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The Importance of Perceived Performance in Sending Message

Sending Messages Is All About Speed

Technology has made consumers impatient. We don’t just want instant gratification for every click or tap—we expect it.

Retailers and e-commerce companies have been dealing with this for years. That’s why so much time is spent trying to make small, incremental improvements to page load speeds.

Even though you aren’t loading pages in your messaging experience, the demand for instant gratification remains. Users want messages sent at the speed of light—can you deliver?

Perception Is More Important than Reality with Message Send Speeds

Whether you’re using a social media app, a messaging app, or your sending standard text messages, you’ve probably experienced the agony of waiting for message delivery at least once. We take instant messaging for granted, but there are multiple factors that contribute to delayed delivery, including:

  • Poor Internet Connection: If a user has weak cell or WiFi connection, it doesn’t matter how great your messaging experience is—messages won’t send instantly. This is a problem between ISPs and consumers, but users will often blame the actual app they’re using instead.
  • Server Overload on Server Side: Your backend infrastructure has to be prepared to handle all of the messaging traffic from users. This is a constant challenge for messaging apps like WhatsApp, but it can cause minor delays for your own experience, too. Anything less than instant gratification can result in a diminished user experience and hurt your business.

These two high-level problems make it almost impossible to guarantee messages will be sent instantly 100% of the time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create the perception of instant gratification.

Improving time to send messages is important, but even more important is showing messages in a conversation the instant users tap “send.” This is a simple visual hint, but it makes all the difference in your messaging customer experience.

Instant Gratification in Asynchronous Communication

One of the best benefits of messaging as a central communication channel is the fact that it’s reliably asynchronous. You don’t have to disrupt customers with phone calls and you don’t have to worry about emails getting lost in the shuffle.

It’s great to get back to messages when it’s most convenient, but we still want them to send instantly. Think about what this looks like for a company like BOOK A TIGER that creates direct connections between customers and cleaners. Customers want to send a message and know that it’s been delivered. If they had to sit and wait for a message to deliver over a poor internet connection, BOOK A TIGER would risk losing customers to competitors.

Delivering messages at the speed of light—or at least looking like you are—is a more important piece of the messaging experience than you might think. However, it’s still just one of many best practices to think about as you design customer conversations.

If you want to learn more about building the best possible messaging experience, check out our full Messaging Best Practices guide today.

An Open Letter to Retail

Yes, retail can be saved

Retail, You Have a Problem. I’m worried about you, retail.

One of the first jobs I ever had was at Best Buy. I was just 16 years old and a much quieter individual at the time. Having to educate customers about new technologies really taught me how to have meaningful and empathetic conversations with people. It’s a valuable lesson I’ve never forgotten as my career has shifted toward tech startups and that human connection is one of the reasons why I love retail so much.

You used to be the ones in charge, but now a $350 billion bully is taking your lunch money.

Traditional big box retailers have watched their revenues decline slowly over the past 10 years—holidays are bringing less and less foot traffic, cost per good sold is increasing, and margins are wasting away.

Now, you’re facing a do-or-die moment. It’s sad to say, but you have to change. Don’t worry, though. Change can be difficult, but it also brings an opportunity—the chance to monumentally alter the way people purchase goods (for the better).

Every retailer has two options. Are you going to be the company with the Circuit City five-year plan? Or are you going to be the retailer that embraces digital and thrives in a 20+ year future?

Amazon—The Ever-Growing Giant

Let’s talk about the 800-pound gorilla that is Amazon. Ever since the introduction of Amazon Prime in 2005, the looming giant has been chipping away at retail market share and converting it to e-Commerce. It’s been more than a decade of dominance that can’t be denied.

Hindsight is 20/20, but what if retail started taking action against Amazon early on? You certainly would have if you had lost 50% of your market share in just one year (instead of 10). But for more than 10 years, Amazon has slowly beaten retail at its own game.

Amazon offers the same products at the same (or better) prices as big box retailers—all with better accessibility and free two-day shipping. Consumers are like lightning. They’ll always find the path of least resistance and Amazon has provided just that.

You could try to go head-to-head against Amazon with the same game you’ve always played—the one Amazon has stolen from your hands. To some extent, this is what Best Buy is doing with its “New Blue” strategy for digital transformation. However, incremental differences are exactly what will keep Amazon in control.

Instead, you have to focus on creating monumental differentiation. This means playing a new game that capitalizes on Amazon’s weakness.

The Problem with Reviews and the Chink in Amazon’s Armor

We all know that when the options are fast, good, and cheap, you can only choose two. And while Amazon may seem like the exception to so many rules, this one reveals a weakness that you can exploit to change the retail game.

One thing missing from Amazon’s business is a support staff that can advise customers on informed purchase decisions. No one is going to spend $2,000 on a new television without doing some research. However, Amazon can’t possibly staff product experts for every item it sells. Instead, Amazon has relied solely on customer reviews.

If you’ve ever sifted through thousands of Amazon reviews for a product you’re interested in, you’ve probably noticed that the system is far from perfect. First of all, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the growing volume of fake (or paid) product reviews.

