While Twilio previously offered some push notification services, this is the first time the company offers a unified API for sending push notifications and text messages, as well as chat messages, to popular chat apps like Facebook Messenger. And while being able to reach users is only half of the equation, Twilio now also makes it easier for developers to engage in conversations with their users by allowing them to integrate other third-party services like Zendesk, Rep.ai and Front to handle replies.
“Push notification services aren’t that interesting in 2016,” Twilio CEO and co-founder Jeff Lawson admitted. “But what we’re doing is novel.” It’s one thing to send a push notification, after all, but the new API allows developers to set rules for those many users who use multiple devices, apps and other services.
Lawson calls it a “user-centric notification service” and here is the scenario he envisions: Maybe a user signs up to get SMS from a company (in exchange for a coupon, for example). Then, over time, that user also installs the company’s app on two devices. Now, push notifications allow you to give that user a far better experience, but you don’t want to send both SMS and push notifications to every device on which the user has the app installed (that would be annoying, after all). With the new API, you simply set up a rule to send a push notification to the device the user last used (or the one that is currently active), and fall back on SMS if that doesn’t work.
In the background, Twilio uses its own SMS services, as well as Apple’s Push Notification service and Google’s Firebase Cloud Messaging.
“We believe businesses have to talk to customers more like people,” Lawson said. “Most customers prefer to send an SMS than call.” Increasingly, they also want to engage with businesses over chat, so Notify also supports Facebook Messenger and WeChat (with support for others coming later).
Having a conversation means the relationship has to go beyond simply pushing messages (though some marketers probably happily define that as a “conversation,” too). “We want customers to reply to messages because we send billions of notifications per month and every one of those should be an opportunity to start a conversation with a customer,” Lawson said. Traditionally, developers had to write apps that handled replies themselves and, in the case of SMS, answers then often came from different phone numbers.
Now, Twilio allows developers to plug in some of its partners to handle replies and use a single number to send messages from. These include Zendesk, Front, Rep.ai, Presence.ai, Sonar and Message.ai. Most of these combine some level of automation with live agents for handling customer support and sales.
“The basics of sending push notifications haven’t been a problem for a long time,” Lawson said. “But the problem is how you do the right thing for users at scale. It took the market maturing for a few users for the hard problems to emerge.”
When businesses spend more time engaging with their users (and send more messages in the process), Twilio obviously profits, too. Lawson acknowledges as much. “The better companies are at communication with customers, the better for them and us,” he said.