customers, for companies that want to have their phone numbers enabled for SMS.

Since launching the services, we’ve seen many use cases across a wide variety of industries.  There are two really interesting use cases that are popular. One of them is branded interaction. For example, customers including auto dealerships, real estate agencies, and even bankers, have been using a given phone number for a long time, but they want to be able to interact with their customers through another mode of communication. So, they allow their customers to do what they would normally do on the phone, but just over text message. For some people, that means sending directions to a store. It reinforces the number that has been associated with their brand for a long time.

Another that we’ve seen is customer service. If you have a customer service line that is a Toll-Free Number, and you have customers who typically call you, but perhaps are trying to do something simple, like get a balance or shipping update. Enabling SMS on that Toll-Free Number allows them to call in or avoid the call and text to receive that information directly.

You know, one of the coolest things that I’ve seen in our business was when I called a retailer to find the address for the closest location, and for some reason, I wasn’t near a computer, and I had an option to receive their address and walking directions via SMS. And that was awesome because I was on the go. I was looking to find the store and didn’t have the ability to write down the directions. By having them on my phone, it became really easy and convenient to follow up and do what I needed to do.

The examples are endless. Once, I ordered glasses, but they needed my prescription in order to process the order. I took a photo of my printed-out prescription and I MMS’ed it to the retailer. Instead of having to fight with a fax machine or scanner in order to email a PDF version of the prescription, I was able to have my order processed within ten minutes all through MMS. It was so much faster than any other experience, even if I had tried to order them online.

Q: Does that mean you are you seeing less complex questions being texted to the customer service Toll-Free Number? 

Lisa: We’ve seen both. It really depends on the mixture of who they’re communicating with and who they are. Voice is more prevalent for critical customer service questions than SMS is at the moment.

Another thing that we’ve seen is that SMS is a really good mechanism for a customer to text and say, “Mayday, I need your help.” The customer has started that interaction via SMS with an agent that has a chat interface on their computer. If the issue needs to be escalated into a phone call, there’s no confusion — the customer can call the same number they were messaging and get in touch with the same person they’ve been interacting with via SMS.

On Twilio’s hosted landline service, we’re seeing customers unify their communications. If they have a phone number they’ve had for a long time over which they typically interact with their customers, they can add messaging capabilities to that same number that allows them to continue interacting on a day-to-day basis with their customers through text or talk, on a number their customers are already familiar with. That use case is really popular in service industries like real estate or automotive. Some of those customers have a mixture of Toll-Free and landline numbers, and some have landlines exclusively.

Q: Do you think the brand experience aspect is enough of a driving factor that more customers will want to text-enable their existing Toll-Free Numbers?

Lisa: It extends that brand recognition that they have through their Toll-Free Number. That’s absolutely a core component of why customers are interested in using Toll-Free SMS.

Learn more about Twilio’s offerings and use cases on their website.

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