More importantly, there’s a fundamental flaw in consumer product reviews—they’re based on someone else’s specific needs, not yours. One person’s five-star review might be a one-star review for you. Everyone thinks they want a 75-inch television and the one you choose on Amazon might have five stars—but who’s going to tell you that a television that big will be a waste of money if you’re putting it in an eight-foot by eight-foot room?

In the wake of less-than-trustworthy Amazon reviews, we’ve seen the rise of the professional reviewer. Someone like Marques Brownlee can give you high-quality, professional reviews of popular products. The production quality is great and the information is valuable when you’re researching certain products.

However, there’s still something missing with professional reviewers—a focus on the specific products you’re considering. This leaves us with a service gap between professional reviewers who have limited portfolios and the millions of consumer reviewers who don’t have your needs in mind.

Here’s your opportunity to change the retail game. For years, retail hasn’t valued human connection as much as it should. Your employees can fill the reviewer gap and act as product experts for customers.

Digital Transformation Should Start with the Employee Experience

In most industries, digital transformation starts with a focus on the customer experience. But when Amazon is your competition, you can’t just maintain the status quo. Instead of starting with the customer experience, enabling your employees to have valuable conversations with consumers is the key to executing digital transformation in retail.

Even after I stopped working at Best Buy, I used to go to the brick-and-mortar locations for my tech needs. I realized one day that every time I go into the store, I end up spending a lot of time talking to an employee about anything from home theater systems to computers and beyond.

The people working at Best Buy aren’t just knowledgeable about products (when the company brings manufacturers in to train and educate the staff, this isn’t surprising), they’re enthusiastic about them. At a time when availability of goods is commoditized by Amazon, your core product isn’t what’s on the shelves—it’s the employees you’ve trained to make empathetic connections with customers.

Right now, the conversation in retail is all about how you can increase foot traffic at brick-and-mortar stores as Amazon continues to grow. Instead, you should be asking yourself how you empower employees with the tools and processes necessary to connect with customers—both in-store and online.

Returning Retail to Its Former Glory

When I reflect on my retail roots, I realize that the human connection has always been the foundation of my passion for the industry. How can big box retailers like Best Buy, Babies”R”Us, and others take advantage of technology to get back to that former glory?

Saving retail is all about making mobile and customer connectivity part of employee DNA. You already have the infrastructure in place to match Amazon’s distribution (you have more storefronts and product experts out there than Amazon could ever match in the next five years). Now, you need to start facilitating meaningful conversations between your product experts and the consumers who are always researching potential purchases.

I believe messaging technology is the best way to maximize the potential of human connections in retail. Mobile chat has become the universal experience, giving retail employees a chance to have simple, rich, and dynamic conversations with customers.

The combination of chatbots for simple question/answer situations and human interaction for more complicated inquiries can help you design a high-quality customer experience. When product experts can guide consumers through the buying process and make sure their specific needs are met, you’ll start to build trust with customers—the one thing that will help you thrive in a retail world overtaken by Amazon.

So here we are at a fork in the road, retail. You can remain romantic about your past successes and go the way of Circuit City, Kmart, and others. Or you can play a new retail game and return to glory.

We’re trending back toward commerce done at the distance of a handshake and it’s time to get on board.

How dubizzle Drives Mobile Transactions with Messaging

What Is dubizzle?

Founded in 2005 by J.C. Butler and Sim Whatley, dubizzle is a classifieds platform focused on the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

As part of the OLX classifieds company, dubizzle has grown to include over 200 employees. These employees have been tasked with supporting the majority of users on mobile – 70% of the user base.

With the rise of mobile, dubizzle started looking for ways to boost engagement with digital classifieds. To improve the user experience and increase mobile transactions, dubizzle turned to messaging to connect its users.

The Problem: Not All Digital Experiences Are Created Equal

Unlike the United States, the emerging market dubizzle serves essentially skipped the PC era. Rather than moving from desktop browsing to laptops and slowly shifting toward mobile, emerging markets now dominate mobile browsing.  

Despite the differences between developed and emerging markets, OLX co-founder Alec Oxenford once said, “It’s rational to believe you know local markets, but people are always the same in each country. They think the same way. They have different priorities, but they all want to progress in life and that’s what drives internet behavior.”

dubizzle and other OLX classifieds platforms want to facilitate this progress, but they must remove friction from the user experience to do so. At first, this meant using phone calls, SMS messages, and emails to connect dubizzle users with each other. However, there were a few flaws in this approach:

  • Buyers sent emails to sellers but failed to continue the conversation, as the sellers won’t respond
  • Phone numbers proved hard for sellers to keep track of (especially when receiving multiple calls from many buyers).
  • Leaving the dubizzle platform to interact with buyers/sellers led to a limited usage of the platform

Moving to a chat-based platform was the answer to dubizzle’s need to keep interactions within the app.

However, after spending 2 years developing code to make a chat platform vendor’s APIs and SDKs work for their messaging needs, maintenance became overwhelming. After a referral from friends at Shedd, the dubizzle team moved their messaging infrastructure to Layer to simplify their implementation and free up their engineering team.

