WebRTC is Bringing "Customer Service of the Future" to the Present!

Today we’re bringing back one of our previous guest bloggers, Val Matula! Val is the Senior Director of Multimedia Research for Avaya Labs. His research is focused on combining dialog and speech technology, acoustics, video, messaging, and graphics in a way that helps businesses to improve their effectiveness. He currently holds 27 patents ranging from video customer service and social media interactions to speech and natural language processing.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for blog video-Valentine C Matula pic.JPG
Mr. Val Matula
**********************************************************************************************

WebRTC is promising to be the technology that will move many customer service sessions from toll-free calling to an all-Internet model. By embedding voice (and even video) communication components into browsers, and with the industry creating WebRTC software for mobile applications, customers who ‘start on the Internet’ will be able to stay there when they need agent-based assistance.

Yes, WebRTC supports person-to-person sessions, video conferencing, group sessions, and collaboration. However, it will be especially valuable in customer service applications, because it allows Internet consumers to reach agents without leaving a web or mobile application–enabling the agent to get the exact context of the customer’s issue, then provide specific help to the customer while still in the web app. Say goodbye to having to click-to-call an agent, going through voice menus, and then working to have an agent complete a transaction!

Furthermore, while still in the app the agent can also start a ‘co-browsing’ session, and thus see what the consumer sees in order to better help the consumer. If desired, the consumer can then continue on their way–allowing the agent to drop and serve another customer immediately!

While WebRTC’s initial design was for native browser-to-browser communication, I predict that many enterprises will use it as an on-ramp to the contact center core to unlock the value of thin client access to communications. Why? Contact centers need the ability to route a request for help (and an all-browser implementation might do this), but they also need continuous control of the media. In addition, the right codec(s) must be used to leverage existing contact center systems.

WebRTC provides the OPUS codec for its superior Internet-friendly attributes: Variable bit rate support, excellent voice and music quality, and good packet-loss concealment to ‘smooth over the cracks’ when an audio packet is lost or delayed in transit. While OPUS will be a native part of the contact center infrastructure over time, transcoding to a current common codec is likely in initial installations as part of this on-ramp process.

Digging deeper, session (call) recording requires the ability to tap into the voice or voice/video streams, and copy them to the enterprise recording platform. Furthermore, while WebRTC supports OPUS and G.711, recording systems initially will continue to support G.729 or internal codecs. During any call, a 3-way conference between customer, agent, and another agent or supervisor might be needed–so conferencing media systems must be engaged. Silent call observation is often done in a contact center for quality assurance and agent instruction–but when a supervisor ‘taps into a call’, the quality can’t change as a call is mixed, or otherwise it’s no longer silent: The last thing we want is the customer or agent saying “it sounds like someone is on the line”.

About two-thirds of the U.S. today has access to high speed internet, a virtual requirement for satisfactory WebRTC-based communication sessions. This means, one-third of the U.S. does not have this capability, and thus will likely continue to use toll-free calling for customer service. Having the ability to “blend” WebRTC and toll-free calling sessions will maximize agent utilization, while simplifying agent scheduling, infrastructure planning, not to mention reducing overall contact center costs. On-ramping WebRTC into a telephone-capable core solves this issue.

Finally, contact center agents may also find value in using WebRTC sessions as an ‘off-ramp’ from the contact center core. Agents on thin client devices, work at home agents, off-shored agents, and outsourced agents will benefit from OPUS codec support (which is possible also via SIP sessions), and from the ability to have fully browser-based agent desktops. Off-ramping permits thin client agents to take toll-free calls and WebRTC sessions like any other agent when done from the properly equipped contact center core.

In summary, WebRTC is being driven by the value of adding customer service into web service, rather than forcing a separate toll-free call. While WebRTC supports browser-to-browser communication, there is a strong story to be told for on-ramping and off-ramping WebRTC sessions into a contact center core that is capable of recording, conferencing, supporting thin client agents, and blending both WebRTC and toll-free customer sessions.

