Bots, Meet Your Grandfather, SMS

There’s a lot to love about modern messengers. Amazing UI, fast & free file sharing support, the little green delivery ticks. But SMS (text messaging) has scale, real scale. If someone has a mobile phone, they pretty much have SMS.

So if you’re building a bot for your business, you really should allow your customers to connect up via SMS. That’s why Flow XO’s fourth platform, added this week, is SMS (powered by Twilio).

If you don’t already know it, Flow XO is a platform for building and managing bots (or chatbots). Until now, we supported Messenger, Telegram and Slack. Now we have SMS through Twilio.

Keep reading to learn how to get an SMS enabled phone number through Twilio, and how to build a simple bot that lets your users chat to you via that number, wherever they are.

You can now build full business applications that are accessed via SMS. Handle chat/messaging, push notifications, forms & surveys and give your customers 24/7 access to info by text message. All this in our super-simple visual editor that anyone can use.

If you already have a Flow XO bot, simply plug-in Twilio SMS and your bots will instantly work via text.

If you don’t, Flow XO has a free plan, so get your free account now.

In fact, SMS bots have been around a long while. You’ve seen companies advertising “Text INFO..” since the early 2000’s, and it’s easy to see SMS as the granddaddy of modern day messaging. But SMS is still relevant, and with Flow XO, SMS services just got a truly modern makeover.

What is Twilio?

Twilio is a global voice, video and messaging provider. They’re reliable, operate in many countries worldwide, and messages are competitively priced without minimum volumes ($0.0075 to send a message locally in the US or $0.04 to send a message in the UK, at time of writing).

There’s just a few simple steps to connect to Flow XO:

  1. Sign up for Twilio. It’s free and you’ll get some test credit. You don’t need to spend anything with them until you’ve built and tested your bot.
  2. Get an SMS enabled phone number through Twilio. These cost from $1/month, depending on the number (you can use your test credit). It’s instant, just find a number and claim it.
  3. Copy your SID and Token into Flow XO from the Twilio dashboard, then select your phone number.

We’ve got some detailed instructions too, so follow the steps now and connect up SMS.

Setting up Twilio SMS in Flow XO

Chat to Customers Through SMS

Now you have your SMS bot connected, you can make your current flows available through it.

In fact, if you have New Message and New Conversation triggers listening through all bots, your SMS bot will already be up and running!

Send the message hello to your Twilio SMS phone number. The bot should reply with your welcome text. Don’t worry if you don’t have any flows yet, we’ll set up a simple flow right now.

We’ll use Flow XO’s Agent Service to open up a two-way chat channel between the user in SMS and your sales/support people via email or helpdesk (Help Scout, Freshdesk or Zendesk).

First, click Flows on the top menu in Flow XO, and then click New Flow. Now give it the name “Talk to Users” and click the green tick icon to save the name.

Now click the blue + icon to add a trigger. Click on the Bots service, and select New Conversation.

Click Next and leave All bots should listen selected. Ignore the filter step and leave the name as suggested, and finally click Save.

The New Conversation trigger will start our flow every time someone sends the message hello (or variations like hi) to your SMS bot.

Next, we want to tell Flow XO that all messages should be forwarded on to us by email (allowing us to reply too).

So click the blue + icon again, this time we’re selecting an action. Choose the Agent service, and select Connect to an Agent.

Next you’ll see the Settings step. You should enter either a personal email address or a centralised/team helpdesk address (the user won’t ever see this).

There are a few simple extra steps you’ll need to follow if you want send messages into Help Scout, Freshdesk or Zendesk.

You should also add some text in the Autoreply box. Use this to set your user’s expectations about what will happen next. For example, “Thanks for the message, we’ll get back to you ASAP (usually within a few hours).”

When you’re done, click Next. Leave the filter and name steps alone and finally click Save.

Click the On button to enable to flow.

That’s almost it! The final thing you should do is click on Bots in the top menu, and click Edit on your SMS bot.

Update the welcome text to tell the user what to do. Something like “Hello! This is ABC Co. Please send a message to talk to us now.”

Let’s run through what happens:

  1. The user sends the message hello to your Twilio SMS number.
  2. Your user sees the welcome message, which explains that they need to send a message to get started.
  3. In the meantime, your flow runs, and tells the bot to forward any messages over to email.
  4. When the user sends their message, it’s routed via email to your business, and the user sees the autoreply message immediately.
  5. You can reply to the email you receive, and the response will be routed straight back to the user’s phone via SMS.
  6. If the user needs to, they can reply again, and carry on the conversation back and forth.

So there you go. In about 10 minutes, you’ve set up SMS as a channel for your customers to talk to you.

Now, try adding a Messenger bot too so your customers can do the same through Facebook Messenger. The same flow will work through any platform we support. Give your customers the choice.

Now, Automate

So that’s a simple use case, where SMS is simply a channel for interacting with users. That’s useful, but business bots are really about automation.

Flow XO comes with a set of templates for quickly setting up some popular sets of flows.

You can access templates by clicking the dropdown arrow on the New Flow button and selecting Use a template.

You’ll then see the templates we have available. All of these work through SMS. In fact, Flow XO is completely cross platform. Anything you build is available through any platform you set up.

You can choose templates for:

  • Creating simple application forms or surveys, and sending the results back to you via Gmail.
  • Letting your users subscribe to content from an RSS feed. Every time a new item is published, the user gets a message via SMS.
  • Keeping users updated by sending notifications to them on-demand.

Or, create your own flows. It’s easy to string together messages, questions, webhooks and actions in other services to create rich functionality without any coding. Use the visual editor to build your bots.

Take a look at our other tutorials here too.