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Twilio Autopilot looks to simplify contact center AI

Twilio Autopilot gives developers the building blocks for creating contact center AI that businesses can use to improve customer service and save money.

Twilio has released a platform to help developers build AI chatbots and voice assistants for use in the contact center. The vendor will go head to head with tech giants, including Amazon and Google, in the growing market for cloud-based AI tools.

Twilio Autopilot aims to simplify the process of building conversational AI interfaces, including chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, and apps for Amazon Alexa. The platform relies on natural language understanding and machine learning technologies.

Developers could use the platform to build bots for routing customer inquiries to agents, or for handling basic queries without the need for human intervention. The offering goes hand in hand with the release this month of Twilio Flex, the vendor's first prebuilt cloud contact center platform.

Twilio Autopilot lets developers deploy contact center AI bots to nearly any communication channel without having to write separate sets of code for each. Those channels include voice, SMS, web chat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Twilio's approach bifurcates the process for building AI bots, separating substance from style. First, a developer would use Autopilot to teach a bot how to handle a range of customer inquiries. Later, the developer would use basic stylesheet HTML codes to personalize that bot, picking a voice tone and writing custom greetings and responses.

Customers will pay Twilio based on the volume of voice and text communications handled through Autopilot. A beta version of the platform is available now through Twilio Console, which is hosted in the Amazon Web Services cloud.

Vendors embrace contact center AI in 2018

The AI use cases promised by Twilio Autopilot are nothing new. Virtually every leading contact center vendor and public cloud provider has made acquisitions or product announcements within the past year related to applying AI to customer relations.

But Twilio has a track record for disruption. The company has attracted more than 2 million developers since 2008 by offering APIs and drag-and-drop tools that simplify the process of building communication workflows.

Twilio Autopilot will compete with similar AI platforms from Amazon Web Services and Google, two consumer vendors that have recently set their sights on the enterprise contact center market.

Google released in July a contact center AI platform for building virtual agents, assisting human agents and running analytics. The company has already inked deals with several leading contact center vendors to deliver those APIs to businesses -- including Twilio.

Meanwhile, Cisco, Genesys, Avaya, Five9 and others have taken steps to add preconfigured, customizable AI bots to their contact centers over the past year. Such technology is still in the early stages of usefulness, but contact center vendors are convinced that AI is the future.

Businesses see contact center AI as a way not only to improve customer service but also to save money, by hiring fewer agents, said Jon Arnold, principal of Toronto-based analysis firm J Arnold & Associates.

"Twilio is trying to make this as developer-friendly as possible," Arnold said. "But AI, I still think, is pretty early days and this stuff is still at a pretty basic level of utility."

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