The Solution: Eliminating User Experience Friction with Layer Messaging

The challenges dubizzle faced with infrastructure maintenance started to hurt the user experience. Solving this problem with Layer meant rethinking the interactions between users.

While the majority of user conversations start with item availability, it’s equally important for dubizzle to move transactions through price negotiation and item pickup. Contrary from the e-commerce platforms, dubizzle transactions happen offline, therefore being able to share location was critical for the overall experience. This requirement added complexity with the original chat platform, but Layer made the backend infrastructure far easier to manage.

“Layer was quick to implement, is easy to maintain, and provides a great conversation experience for our users,” said Mireia Mujika, Senior Product Manager at dubizzle.

The dubizzle mobile app went live in January 2017 with mobile web and desktop support following in April. And within a month, all user- experience complaints stopped and mobile transactions on dubizzle witnessed an increase.

The key takeaway in dubizzle’s story is that creating a messaging-based user conversation can’t improve digital experiences if you spend all your time trying to maintain the backend infrastructure.

If you want to learn how you can implement messaging without backend headaches, contact us today for a free demo of the Layer user conversation platform.  

Customers Are People, Not Just Accounts—Let’s Start Treating Them That Way

Customers Are People, Not Just Accounts

I was walking by the Ferry Building in San Francisco recently and a poster in the window of a big bank caught my eye. It said: “Customers want to be treated as people, not accounts.”

It’s a simple statement, but it’s so true no matter what industry you’re in—especially as you try to keep up with digital disruption.

After all, the popular observation continues to ring true: Facebook is the world’s largest media company without creating any content; Uber is the world’s largest taxi company without any vehicles; and Airbnb is the world’s largest accommodation provider without any real estate.

How did these digital disruptors surpass long-standing industry leaders? By creating customer-centric businesses that deliver superior digital experiences. It’s time to start treating our customers like people, not just contributors to our bottom lines.

What Does It Mean to be a Customer-Centric Business?

Building a customer-centric business means investing in the customer experience. If we’re just creating products and services that fit our internal beliefs, they won’t resonate with customers.

Today’s mobile-first consumer has more control than ever in the buying process and it’s our job as business leaders to design a narrative that puts them at the center of every process. If communicating with your business proves frustrating or inconvenient, they’ll just leave for a competitor.

This means we have to understand our customers better than ever before. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to be customer-centric. You have to design a strategic narrative based on first-hand customer needs and desires—and then that strategic narrative must become part of the company’s DNA. Every department and employee should operate with the strategic narrative in mind, pushing the company forward with a goal of serving specific customer demands.

When you view customers as accounts instead of people, you’ll inevitably make mistakes as you try to figure out how to compete against the likes of Airbnb, Uber, Amazon, and others. This is how we’ve ended up with financial services firms looking for quick digital transformation wins, retailers recognizing the rise of concierge commerce, and travel companies striving to overcome online travel agency competition.

But overhauling your entire organization to become more customer-centric sounds like a daunting task. However, it doesn’t have to be so difficult to start engaging with customers more effectively (and in a place that makes the most sense to them).

3 Keys to Designing a Customer-Centric Digital Experience

One of the best ways to picture how companies treat their customers like accounts instead of humans is the existence of IVR systems. How many times have you sat on the phone dealing with a frustrating automated system when all you wanted was to ask a service rep a simple question?

Treating customers like people means designing a digital experience that puts them first. Here are 3 keys to making that happen:

Make Communication as Convenient as Possible: The days of phone calls and emails for customer communication are coming to a close (or are already over). Using messaging to make synchronous and asynchronous communication as easy as possible can help you eliminate friction from customer conversations.

Take Advantage of a Central Hub of Customer Data: Customer-centric businesses don’t force consumers into any single channel. You have to be flexible and meet customers where they want. In the past, this has led to data silos and a fundamental misunderstanding of customer needs. If you want to get to know customers better, design a digital experience that brings all that data into one central hub.

Going Beyond Chatbots: Treating customers like people (not accounts) means understanding the value of 1:1 human engagement. Chatbots can help you scale a digital experience, but they can’t be the only means of communication. Go beyond chatbots and start engaging with customers personally.

Changing from a company that sees customers as accounts to one that sees customers as people is as much a culture shift as anything else. But the switch can make the difference between falling victim to digital disruption and overcoming your competitors.

If you want to learn how the Layer customer conversation platform can help you treat customers more like people, contact us today for a free demo.

Concierge Commerce: Rebirth of a Salesman

The Rise and Fall of Mass Marketing

Conversations have been the native interface for business since the dawn of commerce, and it has only been in the past 50 years or so of mass production and mass marketing that these conversations have been distorted or killed altogether.

Even before the concept of sales, there was the bazaar. People would go to the marketplace, see a shopkeeper, meet the craftsman responsible for the wares they were interested in, and hear about all of the benefits first hand. As The Cluetrain Manifesto famously declared, “markets are conversations.”

Fast forwarding to the turn of the 20th century, we meet the salesperson. The salesperson would peddle consumer products (often door-to-door)—anything from vacuums to cash registers and from paint to soap. In most industries, they saw their peak sometime in the 1950s, just as something more efficient came along.

