A small tech company from Croydon, south London has been building a cloud-based phone system connected to a company's customer relationship management (CRM) system for the best part of a decade. Computerworld UK spoke to Natterbox's CEO Neil Hammerton about where the company goes next.
But first, the history lesson. Hammerton said that the one constant of his career has been that telephony systems were a "headache" regardless of the office he was working in.
"Every office has a different phone system and I would walk past reception with a customer wanting an account manager and they would be told to ring another phone number," Hammerton said. "That seemed terribly wrong, to send a customer away was a fundamentally bad customer experience."
So eight years ago - along with his founding partners Neil Burgess (CTO) and Jim Page (chief technical architect) - working out of an office in Oxted, Surrey, the team started looking into adapting phone systems to something that better resembled email.
At its core, the founders wanted a private branch exchange (PBX) system which could be deployed in the cloud and which would check for 'spam' in the form of cold calls, and can smartly categorise and redirect calls the second they come in.
The first task was how to categorise phone calls like you do emails. The answer, for the founders, is a businesses' CRM system.
In short, by putting an office's PBX in the cloud and linking it to CRM records Natterbox can start to categorise and redirect calls automatically. On the flip side, when a customer speaks to a salesperson or customer service agent that information is captured directly within the CRM system.
The next thing was to start making the system smarter. "So we evolved into grey areas like if you wanted a call from 9-5 office hours but wouldn't at 3am in the morning," Hammerton said. Or helping avoid a situation where two salespeople are contacting the same lead from different offices or geographies.
How does it work?
So at its core the idea isn't a million miles away from the Silicon Valley unicorn Twilio, in that it's a cloud-based system that programatically routes calls using an API.
As Hammerton put it: "The core backend of switching that handles calls is proprietary in our data centres and we have an API layer that allows the front end to be attached."
"The underlying tech stack is exactly the same," Hammerton admitted. "The difference is they built their stack to allow other people to use that and we built ours to select partners."
The main shift for Natterbox came three years in, when it realised that 99 percent of its customer base used Salesforce for its CRM.
"We pulled in our top customers for an informal discussion and they wanted tighter integration with Salesforce," Hammerton explained.
"So we spent a couple of years developing a native Salesforce app for telephony, which we finished last year and to our knowledge we are the only complete telephony platform built in Salesforce."
Now the whole stack sits on Salesforce infrastructure, allowing customers to set up everything from a PBX, caller journeys, purchase phone numbers and manage billing directly within the platform.
The next step, naturally, comes down to machine intelligence and making the system smarter.
"The future is the most exciting part for me," Hammerton said. Over the next six months it is looking to add automated translation, transcription and telemetrics to the platform.
Further forward, "AI is a big area we are working on at the moment," he said, specifically to do things like smarter caller routing and reducing friction.
Hammerton gives the example of routing someone who has been browsing online for Spanish holidays to the right specialist if they were to call the travel agency's contact centre.