We’d love to hear what you think! For more insight you can check out the article: “The Future is WebRTC” in our 2013 Collaboration Trends Guide . AND…if you’re going to the WebRTC conference and expo next week in Atlanta, don’t miss my session “WebRTC and Customer Service “ Thursday at 2:30!

Related Articles:

Younified Communications—it Really is All About YOU!

One of my favorite things about working for Avaya is that we’re marketing the same collaboration tools we use to do our jobs. Best of all, we have access to beta versions of our solutions, providing R&D teams with first-hand unedited feedback. Yep, we are drinking our own champagne!

Based on my interactions with customers across the world, I know that many of you work just like we do. Meeting after meeting, virtual, mobile and in-person. It’s not just about the quantity of meetings we all participate in, but the quality of our experience to drive productivity and engagement. As you know, there are many different types of meetings. Let me give you a few examples just from my last week:

  • A group text chat with a few colleagues—getting a quick answer in a sidebar or multi-tasking activity
  • A one-on-one video meeting to review a spreadsheet with one of my staff members
  • A team meeting over desktop or mobile video where we collaborated about an upcoming quarterly plan—many IMs were going on behind the scenes that aligned with meeting topic discussions
  • Remote participation in a customer executive briefing, where the customer’s team was using a video room system in HD
  • A global all-employee meeting broadcast to every person in the company—that’s thousands of people across the world
  • A sales webinar to several hundred participants where we shared a presentation and responded to questions via integrated chat
  • A detailed technical training session on a product with full application sharing for a demonstration of the new user interface
  • Last but not least, a quick impromptu meeting on the phone with one of my team members

Historically, these different meeting types were hosted on multiple different systems or services. This required users to learn different interfaces, which required different logins, passwords, technical requirements, and delayed starts. At times, major compromises resulted based on the meeting scale required, bringing everyone’s level down to the lowest common denominator. The result? The least engaging experience for the audience, and therefore the lowest amount of attention and engagement, and consequently sub-optimal productivity.

Sound familiar? Do you have one solution for IM, another for telephony, perhaps a web conferencing service, a separate audio conferencing solution, another solution for room video conferencing and yet something else for large scale events? All of which fit under the term “unified” communications, but how much of it provides YOU with an engaging and collaborative experience?

A Single, Truly Unified Solution

While the vision of Unified Communications was to merge methods and tools and simplify access, vendors today struggle to fully consolidate all of the communication application infrastructure and cloud-based services into a single platform—at least until now. The Avaya Equinox™ Experience, announced at GITEX in October, is our new platform for business communications, and fulfills the long-sought promise of UC. It is finally all about YOU! One of the key capabilities of Avaya Equinox is that it supports all the different modes of meetings, conferencing and collaboration in one platform. That’s right—one tool that really does it all. There is robust mobility so it works wherever you have a network connection, high scale audio conferencing, extensive web collaboration, multi-media messaging, rich multi-vendor HD video, even event streaming to 100,000 users—and that’s just for starters.

As you would expect, there are many benefits of one platform covering all UC use cases and requirements versus separate platforms or services for messaging, telephony, audio, web, video, and event conferencing. For users, one login and one easy-to-learn solution. For IT, one solution to support with one set of statistics, single provisioning, and a smaller footprint with higher efficiency and lower costs.

I like to call Avaya Equinox the “uber” all calling-conferencing-collaboration solution, where Avaya puts the YOU in unified. But check out Avaya Equinox for yourself at this First Look video.

How many different communication and conferencing applications do you use? Tell me about your experiences—send a note to innovations@avaya.com.

The Value of Enterprise Mobility—Spread the Love

In a recent blog, I mentioned my sister-in-law’s frustration at not being able to use her smart phone for work purposes and how many businesses are struggling with the mindset change required for real digital transformation. That’s not to say that there aren’t valid business concerns about bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and mobility generally. Failure to secure mobile telephony and collaboration can open enterprises to significant risks.

