India-based Exotel has been taking the country by storm with its offering of virtual phone numbers for SMEs, allowing small businesses to communicate with their customers more effectively. The company is now on the path towards making their service even more useful, by opening up their API to third-party developers so they can create and launch apps that Exotel users can take advantage of.
Exotel was born out of budding entrepreneur Shivakumar Ganesan‘s need to be able to efficiently manage calls and text messages for his own business called Roopit, an online marketplace that connected buyers and sellers. At a local startup conference, he built and demoed a solution that logged information about how many calls he was receiving and where they were coming from, including the ones he missed. His idea has come a long way since then.
Exotel currently offers virtual phone numbers to Indian businesses that they can use along with a layer of apps to suit their needs for communicating with customers — be it an IVR to connect callers with various departments, recording calls for training customer support, offering real-time delivery status info or reducing response time to inbound calls. Exotel’s clients can also tap into the service’s API to integrate it with their own CRMs, databases and other applications to streamline communication.
In India, most companies that expand beyond a single desk face the problem of managing phone calls without breaking the bank — the most common solution is an EPABX system that allows an in-house operator to route calls to employees. Unfortunately these systems are clunky, expensive and aren’t of much help at anything besides patching calls through. At the other end of the spectrum, large businesses like major e-commerce companies and BPO/KPO call centres implement custom solutions from players like Avaya. But what if your business fits in somewhere in between?
Exotel’s virtual numbers and accompanying apps allow small businesses to harness the power of managed telephony solutions at a nominal cost, and do so without the need of specialized IT personnel or hardware, thanks to the service’s simple web-based interface. The company is eyeing a massive market of over 2.8 million SMEs in the country that have an online presence, and has already signed up 400 clients from various sectors.
Using Exotel is as simple as it can get — simply sign up for a virtual number, create users and groups by entering their actual phone numbers and set up rules for how you want calls to be handled, routed and recorded. Exotel’s App Bazaar includes a number of ingenious ways to extend the functionality of the main service that are relevant locally, such as confirming user identity for Cash-on-Delivery orders for e-commerce businesses and allowing callers to subscribe to services and content by leaving a missed call on a specified number (a common practice among Indian mobile phone users).
Exotel already allows its users to access its API and integrate the service with whatever programs they are using internally, but the big deal the company is excited about is that it has developed an SDK to allow 3rd-party developers to create apps for Exotel users to release and profit from in Exotel’s App Bazaar.
An example of such an app is one of Exotel’s own recent creations. Across the country, Indians use Justdial, a call—/SMS-/app-/web-accessible directory of local businesses (including restaurants, movie theaters, handymen, retail stores and more) to find whatever they’re looking for in their city, and SMEs subscribe to this service to get instant notifications when a caller asks for a location or phone number. The highest-bidding subscriber gets the notification soonest, but even then they sometimes lose out to competitors because they’re unable to respond quickly enough — Exotel reports about 70% of lost opportunities. Exotel’s Justdial app allows users to instantly patch a call between themselves and the Justdial caller, thereby drastically increasing their chances of scoring business.
As it stands, the SDK is still in private beta and a closed group of 3rd-party developers are trying their hand at building novel solutions that will benefit Exotel users. The company is keeping a close eye on feedback from these developers in order to develop a winning strategy to open this program up to the public — there are countless opportunities for developers and IT service providers to explore. Ganesan illustrated this with an example: “Right now, there is no app to conduct customer surveys over telephony. Any enthused techie can now build this functionality and expose it for Exotel’s SMEs to purchase and implement.”