Q&A: an inside look into Twilio’s developer event

How many years have you been bringing your SIGNAL event to London? Can you tell us a bit about this year’s event?

2016 was the inaugural SIGNAL conference in London and thanks to its success we were able to bring the event back this year. It was great to see an even larger turnout for the 2017 event as our community has grown in Europe, and those in attendance heard first-hand from a range of developers and thought leaders, including Twilio customers and British household names like John Lewis and AGE UK. Using the power of software, these customers have built solutions that allow them to communicate with their customers using the right message, via the right channel at the right time. We were able to really celebrate that at SIGNAL London this year.

You mentioned John Lewis attended this year’s event, can you tell us a little bit about how it has been using Twilio?

John Lewis realised its customers wanted a service which extends beyond the store. As part of its wider strategic ambition to test and trial modern technologies, John Lewis Ventures began to explore how the cloud could help it to easily, and safely, connect its customers with quality UK tradesmen, ranging from plumbers and electricians, to gardeners and more. They are calling it Home Solutions by John Lewis.

John Lewis has a reputation here in the UK for great customer service, how is it ensuring that this new service meets those same standards? Particularly when it comes to keeping personal details secure and providing tradespeople that meet its standards.

For John Lewis, ensuring approved tradesmen meet its standard has proved to be the crucial element of John Lewis’ “Home Solutions” proposition. To meet this goal, vigorous vetting (ranging from criminal record checks to ensuring that vans are kept tidy) are undertaken for each tradesperson. But the quality-control doesn’t stop there.

John Lewis uses Twilio’s Proxy tool service to enable customers and tradespeople to call and message each other directly in-app, without needing to reveal their actual numbers to each other. This means that customers can contact their electrician or plumber without worrying about unmediated disputes or security concerns arising. Proxy will act as the figurative middle man, sitting in-between the two sides to filter or redact contact, such as profane language or credit card details.

Why did you decide to launch Studio here in the UK, rather than back in the States?

Worldwide, there are over 1.6 million developers using Twilio. Of that, around half a million are based in Europe. As one of Europe’s most exciting and innovative tech hubs, London felt like the ideal location to showcase some of the great work our customers have been doing and to launch our newest addition to the Twilio Engagement Cloud -- Twilio Studio.

What problem were you looking to solve with Studio?

One of the biggest barriers to innovation is the simple fact that most ideas don’t ever get the chance to be tried. We have a saying at Twilio that “experimentation is the prerequisite to innovation” and we believe that constant iteration is the key to building excellent customer experiences. Developers have used Twilio APIs to build these communication experiences into their applications for years but we wanted to make Twilio accessible to any builder within a company that touches the customer experience. That’s where Studio, Twilio’s visual interface, comes in.

With Studio, cross-functional teams can now build, scale, and iterate on workflows - accelerating roadmaps and enabling faster iteration on ideas. For example, a software developer might build a workflow and hand them off to business operators to iterate on later. A business user could also able to build workflows themselves, without needing a developer up front.

Studio opens up the Twilio platform beyond software developers, so anyone can help contribute to the creation process, whilst at the same time freeing up the developer’s time to work on more technical, innovative projects (rather than working on small, but time-consuming, iterations).

Who is the developer of today then? What role does he/she play?

At Twilio, we believe that code is a creative endeavour and the organisations that will be the most successful will be the ones that realise the inherent creativity of code and then empower their developers to unleash this creativity for innovation. Every organisation has a need to better engage with their customers and developers should be thought of the ones who can deliver that customer experience.

Have you found that customers here in the UK like to communicate with businesses differently to those in the US?

There are certainly some common trends that exist between the two countries. Recent research Twilio conducted ahead of SIGNAL London revealed that 81 per cent of consumers find communicating with businesses difficult – even though up to 7 in 10 consumers globally would purchase more products or services from a company after a positive communications experience. Clearly, communications remain a very important issue to consumers around the world and, when it comes to interacting with companies, effective communications will likely be the difference between a customer returning or not.

In the UK in particular, the research found that customers rate communications from businesses in a particularly unfavourable light: 42 per cent of people we spoke with here rated the communications they receive from businesses as fair, poor or terrible. In fact, out of the three countries (Australia, United Kingdom and the United States) surveyed, British consumers are the most likely to report that businesses share information that is not relevant or useful to them.

Why do you think UK customers appear to rate business communications with apprehension? What role do cloud platforms like Twilio play in enabling businesses, especially smaller ones, to address this challenge?

Over the past several years, household names like Just Eat and Deliveroo have spearheaded the rapid rise of the on-demand economy. Consumers have become accustomed to the luxury of having anything they need available on demand and increasingly expect both a smooth and personalised service from every business they interact with.

A mixture of both UK start-ups, like ‘virtual’ office provider Hoxton Mix, and more established brands, like John Lewis and Dixons Carphone, have taken note, and have passed on the flexibility and agility of the cloud to their customers. Using cloud APIs like Twilio, these organisations are able to more rapidly adapt to changing customer expectations – whether that’s iterating on an existing communication workflow or experimenting with an entirely new way of communicating with customers. Studio takes that capability to the next level by opening up the power of Twilio beyond the developer community so that anyone in an organisation has the power to affect the way their organisation interacts with customers.

Twilio’s CEO, Jeff Lawson, has claimed we are in an era of “software people,” in which businesses must “build or die” – can you tell me a bit more about what exactly this means for companies today?

We’ve already entered the age of software: the ability of businesses both here and around the world to adapt and thrive in the digital environment will decide which companies succeed and which do not.

Software people are those people who share the belief that any problem can be solved with software, and today this mindset has become vital for sustained success.

The findings from our recent research study have really illuminated just how high the stakes are and, simply put, those companies who fail to build to meet changing customer expectations, will not be successful in the future.

Patrick Malatack, VP of Product & GM of Messaging, Twilio
Image source: Shutterstock/violetkaipa