Things changed with the Mad Men era of mass marketing. Advertising and branding gave salespeople air cover to boost their odds of success. This air cover was fused with the advent of new “technology” like the supermarket and big box retailers, which offered more efficient ways to mass produce and distribute goods. While salespeople never went away, far more effective ways to reach customers began to make them less important.

But mass production and marketing ultimately succeeded to the detriment of customer experience. The most expensive retail stores would offer personal shoppers and the white-glove treatment—but commerce for the rest of us largely became sterile and impersonal.

Mobile Brings Back the Salesperson

With the dawn of e-commerce, the sands began to shift beneath the feet of the incumbents.

Driven principally by Amazon, customer expectations around price, convenience and selection were dramatically raised. Amazon “listened” to customers—explicitly via feedback and implicitly via data—and created a model where Amazon’s supply chain could “respond” to the requests and needs of its growing customer base. We began to move to a world of “supplier push” to one of “consumer pull.”

With Prime, Amazon has been able to create a differentiated customer relationship—a “conversation” between it and its customers—that is the envy of the commerce world. Not everyone has been so lucky. The dominant e-commerce player of the desktop web era has, like Facebook, been able to parlay that success into an even more dominant position on mobile. But that doesn’t mean it’s invincible, nor does it mean that its grasp on the economy will become absolute.

Mobile has proliferated to the point that everyone has a supercomputer in their pockets—and our primary use case for these supercomputers is to talk to our friends and family. Like Steve Jobs said in the original iPhone introduction, smartphones are our internet communicators.

Until this point, we’ve mostly used smartphones to talk amongst ourselves and extend into other forms of communication like dating apps and social communities. But messaging in particular is giving us an opportunity to apply mobile communication to much more.

Commerce has always been about conversation in one form or another. We may have distorted the buyer/seller conversation in the mass-marketing era, but it never died. It’s just been laying dormant until now.

Mobile has sparked the return of a “salesperson” approach to commerce in the consumer markets (ironically, just in time for people to finally declare traditional B2B sales dead).

Concierge Commerce Poised to Thrive on Mobile

One of the major early shots across the bow for concierge commerce was the introduction of Operator. The goal of Operator is to give consumers expert personal service over messaging as if they were being guided by a personal shopper in a brick-and-mortar store.

Despite some early struggles to find footing in the United States, Operator is by all accounts seeing strong growth internationally. They’ve been a trailblazer for a new way of selling to customers—and the idea of mobile concierge commerce has stuck.

Concierge commerce doesn’t just serve the need for convenience. It helps you decide what to buy. Companies like Trunk Club are already proving that this model can revive the personal sales approach.

Founded in 2009, Trunk Club has shown retailers that personal stylists can be fused with salespeople to provide white-glove fashion advice on a 1:1 level at scale. By putting messaging at the core of the business, Trunk Club has achieved:

  • 54% increase in conversions
  • 200% jump in shopper/styling connection rates versus phone & email
  • 3x as many shoppers purchasing trunks after receiving personalized fashion advice

Rather than manning a phone center or relying purely on email conversations, Trunk Club was able to take the conversation back to the glory days of the salesperson. Representatives could talk to customers in the context that makes the most sense to them today—messaging.

The concierge commerce model is bringing back the best aspects of the old-school sales person. But the concierge model isn’t limited to commerce use cases.

Messaging Can Power Every Customer Conversation

The concierge experience is already starting to branch out into other industries. For example, Accolade has already started offering personalized health advisors over messaging. We’re seeing financial services adopt the messaging model to provide real-time, personalized advice. And the classic hotel front desk is already transforming into a mobile concierge experience.

But be careful. Many companies are already making the mindset mistake that led to the death of salespeople years ago—they’re thinking scale before personalization. Chatbots might seem like a great way to scale a concierge messaging experience, but they’re only a component of a larger strategy.

When customers need help deciding what to buy or try to make a big financial decision, you can’t just rely on chatbots. You need to offer real human services that can live up to their individual expectations. Scale is important for the concierge business model to work—but you can blend chatbots with human interaction to get there.

Rebirth of a Salesman

History has a funny way of repeating itself. The personalized future predicted so lucidly by Martha Rogers and Don Pepper nearly 25 years ago in The One to One Future has finally arrived. At a time when communication is so often criticized for lacking a personal touch, the salesperson is officially back.

From what makeup to choose to which car loan to accept to who your doctor should be to how to decorate a home—computers can’t answer these questions yet, but a personalized concierge experience gives consumers access to millions of people who can.

Because of mobile and the messaging UX that dominates it, we finally have an effective way to create 1:1 connections with customers.

Check out how some companies are already making the leap into concierge commerce.

How Web Summit Went from 0 to 60 (Thousand) in 7 Years

Web Summit Went from 0 to 60 (Thousand)

If you frequently attend industry conferences, you know they aren’t all created equal.

After a few different events, you start to notice the little things—the nuances of scheduling, networking, the speaker lineup, and “after hours” events. For the conference organizers, it’s all about delivering the best experience possible to keep you coming back for more year after year.

