The Audio Conference Call is Dying. Here's Why.

angry lady yelling at phone

The traditional conference call has taken quite a beating over the past few years. This David Grady spoof was the first “laugh so hard, I cried” satire I came across. I think what struck me with this one was each time I thought it was getting old, he threw in something that made me laugh even harder… for nearly five minutes!

This week, the video “A Conference Call in Real Life” by Tripp & Tyler is making its rounds through social media. It’s funny too, although I think I’m still partial to the David Grady version.  And just today, I came across an article on “the existential despair of the conference call,” to which one of my colleagues replied, “I laughed, I cried, I kept watching! This would be a good clip of what can (and does) go wrong … unless you use Scopia.” She did include a “winky face,” but the truth of the matter is that Scopia does overcome almost all the issues identified in these conference call parodies. Not the barking dog, of course, and not the random background noise, but Scopia does take out A LOT of the guesswork.

Sometimes, I feel like I’ve been at Avaya for years, and other times, I’m blown away that it’s already been 20 months since the acquisition of Radvision. Where have the past (almost) two years gone? When I look back at the changes I’ve seen at Avaya, one of the biggest is that we have an incredibly strong video conferencing culture. And if you think I’m making it up, the proof is in the numbers below:

avaya scopia in house usage

Last month, we had almost 40,000 video meetings on Avaya Scopia with 340,000+ attendees. From June 2012 through December 2013, we had more than half a million video meetings and have surpassed the 3 million mark on number of participants. That’s A LOT of video, and that doesn’t even count the video calls I host (which often feels like another half million or so per year :) ).

Why is video usage so high within Avaya? I have a few theories, and they go to the core of the spoofs mentioned above.

  1. Get rid of the unknown: When I joined Avaya, conference calls were mostly audio-only. As a newbie to an organization of 15,000+ employees, I never knew who was talking. I was constantly IMing colleagues asking, “Who’s speaking now?” With Scopia video, active speakers are highlighted in the virtual meeting room, and names are displayed. There’s never any question who’s speaking, and all participants are clearly identified in the participant list.
  2. A picture is worth a thousand words: The ability to see who is speaking and to read his/her body language as well as the body language of other participants is huge. You get fewer interruptions, fewer questions, and richer communication because your meetings are taking place face-to-face.
  3. Get on the same page: Content-sharing is easy on Scopia, and content is displayed in high definition. There’s no more asking, “Are we looking at the same page?” or “Can you send the deck you’re referring to?” What’s more, participants can easily scroll through content that’s already been presented without interrupting the active speaker (a feature that is totally unique to Scopia).
  4. The power of mute (and more): With Scopia, you always know who the speaker is thanks to active speaker tracking. That means you also know when someone is “speaking” without meaning to… i.e. furiously typing on their keyboard, crinkling papers, having a side conversation, etc. The beauty of Scopia is that all users –whether in a conference room, on Scopia Desktop or joining via Scopia Mobile – have full meeting moderation. That means you can mute the noisemakers without interrupting the call. The ability to mute the far end can be beautiful thing when you have a lot of people on the line. And Scopia moderation goes far beyond mute – you can add or disconnect participants, take “control” of content-sharing (without having to ask for it), change your layout so content appears larger or smaller, etc.

Of course, I’d be exaggerating if I said every Scopia call goes off without a hitch. But when I read articles or watch videos like those mentioned above, I have to say, the death of the traditional conference call must be on the horizon. Why use audio only when you can use video, too? If you ask me, video conferencing is a no brainer, especially with the leaps we’ve made in personal video conferencing at the desktop and on the go.

What are your thoughts? If you use video, have your conference calls been more effective? I’d love to hear from you.

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What’s Next? Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Customer Experience

Last month Google hosted its annual Google I/O conference and their new CEO Sundar Pichai delighted an audience of tech enthusiasts when he said, “We have this vision of a shift from mobile-first to an AI-first world over many years.” At Avaya, we couldn’t agree more.

Don’t get me wrong: mobile-first has been and will continue to be a requirement for everything we do. Smart mobile phones are where business and work get done today. We are not dismissing or abandoning the value of developing with mobile-first as a top business priority. But from an innovation, what’s-next perspective, we agree with Google: we need to be innovating for a world that is quickly embracing AI-first.

Artificial Intelligence is becoming the new consumer expectation and with it comes virtual reality, chat bots and augmented reality. Technology that was initially considered for entertainment, science and gaming, has crossed over into our everyday reality. We have the smart phone user to thank for that. Look at the Pokémon GO cultural phenomenon. Nintendo with Pokémon modernized the popular children’s game that originally used paper playing cards into an AI-based augmented reality game played on the smart phone. Just launched in the United States in February, it already has daily usage numbers surpassing Twitter’s. In my adopted hometown of San Francisco this week, a Pokémon GO crawl is inspiring more than 3,600 people of all ages to come together to search for Pokémon. Talk about an overnight sensation that is driving cultural and social change.

The big question for us: How do we harness all that consumer enthusiasm for AI into business communications?

