Twilio announces new products, Autopilot and Pay

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Twilio is widening its offering with a customisable AI voice platform and payments on voice calls.

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At the Twilio SIGNAL conference for customers and developers currently taking place in San Fransisco, the company announced the launch of two new products, Autopilot and Pay. 

Twilio is the developer-first cloud communications platform that supplies some of the communications infrastructure for companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Netflix. For example, when an Uber driver calls you without seeing your personal number, that's Twilio software in action.  

"If you look at Twilio from a high level, our mission is to fuel the future of communication," says Kris Gutta, senior product manager, Programmable Voice at Twilio. "What does that mean? We provide easy to use APIs to embed any type of communication into the apps that they [companies] are building." 

Its products span different channels such as messaging, chat and voice call, with the two latest products targeting the latter. 

Twilio Autopilot

New product, Twilio Autopilot is billed as the world's first fully programmable, conversational AI platform for creating customised bots, home assistant apps and interactive voice response (IVR). It represents the culmination of three years of research into natural language processing (NLP) at Twilio. 

"When you think about large enterprises, there's always this trade off between how tolerable it is to leave customers on hold when they contact me, and how many agents do I staff?" says Nico Acosta, Twilio’s director of product. 

Autopilot is designed to carry out the initial fact finding elements of a call, before directing the customer straight to a call centre operative if needed. It also shares all of the relevant information with the call centre employee, removing the need to ask for the same information twice.

Routine issues with well-defined workflows such as making a reservation or cancelling a booking will be handled by software, but in more complex cases, the caller will be directed to a human agent. This addresses the issue, says Acosta, that customers actually prefer dealing with an automated service but if they need to speak to a human they want to be directed there immediately. 

"It solves effectively classifying customer issues," says Acosta. "It solves the problem of building sophisticated self-service Workflows with a great customer experience. And it solves the problem of bridging the two worlds of self-service applications and contact centre agents."

Autopilot provides the base platform upon which developers can customise their own application for a range of channels including SMS, Alexa or IVR. 

What does the product offer developers? Acosta explains: "The gap we're filling here is a platform for developers that gives them the tools to build great conversational experiences. And things like defining the bot personality, defining the tone of voice, defining the error-handling behaviour, that is really going to unlock the innovation in this space."

Autopilot means developers don't have to worry about natural language processing or machine learning programming, freeing them to focus on customising the software based on the company's needs, and personalising the tone and conversational style of the interaction. 

According to a 2018 Gartner report: "With only four percent of enterprises having deployed conversational interfaces but 38 percent planning to or actively experimenting, this market is set for growth." This signals a coming growth area, where Twilio hopes it is ideally posed to provide an easy solution for businesses. 

Twilio Pay

Twilio Pay is the result of a partnership with Stripe that allows secure payments to take place over telephone calls without the customer having to speak their bank details aloud to the operator. Aimed toward Twilio's existing programmable voice customers, this feature requires developers to only add one line of code.

"We have a lot of different customers asking us to essentially be PCI compliant so that they can securely capture payment card information over the phone," says Kris Gutta, senior product manager, Programmable Voice at Twilio, offering the example of UK company, Deliveroo. "So, we started off the year with the goal of becoming PCI compliant."

Becoming PCI compliant is necessary to allow secure payments to take place over the phone but is an arduous task for individual companies, entailing a lengthy verification process and regular audits. 

And although the product is launched in partnership with Stripe, they plan to integrate with many more payment platforms soon including the likes of Apple Pay. 

What are the use cases for Twilio Pay? "Imagine you call an airline and you want to upgrade your seat or purchase tickets, or you called an insurance company or cable company for your passive services," says Gutta. "At the end of all these interactions you need to pull out card information."

The new product directly addresses two customer pain points: reading credit card numbers aloud in a public place, and anxiety about the trustworthiness of the operator on the other end of the call. With Pay, the operator will never see the information as it's entered on the keypad, only the customer's progress.

Twilio sees this product as intersecting seamlessly with the rise of AI-powered customer service, envisioning a marriage between Pay and Autopilot. 

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