During SIGNAL 2019, we discussed the notion of conversations and how the concept could change the way we do business. We heard from three incredible presenters at different companies, all of which are building conversational experiences at scale to suit their unique business needs. 

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The ground zero of business messaging is a simple one-way notification. 

It gets the job done, but these days, it’s pretty impersonal. 

For routine queries, companies are increasingly using in-app chats or texts to connect customers and employees to efficiently solve issues and create a better customer experience. Leading companies have figured out that the next evolution of great customer experience is through messaging. 

But, integrating different messaging channels and maintaining the infrastructure to support cross-channel conversations presents a multifaceted technical challenge for businesses—including orchestration, participant management, and message archives. 

Read what conversational messaging means for business.

During SIGNAL 2019, we discussed the notion of 'conversations' and how the concept could change the way we do business. We heard from three incredible presenters at different companies, all of which are building conversational experiences at scale to suit their unique business needs. 

Here’s an abridged discussion between Twilio’s Christine Roberts, Ancestry Product Manager Pramad Sokke, Podium Product Manager Jason Brand, and Deliveroo Engineering Manager Nik Wakelin. 

Christine: Twilio’s own research found that 80 percent of consumers globally want to have conversations with businesses. What are you doing within your businesses today to enable the kind of conversations that customers want?

”At Ancestry, one common use case is real-time messaging between our customers who reach out to other members of their family who are also using our service… It allows our customers to message professional genealogists. As you can imagine, these conversations are deeply personal and make a huge impact.” - Pramod Sokke, Ancestry

Christine: Nik, you have a really interesting model at Deliveroo. You described it to us as a three-sided marketplace. Talk a little bit about that in the context of conversations.

“We have three different sets of customers–folks who are eating, they want their food, they want it on time. Our riders, they want flexibility, they want more earnings. Our restaurants, they want more business, they want to sell more food. 

What we found is that by helping those folks to get in touch with each other directly, we can avoid these really painful what we call ‘switchboard conversations,’ which is where somebody else has the information, but they need to contact us, and then have us forward them on to somebody else.

An example for that might be if you're ordering from a restaurant, and want salmon, but the restaurant happens to be out of salmon. You can call Deliveroo customer care and we'll call the restaurant, or we can enable a direct conversation with the restaurant via private secure messaging or phone calling.” - Nik Wakelin, Deliveroo

Christine: What about for Podium, an interaction management platform for local businesses built on Twilio?

“Our customers can send out notifications, and there is someone on the other end who can respond. That primarily started via SMS, but has quickly grown into other conversation channels as well, depending on the type of business, and also where the person is in the world–their expectations about which channel might be most convenient is different. 

We're oftentimes sending out messages that might be related to notifications, or times when the business needs to get feedback, or answer a question from the consumer. 

Then we also open up ways for consumers to get in touch with businesses by sending an SMS message, or via Facebook messenger, or WhatsApp, and subsequently allow the business to handle customer conversations in one place and collaborate as they solve the problem and respond to the customer.” - Jason Brand, Podium

Christine: Let's get specific to understand what those interactions look like today.

“A really specific example for us is when your rider is trying to find you to give you your food. That's obviously a really key moment. If we don't get that right, then you're not getting the core promise of what we're offering. 

So for us, we built rider-to-customer chat with Twilio, which helps maintain the privacy of everybody in that relationship. We build chat between those two parties because there are lots of occasions when you might not want to have a phone call.” - Wakelin

“At a high level, SMS is what we use for transactional notifications, such as when you have your kit status updated. But with conversations themselves specifically, one of the classic cases is, for example, Ancestry just told me that I have a second cousin who lives in Ohio, right? And subsequently, I’ll reach out to that person and say, ‘Hey, just found out that we're cousins. Would you like to stay connected and learn more about the rest of our family?’” - Sokke

“An interesting case that we've run into a lot recently is when there's some sensitivity to the conversation–the customer is angry or frustrated, or needs something quickly. We found that often the business’ reaction to that was, ‘I'm on my phone, so I'm going to take a screenshot,’ or ‘I'm on a computer, I'm going to forward an email and try and get that into the channel where we communicate internally as a business.’

So what we've been working on is helping them to handle that internally alongside the conversation they're having with their own customer. So there's no more forwarding emails, and taking screenshots and texting them to each other. They can have that inside of Podium alongside the conversation they're having with their customer, which might be on a different channel, but it helps them to have it in context.” -Brand

Christine: How do you think about conversations with your internal teams? 

“For us it's about utilizing our strengths to help out both sets of customers. A specific example is if you have spilled food. You might have a particular curry place that you love, but just their packaging leaves a bit to be desired, and so it means that it spills really often. What we do is when you report that to us, we say, ‘Hey, can you take a photo? Take a photo of what's gone on, and then we can take that internally and then we can pass that onto our restaurant partner.’ 

We can go to the restaurant partner and say, ‘Hey, you're getting a lot of reports of spilled food. We've got this great packaging store. How about we discount on that, and we'd get you some nice eco friendly packaging that then won't get spilled?’ So I think that's kind of the internal conversations for us is having the visibility over what's happening so therefore we can do something to actually help out.” -Wakelin

Christine: It's also really important that you have a point of control, or a point of audit there that you can say, “No, no, no, we don't use those kinds of words with our customers.” 

“We make sure that if a customer doesn't want to be found by other customers that we enable them to do that. If the customer doesn't want to be reached by some very specific people, that they can easily block those users out.” -Sokke

“We try to help everybody kind of fall into this pit of success. So a good example is for the riders when they turn up, there's a whole bunch of nicely written canned messages, and they can kind of with one tap they can say, ‘Hey, it's your rider. I'm outside,’ instead of what they would normally do, which is just try and type something as quickly as possible so that they can get onto the next delivery.” -Wakelin

Christine: Do you see interest from your customers in engaging in a cross-channel way?

“As our customers are handling transactions with their customers increasingly outside of the US that introduces more channels. A great example is Facebook Marketplace, especially in the automotive world, where that's increasingly becoming a place for people to shop for cars. So helping auto dealers get in touch with consumers already knowing knowing the inventory that they've been looking at is extremely important for those types of businesses.” -Brand

Christine: If you have the opportunity to start building with conversations today, which you do, so exciting, where would you start?

“The way we've thought about it in general is two ways. One is enabling these communities, enabling these groups for customers to communicate with each other. Remember, at Ancestry, it's more about customer to customer communication. So building out these tools is one thing. 

But to me, the more important thing is enabling or building out contextual entry points in the customer journey. So it's one thing to say, ‘Hey, there's this tool,’ but it would be great for a customer to get a little notification that says, ‘Hey there's this one person who is researching your family. Would you like to communicate with this person so you can learn more about yourself or your family as well?’” -Sokke

“Having a conversation the same way we all do with family and friends all day long in group messages is important for our customers. So that's an area whereas we see lots of opportunity, when we  look at conversations.” -Brand

“The best time to plant a tree is yesterday, but the second best time is right now. We already get the vast majority of our customer care context in through chat. We released the rider-to-customer chat, and then within weeks we had them all using it. Now, everybody in the business is kind of saying ‘More, more, more.’” -Wakelin

Watch the full video of their conversation to learn more:

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Janet Alexander

Janet Alexander

Janet has a decade of professional writing experience. With a focus on B2B technology, she helps Twilio's subject matter experts, product managers, and customers share their expertise, knowledge, and unique points of view through thought leadership, storytelling, and customer resources.