A Guide to the Easiest and Most Effective Twilio Integrations

The subject of Twilio integrations is complex, because unlike traditional communications systems, Twilio is built to be integrated.

This is why Twilio has been saddled with the unwieldy “cPaaS” acronym (for “communications platform as a service”).

But what the heck is cPaaS exactly? It sounds more like some ominous government agency than a cloud service.

Essentially, cPaaS dissolves a phone system into basic components delivered as a REST API rather than an application for end users. It’s like breaking a traditional phone system into Lego blocks. From there, businesses can build completely novel kinds of communications, such as Uber’s notification system, the most famous example of a Twilio-powered solution.

legos

Twilio does this to your phone system
(legos! by justgrimes is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

 

There are two major considerations when it comes to Twilio integrations:

  1. Suitability of Twilio for custom development projects (integrations with in-house CRM systems, mobile apps etc.)
    1. Integrations between Twilio-enabled systems and standard business applications (CRM systems like Salesforce, ERP systems etc.)

    We’ll discuss both use cases, but we’ll focus on the latter, since at the end of the day, Twilio is currently the most robust cPaaS option out there for custom development work.

    Twilio Is a Communications API

    Twilio is not a suite of communication applications; instead, it’s a communications API. This is a point that’s worth at least a bit of discussion for the uninitiated.

    Traditional unified communications and collaboration (UCC) systems from vendors like ShoreTel, Mitel and Vonage, which handle business voice, conferencing, instant messaging etc., also have APIs—indeed, REST APIs.

    These APIs, however, are for basic use cases focused on employees’ communication needs:

    • Calendar integration for scheduling conferences
    • Click-to-dial from web pages, emails and business applications
    • Computer telephony integration (CTI) with CRM systems and other systems in call centers
    • Unified presence information across applications

    In other words, the difference is that traditional UCC vendors sell you a full-featured communications platform that includes an API for additional custom integrations, whereas Twilio is just selling the API.

    For example, instead of paying for user licenses for each employee who needs click-to-dial, which adds up very quickly, you simply use the API components to build voice into the CRM system, and then pay for usage as you go.

    In other words, with Twilio you just pay for usage (minutes, # of texts sent etc.). You don’t have to pay to license applications. This means that Twilio can be much cheaper than traditional communications platforms for isolated needs, such as adding a voice support channel to your support webpage.

    Additionally, like many SIP providers, Twilio offers scalability without contracts—when you’re using excess capacity, Twilio simply “bursts” your capacity automatically to connect the calls as usual and charges you later for it.

    Thus, Gartner VP distinguished analyst Bern Elliot explains in Digital Disruptions in the Unified Communications and Collaboration Market, 2017 (content available to Gartner clients) that:

    “cPaaS solutions allow SaaS providers to use cPaaS functionality to develop and offer low-cost agile, modular communications and collaboration functionalities. cPaaS also enables enterprises the ability to more-easily integrate communications and collaboration functions within business applications. These compete with the more-expensive monolithic UCC platforms in terms of cost of development, cost of operation and the agility of development.”

    On the other hand, unless your operations are already fairly streamlined on the back end, chances are very good you’ll still need some kind of traditional communications system.

    At this point, cPaaS is not a replacement for traditional platforms, but a cheap way to expand the communications functionality of other applications (mobile apps, CRM systems, browser-based SaaS applications etc.).

    There is one current exception to the rule I just mentioned: call centers. Since call centers typically focus on just a few customer-facing digital communications channels, Twilio can be used as a dedicated call center platform, and offers robust functionality for this use case.

    First, let’s look at the call center integrations Twilio offers.

    Call Center Integrations

    If you build a call center platform with Twilio, you’re only paying for communications usage, not agent seats. This characteristic of the Twilio service offers massive savings in comparison to traditional call center infrastructure.

    Additionally, because Twilio is an API, it can easily integrate with your website to, for instance, add a voice support channel to your knowledge base.

    The Twilio API allows you to easily build some of the most essential call center applications yourself, with particular strengths in the following areas:

    In particular, Twilio’s Task Router offers a number of advanced routing options, from basic queues for inbound messages and calls to skills-based routing. In other words, messages and calls can be routed to queues for particular skill groups like sales and support. It even supports customizable escalation logic for help desk use cases.

    The Twilio API also offers full support for designing IVR trees (menus that allow incoming callers to complete tasks using spoken or numerical responses).

    That said, Twilio does not have you covered for the following advanced call center needs:

    Some of these applications, like auto dialers, can be built with lots of custom work using the Twilio API. Others, like agent desktops, can’t.

    Derek Singleton, director of product for Gartner digital markets, has hands-on experience with the Twilio API. He notes that “For now, any company running an enterprise call center should plan to dedicate a decent amount of engineering resources to building against the platform.”

    Currently, few call center vendors offer applications that integrate with Twilio, for the good reason that they compete with Twilio. On the other hand, CRM vendors that specialize in call center implementations offer a number of applications like dialers that integrate easily with Twilio.

    If you’re prepared to move to a new CRM system, or if you already use a popular CRM like Salesforce, you can explore the following options:

     

    Auto dialer Analytics Agent desktop
    RingDNA (dialer for Salesforce) X X
    Agile CRM X X X
    Velocify X X

     

    Help Desk/Customer Support Integrations

    We’ve already mentioned that customer support is one of the most important use cases for Twilio.

    Twilio can be used as a supplement to your existing help desk solution for niche use cases—e.g., voice- or SMS-enabling a support app that doesn’t work well with your help desk platform.

    Twilio mentions the following help desk solutions as good candidates for SMS integration in particular:

    Additionally, the following help desk products offer Twilio integration:

    Sales CRM Integrations

    One of the most important use cases for Twilio is integration with CRM systems that have been custom built in-house. Such systems can be incredibly difficult to integrate with traditional telephony platforms.

    If you’re using a custom in-house CRM, Twilio should definitely be on your shortlist, particularly if you don’t need a robust set of call center applications.

    If you’re already using Twilio and are in the market for a new CRM, consider the following options:

    Additionally, Twilio offers a whole helper library for integrating with Salesforce.

    The flexibility of the Twilio API means that you can integrate with far more CRM systems than those listed above. Indeed, one Twilio case study mentions a customer that has integrated Twilio with over 250 systems.

    The catch is that such integrations require custom development work and reliable engineering talent.

    If you’re already looking to replace the CRM, finding one that plays nicely with Twilio should be one of your most important selection criteria.

    Conclusions

    We’ve seen that Twilio is one of the most robust and cost-effective options out there for adding communications via the following types of integrations:

    • Custom-built in-house CRM systems
    • Support websites
    • Support apps and other customer-facing mobile apps
    • Help desk/trouble ticket management platforms

    Additionally, the Twilio API allows you to build a fairly robust call center platform, with some caveats.

    Since Twilio eliminates per-user application licensing, the cost savings are substantial enough that the custom work involved in integrating Twilio can pay for itself quite rapidly.

    At the same time, Twilio poses a disruptive threat to many software vendors, so you should make sure to look into the issue of Twilio compatibility with systems you’re planning to integrate down the road before embarking on a development project.

    If you have more specific questions that this article didn’t address, feel free to email me at danielharris@softwareadvice to discuss your plans.

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