22 June, 2016

How we built a Slack phone bot, and where we’re heading next

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When our Slack team wanted to manage support phone calls in a Slack channel, we struggled to find a service that would do the trick. So we decided to build one ourselves … Here’s how our Ottspott journey started and what we’ve been working on since we launched in November at Web Summit.

The future of the workplace

Working on Ottspott As a tech company, Apidaze has flexible working hours, remote freelancers and customers working in different timezones. We’re based in Paris and we support clients all over the world and communicate with our customers via chat, email and phone. When it comes to handling voice communications, we initially had multiple pain points as a business. We sub-lease our office space and had no control of the phone system that was installed. These old school phone systems don’t connect to apps, have little room for integration and don’t offer advanced digital features, such as voice transcription — and if they do, they’re often quite expensive. If we decided to invest in modernising our communication equipment, then we’d still have the issue of our customers having to pay for long-distance calls when getting in touch with us. This dilemma is quite common with other startups we know so we decided to set about solving the problem.

Does the shoemaker’s son always have to go barefoot?

Happy days at Apidaze For more than two years, our Apidaze API has offered a full-stack communications toolbox to developers wanting to integrate real-time voice, video and messaging features into their apps through the cloud. But like any organisation working in distributed teams, we’ve struggled to find the right system to manage our own communications. Here’s how Ottspott began… In October 2014 we started using Slack, the collaborative messaging platform, and after just two days of using it, we completely fell in love with it. Philippe (our CTO) and the development team decided to start integrating our API with Slack and find a way of handling calls, while using Slack’s advanced messaging features. Starting from a simple phone number allocation to Slackbot notifications in a dedicated channel, we built a phone system that would suit our collaborative way of working. By integrating the Slack API, the Apidaze API and our worldwide communication infrastructure, in less than two months we had our basic phone system installed for handling sales and support outbound and inbound calls. It was basic, but it worked perfectly! Then things accelerated Apidaze was selected to participate at Web Summit in November 2015 — one of the biggest technology conferences in the world. The team agreed it would be a great opportunity to show off our Slackbot phone and demo it with the attendees. But our baby needed a name. We decided on Ottspott. ‘OTT’ refers to Over The Top messaging apps like WhatsApp, WeChat or Viber, which have smashed the supremacy of telecom operators. And ‘spott’ hints to our ultimate wish to become the hotspot for collaborative communications between startups and fast-growing companies using Slack. Web Summit is not a scam On 4 November at Web Summit, we gave over 100 demos in one day and 40+ Slack teams were on-boarded directly from our booth. We gave out most of our limited edition t-shirts and hundreds of Ottspott stickers were stuck on laptops and notebooks.

Ottspott logo

Even Axelle Lemaire, the French Deputy Minister of Digital Affairs, came to our booth and left with a t-shirt and a sticker. Ottspott with the Deputy Minister of Digital Affairs We were also lucky enough to be featured on Product Hunt on the same day, allowing us to on-board many teams online.

Where are we now in 2016 ?

We decided to offer Ottspott early adopters a free local number. As our API is connected to multiple, international voice and SMS operators, it meant we could offer them to pick one local phone number among 9,000 cities across 38 countries. On other platforms or communication APIs, a single phone number would cost between $2 and $6 a month, but we think it’s a fair reward for the time our beta users have spent helping us improve Ottspott. What early adopters like about Ottspott
  • Quick on-boarding: using the Slack button, users can get up and running in less than three clicks by picking a local number and setting their preferences.

Ottspott login

Ottspott onboarding
  • Free local number: many European startups were happy to be able to get a US number to support their overseas customers. We noticed that a large amount of beta users didn’t have any landline displayed on their website until they subscribed to Ottspott.
Your custom number
  • Slack notifications: when Ottspott is allowed though the Slack authentication button, an Ottspott channel is created automatically, helping keep the process lightweight for busy startups.

Automated Ottspott channel

What feedback from our users told us we needed
  • Tighter Slack integration: app switching can be a pain, so while early adopters appreciated the fact of having inbound call, voicemail and missed calls notifications in a Slack channel, they also told us that they’d prefer to control Ottspott inside Slack.
  • Conference calls inside Slack: this feature would help users avoid having to switch to other conferencing systems.
  • SMS integration: this is a feature US/Canada beta users required so their numbers could blend calls and SMS. This can be useful for answering customer requests by SMS instead of calling them back.
We are very grateful for all the valuable feedback received from enthusiastic beta users.

The updates Ottspott’s beta users have been waiting for

We are pleased to announce that from now on, every Ottspott user can:
  • Launch calls and audio-conferences through Slack slash commands: Launching a conference call is simple, just type: “/ottspott-conference” into any Slack channel. This will take you to a conference page where you can invite as many guests as you want.
Ottspott conferences Calls from Slack to external numbers Calls from the Ottspott app Turn Calls into Conference Calls on the fly Conference calling
  • In the same way, SMS (US/Canada only) can also be accessed for users, letting them send an SMS to any national number. Very useful for support teams and automating customer service.
  • Through Slack or Chrome notifications, users are now notified when a call comes in and can answer it with a click. Even if they’re not connected to the Ottspott app, they will get a notification and can reply by simply clicking on the Ottspott Slack channel to answer the call.

Ottspott notifications

What’s next?

Elvis Presley In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to collect feedback from our beta users and bring in new features that will make Ottspott the ideal Slack phonebot for your business communications and customer support . We want Ottspott to become an ‘invisible app’ where you adjust your communication preferences and manage everything inside Slack, without having to switch from one app to another. We also believe that taking advantage of Slack powerful messaging features and bringing communications through Ottspott will make people more productive, no matter where they’re based. In March we also showed Ottspott at the first Slack Meetup in France, together with 2 other French Slackbot pioneers, Smooz.io and MailClark.ai. You can read the wrap up here. Want to try Ottspott? Sign up as a beta user or if you have questions/suggestions please drop us an email on ottspott@apidaze.io. You can also follow us on Twitter (@ottspott_co).

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