Have you ever had a business customer with advanced IVR needs? Something beyond the multi-level menu that can be built with most auto-attendant products?
Can you offer an IVR that includes speech recognition, SMS integration, and even CRM integration?
In this article I’m going to show you how I built an advanced IVR – the kind that would historically have required a custom piece of software – using the drag-and-drop web-interface of Twilio Studio.
But first let me introduce you to the other business in our family.
The scenario: a music school
My wife is a professional violinist, and she runs the Alameda String Academy, a music school offering private lessons in violin, cello and guitar.
One of the challenges running a small business is that we don’t have a front-desk at our location, and we don’t have a full-time receptionist to handle customer calls.
Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but if a student needs to communicate with us about an imminent lesson (e.g. “I’m running late”, or “My daughter got hit by an albatross while riding her bike and has to go to the ER… and so will miss her violin lesson”) then it can be hard to communicate that information promptly to the teacher.
Ideally, we’d like to be able to identify these people when they call the school, and send a text to the teacher about the situation (we can’t call the teacher, because they’re busy with another student).
But of course, a standard auto-attendant product doesn’t offer the ability to send SMS messages.
I’ve written before about Twilio, but at the time you still needed to host a web application on your own servers to perform all but the most basic tasks – so I didn’t go too deep. When I attended their SIGNAL conference last fall I remember saying to one of their engineers that what they really needed to do was offer a more powerful hosted application platform – and so I’ve been excited to experiment with Twilio Studio, a hosted visual builder for advanced workflows.
Rather than write thousands of words trying to explain it, I’ve instead recorded a video walking through the IVR I built for our music school. Note that each of the widgets I mention has a separate panel of settings which I’ve omitted from the video to keep things simple.
Please be sure to watch the video before reading on.
Could we add CRM integration?While the app I walked you through in the video is pretty cool, imagine if you could also integrate your IVR with your CRM. So when someone calls in to our music school we recognize their number, greet them by name, and the system already knows all about their lesson schedule – we would know the teacher and the date and time of the lesson without even needing to ask. Is that possible?
The answer is… yes, but it’s a bit more complicated. Twilio Studio has the ability to issue HTTP requests to other websites, so if our CRM was hosted in the cloud and had an API we could absolutely send queries from within Twilio Studio to gather additional information that could then impact how the IVR functioned. So a little coding is required… perhaps a simple web application to offer up the information… but it’s really not that hard, and the end result would be a remarkably impressive phone interface.
How can a service provider use Twilio?
In order to use the studio flow that I built, an incoming call has to be received by a phone number that’s owned by Twilio. So if an ILEC or CLEC wants to offer this functionality they have to figure out how to interact with that. Personally I think the simplest way would be to simply forward calls to the Twilio number when the business wanted to invoke the IVR.
- Business main number – owned by service provider, has unconditional call forwarding to…
- Twilio owned number – which provides advanced IVR functionality, which may include completing calls to…
- Hosted PBX lines – owned by service provider (SIP phones on people’s desks).
The downside here is that you’d be paying Twilio usage fees on all the calls (and of course these are higher than what a carrier would usually pay, even taking into account their volume discounts), but these fees could be well worth it if you’re able to offer a large customer a uniquely valuable IVR design.
If you have a large customer who needs an advanced phone application, please contact us, and we can discuss how we could help you implement through Twilio Studio.