This is why Paddy Cosgrave took a different approach when he started Web Summit back in 2010. While others were hiring event planners to organize conferences, Cosgrave and team hired engineers and data scientists to optimize the Web Summit experience.

But all data and engineering goes to waste if the attendee-facing experience falls flat.

In just 7 years, Web Summit has become the world’s largest and most important technology conference. With messaging at the core, the conference has gone from just 400 attendees in 2010 to over 60,000 expected in 2017.

What Makes the Web Summit Experience So Special?

What do you look for when you attend a conference? Everyone’s preferences are a bit different, but the keys to a great conference experience often come down to 3 key components:

Education: If you’re in the tech space, who better to learn from than people like Elon Musk, Reed Hastings, Jack Dorsey, Michael Dell and others like them? Web Summit makes a point of bringing in the very best speakers to teach attendees about the latest trends in the tech ecosystem.

Entertainment: Web Summit does more than just bring tech leaders together. The conference has positioned itself as a must-attend event from an entertainment standpoint. Guests like Bono, Tony Hawk, Eva Longoria,, and more make Web Summit what it is—both during and after conference hours.

Networking: With over 60,000 attendees—68% of which are senior management—it’s hard to argue with the networking power of Web Summit. Whether you’re a startup or and established company, Web Summit can serve as more than a conference—it’s quickly becoming a universal tech marketplace.

The biggest problem at Web Summit might be the fact that you can’t possibly do (or see) it all. You can’t listen to all 650+ speakers and you can’t meet with more than 60,000 attendees—and trying to find which talks and networking opportunities suit you best might seem overwhelming.

This is why Web Summit’s greatest focus is on surfacing seldom-heard speakers, personalizing session recommendations, and offering insight into which attendees should set meetings with one another. With a Layer-powered messaging experience driving the conference, Web Summit has minimized friction and maximized attendee (and speaker) satisfaction.

Messaging—The Foundation for a Frictionless Conference Experience

Understanding that messaging has become the universal communication experience, Paddy Cosgrave and the Web Summit team started working with Layer in 2015 to take the conference experience to the next level. Web Summit was already creating lanyards, registration software, recommendation systems and more—and building a messaging experience from scratch just wasn’t possible.

Web Summit case study from Ivy Montgomery on Vimeo.

Combining Cosgrave’s focus on graph theory, engineering and data science with a customer-facing messaging interface has led to 98% attendee satisfaction. Some keys to this success are:

  • Frictionless group discussions among attendees
  • Seamless mix of asynchronous and synchronous communication for meetings
  • Real-time location data to make meeting in person quick and easy
  • The ability to share memories of the Web Summit experience

Web Summit is the first software company to create events and Cosgrave has proven that there’s science to this conference planning process. But as Web Summit introduces even more events around the world, the partnership with Layer to combine a powerful backend with a frictionless frontend will be critical for delivering valuable experiences.

If you want to learn more about how Layer has helped Web Summit delight conference attendees around the world, contact us today for a free demo of the customer conversation platform.

Introducing the Layer Platform API: build rich application-to-user messaging

Every app is a communications app. Whether it’s connecting two people in a marketplace, an on-demand service, a shared interest community, or a dating app, user-to-user communications is an integral layer of functionality. Layer already provides this with client-side SDKs for mobile and web.

But sometimes as a developer, you need special control over the communications within an app. There comes a time when you need to add participants to a conversation (customer support), create a conversation on behalf of two users who do not know each other (dating app), or act in an administrative function to block certain users (shared interest community). You and your application need to be in control. That’s where the Platform API comes in. It unlocks all of the functionality you would expect to enable control from your backend application, and adds support for your backend to send application-to-user messages. This opens up entirely new possibilities to broadcast updates to your users and enables service integrations, injecting content feeds, or offering rich in-line content.

Announcements: a new way to notify your users


Fig 1. Surge pricing.

Application-to-user messaging comes in two flavors. The first is akin to a targeted notification. You may want to broadcast an update about surge pricing to select users in a geographic area, let someone know that they have a new follower, or that there’s a new deal based on their shopping preferences. You could use SMS for this, but you’d need the user’s phone number, the communication appears to the user to come from an anonymous source, and lands among the noise of a user’s already-busy text message inbox. Push notifications are better, but they are best-effort delivery and you don’t get in-depth analytics on receipt or open rate. With Announcements, you can send a persistent message to users that can be optionally accompanied by a push notification. It can also be silently synchronized among the user’s devices, to power an activity feed for example.

There are major benefits to message persistence, searchability, and receipt analytics. Announcements will work even when users have disabled notifications, or if they have uninstalled the app. You can tell what the exact delivery status is (e.g. sent, delivered, read), and which people have read the message. When your users log back in, you can display a stream of updates, or let them know how many activity items they missed since their last visit.

These capabilities provide you complete control to create the exact experience you want for your users. Bring the conversation into your app and re-engage your users with Announcements in ways that SMS or plain push notifications just can’t provide.

Send system messages into conversations


Fig 2. Score update in group chat.

