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Signal 2021 Day 1: Twilio Engage, Intelligence for Voice, Flex One and more

Signal 2021 keynote

As expected, there was no shortage of announcements on the first day of Signal, mostly during the keynote. We’ll be able to dig deeper into the details on some of these in breakout sessions, but there is certainly some interesting stuff to talk about.

Twilio Engage represents the first over-arching consolidation of services into a Twilio customer engagement platform. For anyone paying attention, it’s been obvious from the acquisitions of SendGrid and then Segment that Twilio was heading in this direction. It’s a natural play, and one that Twilio has been foreshadowing as far back as Signal 2019 when Jeff Lawson talked about the difference between notifications and conversations. Already a lot of chatter from Forbes, TechCrunch and others.

It’s all about delighting customers with every type of interaction and inviting them to engage in conversations, feedback and high-touch experiences every step of the way. Twilio’s communication platforms already form the basis for much of the customer communication backbone, so now it’s just a matter of fitting the pieces together. Engage represents a way of framing the “how to” of doing this as well as providing the platform – always programmable, as is the Twilio way.

For me, the biggest wow factor from a demo and new possibilities standpoint is Twilio Intelligence for Voice. Al Cook has been leading the effort to build this over the past few years. You might remember him from a little product called Twilio Flex. Lots to dig into here, but generally this is an application of machine learning to pull actionable insights out of your voice calls. Al calls it “turning voice into data and data into meaning”.

I think this is a smart play in a couple of ways. One, in a market somewhat overloaded with various AI solutions, Twilio decided to double down on their original powerhouse product, Programmable Voice. It might have been obvious to do yet another chatbot/virtual agent solution, but this product harnesses their unique strengths and plays to the existing customer base. Two, it immediately has impacts for Twilio Flex, both in terms of the intelligence piece itself and a native transcriptions engine that is pretty great. Three, with voice channel usage changing and customers preferring digital in a lot of ways, many of the highest impact interactions with customers take place over voice. This provides a way of harnessing all the data in those conversations to improve CSAT, conversions and agent efficiency.

I could see many customers looking at the transcriptions piece alone as we are getting a lot of interest in that area. It will be interesting to see how this gets priced out and sold, particularly the transcriptions API side of it.

When Conversations API was announced , the first question for many of us was, “How does this fit into Flex?” The answers are starting to come in the form of Flex One. Coming in the first part of 2022 and in private pilots now, this is one of the most significant enhancements to the platform since its initial launch. There is significant effort to rework digital channels from the current approach, and there will be some migration details to work out for existing customers. There are several advantages to using Conversations over Programmable Chat/Messaging around how channels are managed and orchestrated. Functionality that currently can be complex to build mostly come “for free” in Conversations – things like channel-switching, ease of managing participants even across channels, conversation history and so on. I haven’t seen much yet around the new Content API, but this should allow better consistency across channels and a bit of decoupling between message and platform.

One benefit of this change is it will finally allow for a native email channel in Flex, and we got our first look at the UI for it in some demos. It’s similar to some of the work Perficient has done to try to map email to Programmable Chat. Email has been more complicated than other text-based or digital channels because of things like multiple recipients, threading, more complicated attachment management and user expectations around email composition and management. When you are used to Gmail or other mature email platforms, you forget how much functionality is now built into those systems. And now users, in this case agents, have higher expectations. It will be interesting to see how/if Twilio addresses this. Newer services and platforms like Conversations API, Content API and others make an email channel option a bit less challenging as the feature expectations map much better.

These are some key things I’m excited about, but some other great announcements as well include: Twilio Messaging X, Regional Twilio and some great initiatives around COVID vaccination efforts globally. There is still a lot to dig in to here. The Engage platform alone opens up a lot of new opportunity and will take some time to understand. As a partner, it’s exciting to see all the possibilities opened up with these new products. Many of them are direct answers to requests we’ve been hearing from customers for quite some time. Let’s build some exciting new customer journeys together!


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Curtis Swartzentruber, Director, Customer Engagement Solutions

Director of Customer Engagement Solutions, currently focusing on the Twilio Flex contact center platform and other Twilio services. My background spans 25 years including Microsoft and front-end application development, unified communications, enterprise architecture and services, Azure, AWS, database design and a little bit of everything else.

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