It’s been interesting watching communications vendor Twilio since its IPO a couple of years ago. The company, which arguably invented the idea of communications as a developer tool, seems to have mastered the listed-company requirement of constant iteration and product development, and the markets seem to have rewarded the company, and its founder and CEO, Jeff Lawson, accordingly. Twilio has, over the years, grown to the point where over two million developers use its platform to build communications (voice, SMS, video etc.) into their own products.

Twilio is today ramping things up the notch with the announcement of Flex, Twilio’s take on what a contact center should look like. Flex is built on top of Twilio’s existing platform and aims to give both individual developers, as well as Twilio partners, a contact center tool designed to scale up to a massive 50,000 agents.

With this move Twilio would seem to be moving beyond modular communications components, and into the application space. This is a big move for the company and has the potential to see them greatly broaden their footprint and the awareness of their services within large enterprises. And this certainly is a space in need of innovation – while other application areas have seen a dose of innovation (hell, even boring old ERP and accounting systems have gotten more flexible over recent years), call center software seems to be stuck in the dark ages. Pretty much the innovation that large enterprises have had open to them is to move their call centers into the Far East to cut costs – there is, however, a whole heap of technology innovation which can make it more efficient and effective to offer a call center product.

Of course, Twilio’s platform has already been used by organizations to rethink their own call centers – companies such as ING Bank, Zillow, Simply Business and National Debt Relief have built customized contact center solutions have leveraged Twilio’s individual APIs to do so. With Flex, all companies will be able to essentially leverage a call center “out of a box.” The challenge for Twilio here was to make this instantly deployable, while still retaining flexibility – how to make this a packaged solution with the customization of a modular stack? Twilio believes it has resolved those challenges and, via the briefing materials, suggests that Flex allows organizations to:

  • Instantly support an omnichannel experience: deploy agent, administration and supervisor desktops and begin engaging with customers via voice, SMS, email, chat, video, Facebook Messenger and other channels immediately.
  • Programmatically customize any user interface: While Flex user interfaces work out of the box, they are designed to be customized at every point of the contact center journey. Businesses can customize customer-facing components like click-to-call or click-to-chat, add entirely new channels or integrate reporting dashboards to display agent performance or customer satisfaction.
  • Bring contextual intelligence to every interaction: Flex offers developers machine learning to improve agent, supervisor and operator productivity and uses Twilio’s powerful TaskRouter to apply attribute-based routing logic across all communication channels.
  • Build applications with drag-and-drop ease: Twilio Studio, a visual application builder, makes it easy to customize everything from IVRs and chatbots to SMS-based appointment reminders or surveys — quickly and easily without writing code.
  • Integrate any application: Flex can integrate with any third-party applications that are critical to the business including customer relationship management (CRM) from Salesforce or Zendesk, workforce management (WFM), workforce optimization (WFO), reporting, analytics and data store.

Building the all-important ecosystem

Of course, building a product and selling it are two different things and while developer tools have more of a direct-sales motion, big back-office enterprise systems rely on a channel to go to market. To this end, Twilio is building a broad ecosystem of partners – from software vendors to technology partners to the system integrators who will get Flex up and running. As Ryan Nichols, General Manager of Zendesk Talk puts it:

In the customer experience space, customer needs are not one size fits all — there is build, buy and many variations in between. The partnership between Twilio and Zendesk is a powerful one because together, we are able to provide businesses choices in how how they can build experiences for their customers. We look forward to continuing to partner with Twilio in the future.

Alongside Zendesk, Twilio is partnering with Serenova in the software space. System integrators such as Tech Mahindra and Perficient will help customers build the exact call center solution they need while Twilio Marketplace partners including IBM Watson, Ytica, and Verint will provide customers with one-click integrations for capabilities like sentiment analysis, workforce optimization, workforce management, analytics, reporting, and storage.


What’s not to like about an entirely new revenue stream for Twilio? What is really interesting here is that this is arguably the first time that Twilio has built a product designed not for developers primarily, but as an all-in-one back office system. It will be interesting to see the market adoption they achieve.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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