The second form of application-to-user messaging is a scenario many of us are familiar with: integrated services that interact right in the flow of conversation. Anyone who uses Slack or HipChat has probably set up a number of 3rd party integrations with services such as Twitter, Github, or Trello. When changes occur in these services, they broadcast updates directly into the appropriate channels in your messaging interface. With System Messages, anyone is able to build this rich functionality. Your backend application can relay 3rd party service updates, usually from a third-party Webhook, directly into the relevant conversational UI of your users.

For logistics and on-demand applications, where there are many different parties involved and frequent status updates about an order, all of the application-originated messages can be injected into a single in-app conversation across mobile devices and browsers. When the user has been matched with a shopper, or they need to change an order, or the order is out for delivery, all of this can be tracked in a single message thread. Accompany it with optional push notifications to keep everyone informed about the updates of the progress of the transaction. This means maps, order cards, chat, questions, and receipts can all be integrated together, and accompanied by notifications. All of the conversation flowing through the app also removes privacy concerns around personal identity and phone numbers. SMS quickly becomes second class to a consolidated, media-rich, in-app conversation.

This context is ultimately what makes a communications experience rich. Imagine a set of basketball fans discussing the NBA finals. One person in the chat may be watching at home with friends, another at the bar, and yet another is on the subway without access to a video stream. The three of them may already have a group chat going as their play-by-play commentary about what’s happening. However this conversation is missing one key thing: shared context. Now with System Messages, the basketball application can inject the score updates and notable events directly into the stream of conversation. For the member on the subway, she now has access to what’s going on without having to follow multiple sources of information at once; it’s all there in the conversation. The content and communications are integrated into a single place, and the experience for each person is made all the more relevant.

Create and edit conversations from your backend


Fig 3. Start a new chat between matched users.

Let’s say you’re building a dating app, and a match was just made between two of your users. These two don’t know each other, and need to be connected in a conversation so the magic can happen. Using the Platform API, your backend application can create a conversation and invite the two of them to join. This allows you to set your own metadata on the conversation, and determine when to begin the conversation (e.g. optional time delay). On top of all this, with a System Message you could include an ice breaker question or prompt into the newly created conversation to trigger immediate engagement. In the future, this will also allow you to delete the conversation (e.g. a 24 hour window of opportunity). Application-controlled conversation creation also allows you to build invite mechanisms, automatic removal of inactive users, or automatically adding new users to a conversation upon sign-up.

Your backend is in control of Layer


Fig 4. Block users based on community feedback.

The last important piece of functionality the Platform API opens up is control over your application, and eventually your Layer account, via REST. A common implementation of this might involve allowing users to flag each other as inappropriate, and when enough flags are accumulated on a user, to invoke a block policy on Layer. We’re expanding this area over the coming weeks and months to provide more granular control over your applications, and eventually over administrative function of your Layer account.

What’s next

At Layer, our aim is to provide easy-to-use, flexible, powerful APIs and SDKs for developers to build rich communications experiences. This means exposing controls where needed, and simplifying complexity where possible. We view the Platform API as a whole product, one that gives you more leverage and control over your application and the communication experiences within. We’ll be releasing administrative controls over your Layer account, enhanced control over user and notification policies, insights into all of your messaging activity, and all of the functions you are currently able to perform at a user-level.


Messaging: the key layer of every meaningful app

Mary Meeker recently released her annual treatise on the state of the Internet, “Internet Trends 2015.” Almost immediately after its release, I received messages from many tech industry friends, all remarking on the language she used to summarize the role messaging plays in apps:

“Internet Trends,” 2015

We agree wholeheartedly. Here at Layer, we feel messaging isn’t a feature of an application that is just “tacked on” after the fact. Instead, it’s a crucial layer of successful apps that powers engagement and growth. As Mary’s deck shows, a pure messaging app such as WhatsApp, with 800 million MAU and 30 billion messages sent per day, exemplifies the massive reach and engagement that is possible with messaging alone. Our goal is to help developers unlock this engagement and growth within their own messaging-based apps.

So how can your own apps benefit from taking advantage of this trend? First and foremost, it’s important to understand exactly why these apps are successful.

Why messaging apps so often succeed

The key to understanding why messaging apps are successful is to understand why we as users enjoy using them. These apps fit within our busy lives, so we know that we can trust them with our time. They’re also intrinsically viral, in that your experience is improved if you convince others to use the app. This, in turn, fosters personal connections, including a unique bond between you and the app.

With so many demands on our limited attention, many people prefer the asynchronicity of text-based messages to the synchronicity of a phone call. This same effect is witnessed in apps: we have limited amounts of time to spend with them, so we want bite-sized information that we can asynchronously share with others, in a way that suits everyone’s schedule and engagement level.

From a growth perspective, asynchronous messaging is inherently viral, and the popularity of modern messaging clients mirrors this perfectly. If your friends are using Snapchat to send fun, ephemeral messages to each other, you get the app just to make sure you’re part of the conversation. No app, no fun. The result? Snapchat is a worldwide phenomenon with 100 million highly-engaged users, all of which is built atop a messaging network.

Finally, messaging is personal. It allows for the creation of spaces outside of the noisy social networks, where like-minded people can build bonds around the content and topics they care about. These bonds also help to build an important connection between the user and your app.