Like Pokémon Go that takes advantage of the most common communications tool today—the smart phone—we have to do the same; user experience is key. Avaya’s Emerging Products & Technology group in conjunction with their Customer Experience Centre in Galway, Ireland—the company’s global R&D facility that is accelerating future technologies in next-generation customer experience applications—is innovating for AI in business communications.

The team is currently working on an advanced chat bot that delivers an AI experience in the contact center by enabling machine learning to model customer language and dialog interactions. The result is intelligent conversations with customers and the ability for the chat bot to answer their queries or resolve customer service issues on any channel they choose. It takes SMS and web chat conversations, as well as integrates with social media platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, Kik or WeChat and can be adapted for interaction in any language. The chat bot provides automation and analysis of customer interactions delivering efficient self service and agent-based customer care in real time.

With this technology, routine tasks for live agents are handled by the chat bot, making the business much more efficient. Over time, as the machine learning continues to collect data and intel from the system, the chat bot in turn “learns” more about the business and can become more versatile. If the chat bot is ever challenged, a live agent can quickly and easily take over. The advanced technology capabilities that AI enables allow us to augment existing solutions such as Avaya Oceana™, and ultimately create a more highly innovative customer experience.

While we always innovate for the future with our finger on the pulse of today’s evolving customer experiences, our customers who have been given a preview of what we’re doing with AI have validated that we are on track:

  • “This is a great way to bring self-service efficiencies to several of my customer touch points.”
  • “Automation/AI backed by context routing to agents…when needed, will help drive more efficiencies in our business.”
  • “Attaching automation bots to messaging platforms is important to us. It is where our customers are reaching out today and in the future.”
  • “The cloud makes sense as the way to deliver this social/messaging bot/AI technology.”

Pedro Domingos, a machine learning specialist and the author of “The Master Algorithm,” recently told the New York Times, “Whoever wins this race will dominate the next stage of the information age.” While we will look to technology giants such as Google to be a strong contender for winning the great AI race, we are confident that in our industry—business communications—we are well-positioned to not only lead the adoption of AI but win big.

 

Leveraging Contact Center Technology to Help America’s Soldiers While Improving Performance and Saving Money

To help government agencies improve the constituent experience while saving millions of dollars each year, our Avaya Government Solutions team is constantly conducting enterprise business analysis, based on Lean Six Sigma principle and a four-step process of discovery, benchmark, scope improvements.

Using comprehensive metrics was critical to determining best deployment and savings for the Defense Health Agency (DHA), a joint, integrated Combat Support Agency that enables the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force medical services to provide a medically-ready force in both peacetime and wartime.

The Avaya team demonstrated to Mack Wyche, Chief, Telecommunications Branch, DHA that UC, contact center, and SIP technologies could streamline the agency’s enterprise conference premise solution, migrate from legacy to SIP trunks at its headquarters, and enhance equipment maintenance. Modernizing all points of DHA’s unified communications and contact center architecture will provide superior performance and $1.5 million in savings, which will fully self-fund the upfront capital.

By centralizing the enterprise conferencing solution that would generate savings of $1.5 million in FY2017 and beyond, the decision was easy for Mr. Wyche: “Avaya Government Solutions provided us with a strong analysis of our current environment and was able to quickly demonstrate savings on day 1 in our contact center infrastructure. Thanks to Avaya Government Solutions, we can now more efficiently serve our soldiers while the savings more than pay for the investment. We look forward to implementation of the Avaya solution and to their continued support.”

Helping the DHA is one of the more gratifying among countless examples of how we are helping Federal and state agencies deliver superior customer services while maximizing their investments. We are proud that our business value analysis, based on Lean Six Sigma principles, clearly demonstrated the superiority of our solution that generated savings immediately.

Mr. Wyche and the DHA are why we get up each day to review, evaluate, and propose smart solutions that help critical government agencies deliver on their promise to their constituents and the American people.

  • Is your contact center performing at peak level for your constituents?
  • When was the last time that you had a comprehensive business analysis of your contact center?
  • Has your agency centralized the enterprise conferencing solution?

Americans: Fight Political Gridlock—of the Vehicular Kind—with Free Video Conferencing from Avaya

With the Republican National Convention this week and Democratic National Convention next week, Republicans and Democrats have found a common thread: unintentionally disrupting the working men and women’s work week in Cleveland and Philadelphia.

While security clamps down with a five-mile perimeter around the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and the Wells Fargo Convention Center in Philadelphia, office workers are having to deal with their own politically-caused gridlock by finding alternatives to getting work done in the office.

Never fear, Red America and Blue America. Business communications expert Avaya can help: Avaya is offering a free two-week trial of its Scopia® Video Conferencing solution at #freeSCOPIAtrial. With several years of experience helping businesses develop comprehensive recovery strategies and communication plans to overcome natural disasters and other emergencies, helping office workers connect during the RNC and DNC is a cakewalk for Avaya.

As an aside, Avaya was just named a major player in the Worldwide Enterprise Videoconferencing space by IDC!

So, for all of those Clevelanders and Philadelphians worried about missing work during the conventions, help is here. Democrats and Republicans can all celebrate—two weeks of free video conferencing from Avaya. Or, if you’re just curious what it would be like to conduct meetings with colleagues via video, give it a try for two weeks—you don’t have to live in Cleveland or Philly.