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Communicating with Farmers

In the beginning, Till was built to help enable two-way communication between brands and food manufacturers who wanted to reach smallholder farmers. This was a tough demographic to connect with, as it consisted largely of older farmers working from small farms. Emailed PDFs and apps weren’t working, as these weren’t the ideal means of communication for this particular demographic. Response rates for surveys hovered around a 3-5% completion rate.

What they needed was a means of communication that felt more natural and authentic for this demographic. The reality was: These farmers just weren’t going to complete and email back a PDF for use an app. So the Till team got to work.

Leveraging the Power of SMS Text Messaging

The developers at Till quickly realized they were going to have to build a solution themselves, as an existing SMS resource like Twilio didn’t have all of the features and capabilities they would need.

The new Till needed to be both programmatic and scalable, but not too high-tech for the end user, either. To get farmers to use it, it would have to be a means of communication that worked on the farmers’ terms. That meant eliminating some of the virtual hoops one often has to jump through--like using an app or emailing back a complex form.

The team at Till quickly realized that SMS, voice, and text messaging made the most sense as a simple, realistic solution to the problem. In a more native environment (that didn’t require the user to visit a mobile destination like an email PDF, app, or website portal), farmers could quickly and easily complete a survey and share information right from their smartphones with a few taps. What was even better: It scaled.

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With this new direction, Till started to take form as an SMS gateway that was low-cost, agnostic, compatible with any telecom provider, and encapsulated in a single API.

Discovering Alternate Applications for Till

It didn’t take long for the team at Till to realize they had created a versatile microservice that developers could use in various applications. It wasn’t just for communication with farmers. It was a plug and play tool that could be helpful in a wide variety of contexts.

“It wasn’t just for communication with farmers. It was a plug and play tool that could be helpful in a wide variety of contexts.“

Companies started to take note of what Till was building, too. This led to conversations with big brands whose interest in Till was rooted in a desire for efficiency improvements. In the past, these companies had been managing supply chain management via messy, time-consuming means like email and spreadsheets. But Till, leveraging the power of SMS, voice, and text messaging, presented an interesting option for a faster, easier management.

It didn’t take long for companies to deploy and find success with Till in different contexts. Raley’s (a supermarket chain with about 150 locations in California & Nevada) deployed Till for food safety communication with their produce growers. In doing so, they dramatically increased reporting response rates and cut down on turnaround time for key information--taking it from 3-5 days down to just a few hours.

Nob Hill supermarkets, also owned by Raley’s, leveraged Till with their produce managers so they no longer had to use post-it notes while negotiating prices and inventory with local produce growers. This resulted in a 22% reduction in buying costs and added immediate visibility around local sourcing.

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Other businesses have found success using Till, too:

  • One agrochemical company wanted to gather a higher percentage of feedback at a lower cost from customers on their early purchase program. Using Till, they developed a targeted SMS-based approach that achieved 40% response rates (8x better than before) at a fraction of the Helpdesk cost.

  • One terminal operator company needed to schedule and confirm labor for upcoming jobs, as their current call-in approach was fraught with problems and inconsistencies. They developed a web-based application powered by Till with a hotline and dashboard, achieving a modified internal rate of return 70% in a 6 month payback period--all while increasing reliability to 100%.

But that’s not all. Till also presents opportunities for personalization and customer experience improvements in the SMS environment, enabling brands to deliver hyper-relevant marketing messages based on geographic locations and to monitor customer satisfaction through easy-to-complete text message-based surveys.

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“We’ve come to realize that Till is an important resource for audiences that are becoming more and more mindful about their mobile usage and are generally shifting away from large amounts of screen time spent in app-specific environments,” said Nick Crafford, CTO of Till.

This is wise, as new data shows that app session activity grew only 6% in the past year; a decrease that’s down from 11% in 2016. Anticipating this shift in user behavior means taking a proactive approach to communication--and getting ahead of the curve.

What’s Ahead for Till

In the future, the team at Till is looking forward to discovering new global applications for this resource, adding new features, and reaching a new audience of developers through Manifold.

“We’re working to connect with more developers who can use Till to solve problems via text messaging,” said Nick Crafford, CTO of Till. “There are still a lot of opportunities to be discovered.”

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From Farm to Cloud

How connecting brands and farms launched a better Two-way SMS & voice microservice
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