Research

Twilio Alternatives

Our client recommended us to consider the SMS service Twilio for SMS chatbot integration. Initially, we couldn’t find a native way to develop chatbots with conversation branching (what Voiceflow outputs) using it. That set us off on a tangent researching alternative platforms.

In the end, none of this research became relevant to our final product due to a breakthrough we had with Twilio. Nonetheless, it was an important step in understanding the capabilities of Twilio and other platforms.

What We Require in an Alternative

When looking for alternatives to Twilio, there are three main features that are needed to figure out if the new platform is a suitable replacement.

1. Deployable on SMS - Our project focuses on deploying a chatbot onto SMS, so the platform should support this by nature.

2. JSON API - Currently, we have a JSON diagram of the Voiceflow conversation and if a platform supports a JSON API, it would make uploading/importing a chatbot into the platform easier.

3. Advanced Conversations - The chatbots that clinicians will create are not in a linear fashion and include conversational branching, where an answer from one question can lead to two different questions. The platform must support this functionality.


Alternatives

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Vonage

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Vonage offers flexible and scalable voice, messaging, video and data capabilities across Unified Communications, Contact Centres and Communications APIs.

Goals Met:

  • Much like Twilio it offers an SMS service but the most interesting thing is its conversation API.
  • There isn’t much documentation on it but it looks like the platform only provides messaging of text, voice, video and can have associated Users through Member objects[1].

Goals Missing:

  • Doesn’t support any chatbot generation services that would provide conversation branching.

CALLR SMS Chatbot

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CALLR is a platform similar to Twilio where it has Voice and SMS services and supports PHP, JavaScript, Ruby, Python, C#, Java, Go[2].

Goals Met:

  • Offers a JSON API.
  • Only gives you the tools for an SMS interface.

Goals Missing:

  • Does not support anything for creating a chatbot such as a questions or intent inference.

Chatfuel

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Build bots, no coding required. Increase sales, personalize marketing and automate support, all with Chatfuel.

Goals Met:

  • Has a nice JSON API but it is only for Facebook Messenger[3].
  • Can support advanced conversations.

Goals Missing:

  • Only deployable on Facebook Messenger.

SnatchBot

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SnatchBot is an Intelligent Virtual Assistant Platform with Robotic Process Automation.

Goals Met:

  • You are able to create a chatbot where it will look for keywords in response and then go to a new interaction.

Goals Missing:

  • Does not have a JSON API.
  • Only limited to WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram, Viber[4].

Messagebird

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Messagebird allows us to build voice, SMS, WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat applications. It has similar features to Twilio where we can programmatically verify users, buy and use phone numbers.

Goals Met:

  • Is deployable on SMS

Goals Missing:

  • Only can manage contacts through REST API[5].
  • Can’t support advanced conversations.

SurveyBot.io

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Surveybot lets you survey the audience via Facebook Messenger and Workplace. Its Facebook bot makes it a lot easier to do Facebook Survey.

Goals Met:

  • SurveyBot has advanced conversational logic, answer piping and re-engagement rules which will allow us to build the bot we need[6].

Goals Missing:

  • This solution is only for Facebook Messenger and Workplace so it is of no use to us.
  • Doesn’t have a JSON API.

Landbot.io

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Landbot. Create conversational landing pages, conversational websites, interactive surveys, lead generation bots & more. Intuitively. Without code.

Goals Met:

  • Landbot supports conditional logic where you can branch to different questions based on a user response.

Goals Missing:

  • It seems there is no developer API for this product so we won’t be able to integrate our bot.
  • Not deployable to SMS.

Telnyx

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Telnyx Offers A Communications Platform & API With Carrier-Grade Voice, Data & Messaging.

Goals Met:

  • Telnyx offers bi-directional SMS which provides the ability to exchange texts to and from users[7].
  • It uses a JSON API.

Goals Missing:

  • It does not have any chatbot generation service.

MobileMonkey

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Chatbot platform for marketing, sales, and customer support. Unified customer chat across messaging apps powered by OmniChat technology[8].

Goals Met:

  • MobileMonkey has Facebook, SMS and web chatbots support for applications and services.
  • It also has a JSON API.

Goals Missing:

  • It looks like it doesn’t support the complexity of conversation we require for our chatbot.

Notifications gov.uk

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A platform by the government to allow the sending of SMS, Emails and Letters.

Goals Met:

  • This platform provides SMS support.

Goals Missing:

  • It is mainly used to make a template of static text and bulk send it to multiple people[9].
  • No JSON API.

Conclusion

Most of these chatbot solutions either give a question and an answer one by one or require to detect some “intent” based on sample data. This is of no use to us, so we will have to make a system that can support nested questions beyond one level.

Options

  1. One option is the use of the Twilio Autopilot CLI open-source plugin[10] to help achieve what we need to do.
  2. The other option is that we will require our own backend to build our own chatbot and use Twilio as an SMS interface. Once we have interpreted the Voiceflow graph, a user will send their response to Twilio SMS which will have a webhook to our server containing the SMS information. Based on that, we can feed it into our chatbot algorithm and send a Twilio SMS to respond to the user query and advance the conversation.

Next Steps

Among these alternatives, the most viable is Vonage. We would have probably chosen this had we not also had a breakthrough with Twilio in the meantime - this is explained here.


[1] H. Shah, “Twilio vs Vonage(Nexmo): Which is the best CPaaS Service?”, Simform.com, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.simform.com/twilio-vs-vonage-nexmo/. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].
[2] “CALLR Developer Docs | CALLR: Documentation”, Callr.com. [Online]. Available: https://www.callr.com/docs/. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].
[3] “Facebook Customer Chat Plugin”, Docs.chatfuel.com. [Online]. Available: https://docs.chatfuel.com/en/articles/1609644-facebook-customer-chat-plugin. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].
[4] “Connecting Channels and Webchat settings”, SnatchBot Support. [Online]. Available: https://support.snatchbot.me/docs/connecting-channels. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021]
[5] “MessageBird for Developers”, Developers.messagebird.com. [Online]. Available: https://developers.messagebird.com/api/. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].
[6] “Surveybot - Features”, Surveybot. [Online]. Available: https://surveybot.io/chatbot-features. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].
[7] “SMS/MMS Documentation - Send and Receive SMS with Telnyx API”, Telnyx. [Online]. Available: https://developers.telnyx.com/docs/v2/messaging. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].
[8] W. Mills, “Why omnichannel is critical for customer-centric brands | SurveyMonkey”, SurveyMonkey. [Online]. Available: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/curiosity/why-omnichannel-is-critical-for-customer-centric-brands/. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].
[9] “Features – GOV.UK Notify”, Notifications.service.gov.uk. [Online]. Available: https://www.notifications.service.gov.uk/features. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].
[10] “Autopilot CLI Plugin (Community Project)”, Twilio.com. [Online]. Available: https://www.twilio.com/docs/autopilot/twilio-autopilot-cli. [Accessed: 21- Mar- 2021].