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Twilio wants to end the automated snobbery of communcations channels

CRM can be a positive tool but it can also become a problem but Nick Booth has been talking to someone who might have an answer

There’s something very passive-aggressive about customer relationship management systems. They pretend to be giving you something - better service - but they’re actually taking something away - your privacy and even your spare time.

It’s been noted in Microscope before that the so-called ‘relationship’ part of CRM is like that between a stalker and its victim. You made the mistake of buying something from a retailer and, for some reason, the marketing manager now thinks you’re in a relationship. And bombards you with unwanted attention. That’s the sort of relationship that ends in a restraining order.

Now CRM has introduced a new horror. It’s introduced a new class system that is far more brutal than anything humanity has dreamed up so far.

When you contact a business (or ‘engage in brand conversations’ as the marketing Kool Aid drinkers would say) you have a multiplicity of channels. These range from walking into a shop and talking face to face over the counter to getting out your mobile and going ‘over the top’ with Facebook.

There’s a whole range of channels, each of which is favoured by a particular demographic. Whether by design or accident the levels of response vary dramatically. If a young person tweets to a train operator with a complaint, they will get an immediate response. (Albeit one palming them off onto the web site). If you are a customer of Boots you will soon have the option to get advice from a chatbot, which gives you an immediate answer.

Middle aged customers might prefer email. That get a slightly slower response, but at least their name will be in the system. However, as you go further up the age range and down the income brackets, companies seem to be much less interested in their clients. Older people might want to phone and ask questions, which is one of the most demoralising and insulting exercises known to man. You will be passed around the world, often wordlessly, by people on the minimum wage for whatever country they are in until, finally, your call will be dropped.

Many pensioners choose to ‘engage’ with their ‘favourite brand’ by writing a letter. For all the good this will do, and the response they will get, they might as well put the letter into a bottle and chuck it in the sea. Why? Because their channel of choice tells the company that these people are too old and too poor to care about. They are the NVIPS - the not very important people.

It would be nice to think that this brutal automated class system is not deliberately discriminatory but an accidental consequence of the mushrooming of communications channels.

There are millions of developers to whom this injustice is unacceptable. Luckily Twilio, a development system for creating communications apps, could empower them to put a stop to this and create equal access for all. Twilio works by simplifying the integration of systems, automatically integrating all the grisly comms syntaxes and protocols that no developer really want to have to learn.

Pat Malatack, Twilio’s VP product VP, gave Microscope a briefing when visiting the London office. Twilio has just unveiled a new Engagement Cloud, a suite of application programming interfaces that, it says, can give developers the chance to create a consistent blend of communications systems.

“As an industry we need to smooth out all the ugly engagements,” says Malatack. It doesn’t help that new channels are being created all the times and their effectiveness is over stated.

“Chat bots still leave a lot to be desired,” says Malatack. This does create fantastic problem-solving opportunities for the channel. Companies are desperate for somebody to integrate all their emails, voice calls, text, tweets and Facebook messages. They just need someone to contact them and make a proposal. But how? Nobody answers the phone these days do they?

This was last published in July 2017

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