The benefits of native messaging

By leveraging messaging in your app, you’re supporting your users’ desire to share content while also capturing the conversations around that content. You’re also taking advantage of a growing trend: people want to have conversations outside of the large networks. Finally, and most importantly, you’re maintaining control over one of your most important assets: your user graph.

Your users are conditioned to share and discuss content from applications. If your app neglects this reality, and acts as nothing more than a content creation tool, you’re effectively pushing your users to other networks to share their experiences — which they will do. This degrades the experience of your content, lowers the engagement rates for your app, and subsequently the growth of your app as users are not using your app to discuss your content.

Creating your own in-app messaging is also an effective means to capitalize on a growing trend for users: the large social networks have become overwhelming and quite often completely unrelated to the topics and content about which they care the most. At any given moment, there’s a small network of people who care about something that’s just seen as noise to the larger conversations occurring in others’ Timelines or Newsfeeds.

An example of this in recent memory is the finale of Serial, the NPR podcast that smashed iTunes download records. A group of highly-engaged listeners wanted to discuss the finale with others, but the content they created was interspersed with the usual cacophony of unrelated Tweets and posts. The result is that those who wanted to share their experience with others felt alone, and those who had no interest in the discussion were annoyed at references that were off-topic to their own on-going conversations. Had NPR directly catered to these users with in-app messaging, they could have gained directly from the engagement, by upselling other podcasts directly to their audience or by seeing a concentration of what people liked and disliked about the podcast. This is just one example of a scenario that happens thousands of times a day.

Finally, and most importantly, a side effect of incorporating messaging into your app is that you maintain control over your own users and user graph. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore the massive distribution available via the large networks. Instead, the savvy developer will use the social networks as what they are: identity providers and marketing channels. Their simple auth mechanisms enable your users to identify themselves to you quickly, and their massive networks of users should allow others to discover your content. Your job is to then capture that conversation and bring it into your app.

The future of messaging

We’re just now seeing the power messaging can have in apps. As devices and networks continue to evolve, we’ll see many more advancements in network speed and the content types that people want to interact with in real time. If your application is built on a layer of messaging, it will be perfectly positioned to respond to whatever the future holds. And, if you’ve not yet transitioned your app, it’s never too late to change that.

To easily create your own messaging-based app, Layer provides Atlas, our open source UI framework that gets you up and running in minutes.

For those of you who are interested in transitioning your existing app to support messaging, come back for Part 2 of this series, where we’ll show an in-depth transition. In the meantime, the team at Layer is always here to help.

Designing our growth tooling

At Layer we believe great developer relationships can be cultivated logically and respectfully alongside brilliant engineering. We recognize that our success is directly tied to our customers’ success. We’re implementing systems, tools, and processes to ensure every app creator that tries Layer has a great experience and is effectively and fully supported.

We’ve designed our growth tooling to be consistent with Layer’s values:

  • Interactions with our customers should be designed, thoughtful, respectful
  • Customer relationships should be built on a real value proposition with empathy, trust, and authentic connection
  • Products to support customer success should be as important as core product
  • Building relationships with developers should be about teaching rather than selling

The growth machine we’ve built at Layer enables us to engage, measure, and support customer relationships. We’re building a product for all app creators, from one girl in a garage to the Fortune 500.

Getting to know you

Before we can properly address a customer’s needs, we invest heavily in understanding who they are and what they’re trying to build. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of inbound interest at Layer after winning TechCrunch Disrupt. At that time the team announced an intention to open 50 slots in a beta program and more than 13,000 app creators signed up on to request access. Clearly we were onto something!

To handle this scale with a small team, we’ve needed efficient ways to collect data, understand individual needs and requirements, and engage in an authentic way — at scale. When someone indicates an interest in Layer and signs up for access on, that information is fed first into Salesforce for tracking, reporting, and quick followup. Salesforce is flexible and easily customizable even without code or a professional admin, and we’ve found it exceptionally useful in ensuring new users get quick attention.

We’ve adapted Salesforce to meet our needs and data requirements so that we can be there for each of our users from day one. We’ve done a tremendous amount of outreach to our users, crafting personal and authentic messages, learning about, and listening to our potential customers. We knew many developers had originally been attracted by our mobile-first product, but we were eager to know what they wanted next. Throughout our beta, we used GetFeedback to run Salesforce-aware surveys, asking new users share more detail about their requirements. With a 24% response rate, consistent patterns emerged in this customer feedback that informed our product roadmap and prioritization.

One request we heard loud and clear was a desire for UI components to help developers get a high quality chat experience up and running fast. In response, we launched Atlas, a fully featured, high performance, 100% customizable UI kit. Atlas is helping thousands of Layer developers implement great communications experiences in their apps much more quickly. Detailed and meaningful feedback from our customers played a big role in the launch of Atlas and many products to come.

We have struggled with an age-old discovery challenge for all developer products — developers love to sign up with their gmail addresses and little else. The Layer signup experience is clean and quick. However, the lack of information makes it more difficult for our team to ensure we can effectively support our users’ needs and deliver the tools and value they expect. Understanding the geographical distribution of our user base has provided many insights we’ve used to up our game in serving international customers, with many more optimizations on our roadmap to address this need.

