Indonesian online wholesale marketplace Ula is a pandemic success story. Founded in January 2020 to help the country’s mom-and-pop kiosks— or warungs—better manage their businesses with technology, the startup experienced heightened demand for its services when COVID-19 accelerated the shift to online channels.
Today, Ula offers over 10,000 products on its platform and serves more than 200,000 small neighbourhood retailers.
“Our app enables warung owners to replenish their stock online at competitive rates and have the goods delivered to their shop within two days. This solves a major pain point for shopkeepers, who typically had to shut their stores during business hours if they needed to visit wholesale markets to buy inventory,” explained Alan Wong, Ula Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer. Ula also offers a buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) service for the many small retailers that have limited working capital.
A critical challenge for Ula has been to keep a high bar for customer experience as it undergoes rapid growth. “You often hear about startups that scale fast, at the expense of meeting their customer’s needs. We’re the opposite – customer-centricity is our core value,” said Wong. “Investing in solutions that can help ensure that we avoid customer service failures is a huge part of our approach, which is why we turned to Twilio almost from day one.”
In April 2020, Ula adopted Twilio’s SMS application programming interface (API) to ensure reliable SMS delivery to customers. It has also built a WhatsApp chatbot using Twilio’s Studio tool and WhatsApp API to help it garner feedback and improve the customer experience, thereby increasing brand value and trust.
Ula takes robust measures to enhance customer data security. When a new customer opens a digital account, for instance, authentication mechanisms ensure interactions are safe and secure.
“Most customers choose to authenticate via their phone number, as they find it the easiest method. In this scenario, our system triggers the delivery of a one-time password (OTP) to the user via SMS. We started out using a solution from a different API provider to help us perform this function, but quickly found that the messages were not being delivered,” said Pattarakamol Lertsanti, Head of Product Strategy and Operations. “That was resulting in frustrated customers and higher support costs, so we switched to Twilio’s SMS API.”
Integrating Twilio’s solution into Ula’s software was simple. “Setting up and testing was easy and fast – in fact, this was probably one of the smoothest integrations we’ve undertaken,” Lertsanti reported.
Already, the solution is significantly impacting Ula’s business. “Our OTP process adds an extra layer of security. It helps us provide customers with peace of mind, knowing their credentials are safe, and that builds engagement,” explained Lertsanti. “And as Twilio SMS deliverability rates are so reliable, we’ve now started using OTPs to verify a range of other customer processes as well, including shipment pickups.”
While about 70 per cent of the SMSs Ula sends are OTP-related, it also uses Twilio’s SMS solution to alert customers about key updates – such as when the order is out for delivery or ready for pickup, and the respective amount to be paid at the time of delivery or pickup.
Twilio’s solution is proving a very effective communication tool for us, which is why we’ve seen traffic shoot up,” confirmed Wong. “We’ve grown our SMS communications by about 16 times within the last year, starting from March 2021, and are currently sending text messages to around 200,000 users on the platform every month.
Ula has also deployed Twilio’s Studio tool to help it build a chatbot that it uses within the WhatsApp messaging application to collect customer feedback on post-purchase experience.
“Our goal is to streamline the entire supply chain network for warung owners. Offering a highly efficient online delivery service is a vital part of that,” said Lertsanti. “We needed a way to learn directly from our customers about how we can improve our services to make their lives easier. That’s exactly what this chatbot allows us to do.”
Twilio Studio helps teams build no-code, flexible apps, using drag and drop tools. As Lertsanti explained, this enabled Ula’s developers to quickly and easily build a bot that picks up on keywords in incoming customer WhatsApp messages. It then responds with a series of pre-written questions on how well the company is managing deliveries.
“Once we’d built our solution, we integrated it with Twilio’s WhatsApp API,” she added. “It’s proving highly effective, and it’s also a simple process to adapt the bot’s script if we need to, in response to fast-moving business conditions.”
Some of the results of the Chatbot which was used by customers to rate Ula’s Customer Service include:
1. Increased volume of customer feedback. Previously, Ula collected qualitative feedback from customers through 10-min phone calls. With this approach, they were able to cover 300-400 customers per week. The new messaging application, however, allows them to collect feedback from at least 5,000 customers per week.
2. The new application provided granularity in customer satisfaction feedback. Since the feature was introduced, Ula has seen 97% customer satisfaction with their service, and only 3% dissatisfaction. Due to Twilio’s ability to tailor questions based on customer responses, nearly 60% of the customers were willing to give Ula more detailed reasons as to why they were dissatisfied, which in turn allows them to understand, prioritize and solve the most impactful customer pain points.
Ula’s early success has caught the eye of investors. So far, it has raised over USD $140 million in funding from big names like Prosus, Tiger Global, Tencent, Sequoia, Lightspeed and Jeff Bezos’ family office, Bezos Expeditions.
Looking ahead, Ula will use that capital to help it grow its presence in Indonesia and explore expansion across Southeast Asia. It also plans to boost its existing marketplace and BNPL offerings, alongside other services it has created to empower small retailers to sell within their communities.
“That includes Teman Ula, our community selling programme supporting anyone who has entrepreneurial aspirations, wants to help their communities and earn additional income,” said Wong. “Then there’s Titik Ula, where we offer store owners (or anyone) with underutilised space the opportunity to become an Ula pick-up point and earn extra cash.”
As Ula expands, it is also doubling down on its customer engagement strategy. It is now looking into adopting two-way and cross-channel messaging powered by Twilio as another way to deliver rich, instant communication. Here, a direct message is sent to customers via email or text. A live agent or well-trained bot is available on the other end to follow up with a text-based conversation.
At the same time, Ula will continue to develop innovative new solutions that can help warung owners digitise their supply chain and logistics infrastructure, and keep them competitive.
“We believe the use of technology does not have to lead to radical changes in the way our customers have always traditionally operated as retailers – that is, by building close relationships with their own customers in an environment where communities are still tight-knit,” Wong commented.
“For us, this means coming up with easy-to-use digital tools that can complement and streamline the warung supply chain, rather than drastically altering the way they do business. It’s all about bridging gaps and creating incremental change. Here, drawing on Twilio’s breadth of offerings and its strengths as a customer engagement platform will continue to be important to us as we create those solutions and continue our expansion journey.”