This Pioneer interview was conducted with Manav Khurana, VP of Product Marketing at Twilio.
Over the past decade, software developers reinvented almost all aspects of business. Yet as developers, the founders had run into the same problem at several different companies – communications was clunky, expensive and difficult to integrate. We wanted to help developers remove these barriers to entry by bringing communication into the world of software and allowing developers to simply add voice calls into their apps with a few lines of code. And so, Twilio became a cloud API for building intelligent communication systems that make it easier for businesses to speak to their customers.
Why does Twilio fit in with the collaborative economy? Collaborative consumption?
When you think about it, riding in a complete stranger’s car, vacationing at someone else’s home or enlisting professional services without friend or family referral still seems a little risky. Yet, every day, we have no problem connecting with others we hardly know. How has all this become possible? The collaborative economy is built on a foundation of trust that comes from sharing relevant information with the right person at the right time.
Twilio’s communication platform powers the sharing of this information between members of the collaborative economy — and allows the sharing to be done anonymously so that everyone’s personal information is protected in the exchange of services.
What role does communication play in marketplaces of all types? Can you give some specific examples?
There’s a convenient app for calling a driver to your door, ordering your bag of groceries, or connecting you to someone to take care of your errands. All of this has become so easy that sometimes it feels like magic. However, when you unpack the code that powers leading on-demand marketplaces from Lyft to Instacart or listing services like Airbnb and Trulia, you see that the common ingredient is communication.
Think of traditional cab companies. Like many businesses that have been disrupted by modern marketplaces, many of them have also built a mobile app experience to keep up with competition. Their apps have the same basic functionality that enable you to hail a cab, or follow its journey. But unlike their on-demand options, they leave out a fundamental component of the customer experience: communication. If you need to call your driver, you still call central dispatch. It’s impossible to communicate in real-time with your driver if there’s an issue with the pickup. Even the hailing confirmation comes via a do-not-reply email address.
This is a perfect example to demonstrate that having an app, which doesn’t communicate at the right time or in the right way, is no more than a prettier presentation of the same legacy experience.
What have you learned from the marketplaces you’ve worked with? Can you share some marketplace tips with us?
We’ve seen successful marketplaces do two things differently: nurture trust and maximize convenience on their platforms.
One way to nurture trust on your platform is by keeping the conversation going, especially for on-demand marketplaces because transactions take place so frequently. Instacart, does a really good job with this. They keep customers in the loop throughout the shopper’s journey by sending alerts via chat or SMS, so they can be immediately notified if an item is missing or not found. These alerts have the additional benefit of keeping everything transparent and ensuring that the service is delivered on time. What’s also important for building trust on a platform like Instacart, where the exchange is purely transactional, is anonymity. A common practice is using phone number masking to to keep personal numbers private.
Maximizing convenience has to do with using the channel that makes people comfortable and integrating context to your interactions. Whether that’s SMS, push notifications or calls, the trick is to eliminate friction when you’re connecting people on your platform. And then, of course, there’s context. Everything we know in the mobile app of a company’s product, the call center agent should know too. Establishing this contextual connection is what makes your marketplace stand out amongst others.
How do you see the economy and marketplaces changing over time? Your business?
Everyone is realizing that business is a fundamentally human experience.
In the last century, businesses has become more automated and less approachable. There has been predominant belief that you can’t provide a personalized touch and scale at the same time.
Fast forward to today, great businesses know that creating a personal connection matters. Customers don’t want to be treated like an account number in a database. Customers want to be addressed the way they would be by someone they know. And so, businesses need to start approaching their customers in a personal way — not like an exclusive VIP service but out of common courtesy.
The good news is that it’s now possible to personalize communications through software. At Twilio, we are focused on building the future of communications, where every app will become a communications app. Because that’s how businesses can know who they are interacting with and why. It’s time to stop greeting customers with 20 minutes of Kenny G hold music, followed by the inquisition, “what’s your account number and mother’s maiden name?” Why not say “hey Manav, looks like you didn’t receive the shirt you wanted” instead?
That’s how we can bring the human touch back to business communications. This is a trend that we’re already seeing with our customers at Twilio and one that will become more prevalent among businesses in the future.
To learn more, download the Communications Blueprint for On-Demand and Sharing Economy Marketplaces.