Twilio's secret to engagement: "Wear the customer’s shoes"

Director of experience, In-Young Chang, explains how the company attracted 15,000 people to this year's Signal virtual conference.

More than 15,000 attendees tuned in for Twilio's Signal 2020 virtual conference.

When cloud communications company, Twilio, was looking to plan its annual customer and developer conference, Signal, its experience team was faced with the same question that event planners have asking themselves since March — how do we pivot to virtual?

After months of searching for a platform, Twilio's director of experience, In-Young Chang, said the company decided build its own event solution — from scratch — and within a matter of months, on 30 September, welcomed more than 15,000 virtual attendees to Signal 2020.

We recently sat down with Chang (virtually, of course) to find out how they did it.

How would you describe the process of transforming your physical conference into a virtual event?

The shift to a virtual event was interesting because there was no playbook or precedence to refer to. What worked for an in-person event wasn’t going to work for virtual. But at the same time, we knew that all the different teams that work on Signal had very specific needs and business requirements to achieve their goals. So we went straight to the stakeholders within Twilio to gather requirements. And because the show was being built with software, the possibilities were endless.

We had so many creative ideas on what we could build — almost too many. The biggest challenge was reigning in that enthusiasm, taking a hard look at our list, and working across teams to prioritise what features we could responsibly complete in time for the show. If it wasn’t in service to our attendees, then it was probably going to be deprioritised. That was always at the heart of our decision making.

Twilio embedded voice, messaging, video, and chat into its virtual conference platform to improve the user experience.
Twilio embedded voice, messaging, video, and chat into its virtual conference platform to improve the user experience.

How did you re-image the live event experience online?

We were focused on recreating the human connection that is usually at the centre of our annual conference. It was really important that attendees were able to connect with us in an easy and direct way. This is especially important in a virtual setting, where folks are usually at home, juggling multiple tasks and their time and attention come at a real premium. So if they were going to be on the Signal site, we wanted to break down the barriers of communication while they were there.

We realised that Twilio Flex, our programmable contact centre, is an amazing omnichannel tool that has a lot of capabilities to create a custom solution for any use case. So while it may not have been created specifically for a conference setting, it was a great solution for our virtual conference.

Flex allows you to deploy voice, messaging, video, and chat, while integrating any CRM or workflow management you want. By customising it for our conference needs, we were able to make every Twilio employee a contact centre agent from the safety of their own home. And through intelligent skills-based routing, we could connect attendees to Twilions who had the right expertise to effectively answer their questions.

In-Young Chang says that after months of searching for a platform, Twilio was presented with a challenge faced by all event planners — build or buy?

When it comes to audience engagement, what were the biggest learnings from this experience?

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Nobody could have predicted the events of 2020, and there’s simply no playbook for any of this. Embrace the unknown, and consider it permission to be totally creative.

We’re big believers in finding the right tools for the job. Sometimes, the right tool comes from an unexpected place. So why not use a contact centre platform to power a conference?

Build for scale and flexibility. At Twilio, we love APIs. It offers maximum programmability and you can build the custom solution for your customer’s unique needs. For Signal, the combination of our APIs and Flex allowed us to monitor what was happening real-time and quickly make changes to improve the user experience.

A few hours into Day 1, we found that attendees wanted to schedule 1:1 videos with product experts, but they didn’t realise they didn’t need to wait. We had product expert agents ready to take on any inquiry. So we updated our chat interface on the fly to make that much more obvious to attendees.

Wear the customer’s shoes. This is a company value that really held true throughout this process. We didn’t really have anything to go off of, and at times the unknown seemed daunting. But when we anchored our thinking in what’s best for the customer experience, it led to the most creative and innovative solutions. And sometimes, we even overshot things to ensure the attendee wouldn’t have an adverse experience.

While we had 600+ Twilio volunteers as contact centre agents, in the end, we actually had too many agents. A good problem to have! By building on the strengths of Flex (like pulling in CRM tools for agents and programmatically routing tasks to agents), we were incredibly effective at satisfying a lot of the inquiries that came in from customers. Now we know that 600+ Twilio contact centre agents is a bit much.