The Key to Phone Verification is a Good User Experience

Patrick McKenzie

At Twilio, it’s an article of faith that phones have an increasingly central place in our lives. This means it’s also increasingly important that all the numbers we use are accurate and up to date. One way to do this is to use Twilio for phone verification.We asked our customers to share stories about how they are doing this.

Below is an account from Patrick McKenzie, founder of Appointment Reminder and one of the confirmed speakers for this year’s TwilioCon.

What does Appointment Reminder do:

Appointment Reminder makes reminder phone calls, emails and SMS messages to the customers of professional services businesses. This decreases their no-show rates and increases revenue, while freeing staff up from making the calls themselves. Many professional services businesses would prefer if the calls appeared to come from their own number so that they receive the callbacks. This requires that we verify their phone number.

How do you do that?

Verification turned out to be easy to do technically in Twilio using the OutgoingCallerID API. We struggled a wee bit with getting the UX for it to be maximally easy for our users, many of whom are non-technical. Here’s how we describe the process:

“How To Change Your Caller ID”

To make sure nobody accidentally uses the wrong phone number, we will call you to make sure we have the right phone and the right person.

Here’s how we do that:

1)  You put in your number below.

2)  We will display a six digit ID number on your computer screen.

3)  In about five seconds, you’ll get a phone call at the number you are trying to validate. You’ll need to respond with that six digit ID number.

4)  After putting in that special code during the phone call, you hit a button on the screen and we’ll change your caller ID number.”

Personally, I would loved to have made Step 4 unnecessary, but it would have required some AJAX polling or an API callback to sync Twilio’s view of the world with our view of the world, since the process inherently has a workflow which lasts longer than any API request reasonably could. We’ll fake this on the backend—if you’ve ever authorized a number on your account, we auto-authorize it without putting you through the re-auth wringer. This means that folks who close out of the browser before completing step 4 get things accomplished fairly quickly the second time.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from your customers?

This feature was a big hit with our customers. Even with it being buried in a settings screen, approximately 50 percent make successful use of it. It was quick to implement and creates substantial business value, which is my consistent experience with everything Twilio offers.

Why did you choose to develop on Twilio?

I’m a web developer by training. Back when I was investigating opportunities for my company’s second software product, I heard about Twilio on Hacker News. I signed up, coded up a quick little sample script in a few minutes (it gives my family a US number to call me in Japan and informs them of the time zone difference if they happen to call at 3 AM) and fell head over heels in love with the platform. It is easy to use and very, very powerful.

What has the experience been like?

Twilio immediately opened up new avenues for my business. Phone systems weren’t even on my radar prior to Twilio because they felt like expensive hardware and Big Freaking Enterprise cruftiness tied together with XML and goat entrails. I could never have justified doing that as a small company with only one full-time developer.

Twilio let my small software business expand into a multinational telecommunications company almost as quickly as flipping a switch. This is huge, as access to the telephone means you can suddenly solve business problems which seriously affect real people’s lives and which businesses are willing to pay real money to solve.

The MVP (Minimum Viable Product—see the Lean Startup book) of Appointment Reminder took less than two weeks to get into production and start selling to interested customers. Creating the full product took only six developer weeks. Twilio’s developer support has been second to none: in addition to the best API documentation and developer support tools anywhere, their support team is responsive and knowledgeable. Some companies have Tier 1 support to ask you to try rebooting your computer—the first person to answer an email at Twilio is, invariably, someone who writes code that makes phones ring.

The one time we had a serious issue with the Twilio platform, the CEO and CTO got personally involved in fixing it.

The ROI on what we pay Twilio is frankly insane. The tax office reviewing our return for 2011 asked if we had forgotten a digit for telecommunications expenses. We use dozens of phone numbers to call thousands of customers and our total Twilio bill every month could be mistaken for a single smartphone bill.

I unreservedly recommend Twilio to all of my developer friends.