A good example of those concerns came up at a recent conference while talking to an Avaya customer about BYOD. The customer’s perspective was that companies should just let their employees use personal mobile devices, with no need for an enterprise-grade software client to tie the device to the company network, databases, apps or governance. (Enterprise grade in this context means having call logs, directories, presence capabilities and access to enterprise collaboration tools like video and web conferencing, no matter where or how you work, or on what.) The approach of not having such a software client would fulfill employees’ desire to use their own phones, as well as the familiar tools and apps on them, without the need for the comprehensive security required by an integrated BYOD strategy.

We explained that just an hour earlier another Avaya customer had approached with a concerning story:

The customer’s company allowed its salespeople to use their personal cell phones without connecting directly to the company network. The problem: when one sales person recently left the company, all of the intellectual property of the company (contacts, pipeline information) went with them. Our customer wanted to know how to solve for this.

Avaya enterprise-grade solutions for mobile devices directly address the concerns that customers and others often express: a significant amount of flexibility for employees, security and privacy for everyone involved, and a measure of control over processes, policies, and data. Avaya mobility solutions are open, so they are adaptable to different devices and platforms. They capture important information that can lead to faster, more informed decisions and, ultimately, better outcomes. In short, they enable companies to operate at the speed of their customers.

The point is consumers and employees today are increasingly mobile. Gartner predicts that 80% of key business processes will include exchange of real-time information involving mobile workers. Not being able to use employee-owned devices slows business down. So the business case for mobility solutions—the flexibility they offer customers and employees, the improved outcomes, and the support of intelligent business response and decision-making—points toward value that outweighs the risks. Enterprise-grade mobile communications solutions have reached a level of both maturity and sophistication that they can now meet the needs of all stakeholders in the employer/employee/consumer equation. Everyone can share the love.

How is your organization addressing mobility? I’d love to hear from you.

Also, be sure to check us out at GITEX Technology Week 2016 where we will showcase our latest innovations designed to enable companies to meet customer and employee expectations with true multi-touch communication capabilities.

 

Avaya and IAUG: Better Together at 2017’s Avaya ENGAGE Event

Victor Bohnert Victor Bohnert is the Executive Director of the International Avaya Users Group. He has nearly 20 years of experience in building and managing customer communities in the tech sector and has led several organizational turnarounds and mergers. Before joining IAUG, he was Executive Director of the International Nortel Networks Users Association, and helped guide three independent groups through the merger that resulted in IAUG.

 

The idea of collaboration is much more than a term used to describe the latest communication strategy. It describes the interdependencies of individuals or groups of individuals working together to achieve success … it means 1+1=3.

Collaboration is at the core of IAUG’s mission. We bring together our members in order to give them access to the collective knowledge and experience of the WHOLE Avaya ecosystem—customers, partners, and Avaya experts. This gives those that are active in our community a competitive advantage.

More than a mission, this is a strategy that permeates all that we do. To that end, I am excited about the recent alignment between IAUG’s flagship customer event, Avaya ENGAGEsm, and Avaya’s global corporate event strategy. IAUG has been working closely with Avaya over the past several months to increase the value of Avaya ENGAGE, but also extend the relevance of the event beyond just Avaya customers and partners.

Beginning in 2017, Avaya and IAUG will come together to host their first truly joint event. Avaya ENGAGE will still focus on driving value to Avaya customers and partners. But with other Avaya events coming together under the Avaya ENGAGE banner, customers, partners, analysts and other industry experts will have unparalleled access to industry knowledge and expertise—and of course more opportunities to network with each other.

Additionally, the event will be held in February, earlier in the year than past events—making Avaya ENGAGE 2017 not only one of the largest industry events, but one of the year’s first. Product releases and industry projections will help our members get a jump on the year.

This collaboration is more than an event. It signals the deepening relationship between IAUG and Avaya. Still separate organizations, but strategically aligned at all levels to ensure the greatest return.

Collaboration is just the process … Avaya ENGAGE is the outcome.