For better insight into who are users are and where they’re coming from we’ve leveraged Clearbit, a business intelligence API, to uncover helpful information about new users immediately. We access this information via Clearbit’s Salesforce plugin, enabling us to quickly understand our users without a bunch of googling. This a big win for our customers, who only need to provide minimal info at sign-up. At the same time, we’re empowered to more quickly and effectively get exactly what our users need into their hands.

Developer engagement & the feedback loop

Our team has craved deeper engagement with our developers than email can provide. Late last year we implemented Intercom for prospect and customer communication, and the results have been spectacular.

We use Intercom first to better understand customer needs and requirements. On a new user’s first login, they are greeted by a message right inside the dashboard from Alex on our Growth team, asking how we can help. When developers indicate interest in a platform we don’t yet support, they receive a message in real-time from Drew, one of our Product Managers, asking more about their use case. The insights gained through these conversations have transformed our ability to understand how customers are using Layer, and what we can do to make it even better and more useful.

We tag customers in Intercom based on feature requests, both to inform our roadmap and so that we can let them know when we ship their requested features. We segment customers in Intercom based on demographic details, but also by target segment. We also use Intercom to identify larger opportunities, and reach out to offer a more hands-on experience and support. We’ve created events tied to nearly every action on and in our dashboard, enabling great insights into user interests and requirements.

One example of the benefit we’ve seen in these interactions led to a meaningful recent change in our commercial offering. When a user checks out our pricing page, we can reach out to answer any questions they may have about pricing in real-time right in the sidebar. These interactions provided another key insight: our initial $99/month price point was prohibitive for some startups just launching and for customers in territories where this price point represents an extremely significant investment. Layer is a premium platform and service, but as a team we share the core value that it should be accessible to everyone, everywhere. To address this need we created a much more accessible Startup package at only $25/month, making the decision to get started even easier.

The white glove experience

We’re focused on providing a responsive, high-touch experience for larger customers. Our team understands that the decision to use a core building block for communications is a big decision, with major implications for our customers’ products and companies. We also understand that larger organizations need clear points of contact to manage complex provisioning processes and technical due diligence.

Our team is built to meet these needs. We offer enterprise pricing that works at scale, as Layer was designed from the ground up to be a commercial-grade distributed system for high volume communication — not just a starter platform. We bring technical resources to bear from day one, starting with our Partner Engineering team to support integration. Our Special Projects team even builds fully functional prototypes and proof-of-concepts for larger customers. And of course we offer world-class 24×7 support for large organizations around the world, leveraging Zendesk for our Standard & Enterprise Support ticketing queues.

Communication is a critical part of the high touch experience. We use Slack for internal communication, and we’ve also created external, customer-facing Slack channels so large customers can have direct access to our core team. The customer interaction that happens in Slack is much more real-time than email and less formal than a call. These channels give our customers a place to get to know Layer and ask questions they otherwise may not, helping them feel like an extended part of the Layer family, which we love. This human connection with our partners has tremendous value to both sides in facilitating communication and iterating to create high quality communications experiences on Layer.

Elegant self-onboarding

We know that many developers prefer to self-onboard, and we aim to meet this need with slick self-service tools. Developers ask us for clear and concise documentation, easy access to support, and a way to go live without having to get on the phone and talk to someone. In February, we launched a full self-service experience, enabling any developer to sign up, build out a Layer integration, subscribe to a service plan, and go live on Layer without assistance. Of course our team is always on-call for support if our customers need or want it along the way.

Another value we share at Layer is that our business model should be linked to the value we provide to our customers. Our pricing reflects this, and is built on a fee for unlimited messaging for Monthly Active Users. A fraction of a cent buys unlimited messaging for an active user — and we only charge for users that send or receive messages via Layer. Unlimited messaging for a MAU on Layer is cheaper than sending a single SMS, and it’s a better user experience, too. To support this usage-based model in a scalable way we implemented Zuora — a fully featured billing and subscriptions platform, integrated with Salesforce and our own internal tools.

Core values that drive our process

At Layer we aim to build a team that provides real value, answers developer questions with substance, advises on communications best practices from experience. We are building our integrated toolset to ensure that in addition to our full stack communications building block, we also have information to share, perspectives on the market and best practices, and lessons to teach that bring additional value to our customers. Developers are extremely busy and our goal is to help them get what they need, as quickly and directly as possible.

In partnership with our engineering and product teams, our customer-facing team is gathering valuable product feedback that informs our roadmap and decisions. Our team recognizes that our internal relationships are every bit as important as our customer relationships. Our customer-facing team advocates for our customers internally, and also works to ensure that every part of the Layer organization understands we’re seeing in market and what we’re hearing from our customers.

Layer is a communications building block, and communication is a fundamental and core service for our developers. We understand and respect that the decision to use our platform is a complex and serious one. We’re building an organization around tools that make us more accessible to our customers and tear down the barriers between companies and the people who make them work.

We’re looking forward to putting these tools and processes to work to support you in creating a great communications experience. We can’t wait to see what you’ll build!