WebRTC: What It Is, and Why It's Coming to a Browser Near You Soon

I have been working in the field of communications for a long time, and have witnessed many significant changes over the years. Some ideas, like IP telephony, have revolutionized the industry. Others fell flat on their face.

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is one of those ideas that falls into the revolutionary camp. While still in its infancy, I predict that within a very short period of time, WebRTC applications will become a daily part of how we communicate.

What exactly is WebRTC?

WebRTC is a technology that allows web browsers to send and receive real-time media. For instance, WebRTC allows you to go to a web page and use that web page to make an audio or video call. The media is sent directly and securely from your device to the recipient’s device.

If you’ve been involved in telecommunications for a while, you might be saying, “I thought we can already do that.” The answer is “yes,” but to make those calls, the web page requires that you download an application or use a browser plug-in like Flash.

There are several problems with those approaches. Downloading applications can create security problems. Also, that application might work on Windows, but not on Macintosh, iOS, or Android.

The same goes for plug-ins. Flash works great on my Windows PC and my iMac, but it’s not supported on my iPhone or iPad.

With WebRTC, the technology is native to the browser itself. There is nothing to download or install.

WebRTC is concerned with three major tasks.

First, it needs to acquire audio and video components on your device — for example, your PC’s video camera, speakers, and microphone.

It then sends that data to the far end. This requires WebRTC to know how to navigate through firewalls and understand Network Address Translation (NAT) issues.

Finally, while WebRTC developers have been initially concerned with voice and video, the technology is being designed to support all forms of peer-to-peer data sharing.

Google has been leading the charge and WebRTC has been embedded in current versions of their Chrome Browser. It’s also used by Firefox and Opera.

However, it’s still not available in Apple’s Safari and while there have been rumblings that Microsoft might deliver a WebRTC version of Internet Explorer, but I have yet to hear anything definitive.

It should be noted that some companies are making WebRTC plug-ins for Apple and Microsoft browsers. That goes against the “nothing to download or install” aspect of WebRTC, but if you absolutely need to support Safari or Internet Explorer, there isn’t another option at this point in time.

WebRTC-capable browsers are the first step, but actual WebRTC applications are essential if this thing is really going to take off. So, what is the status of those?

From what I can tell, most companies are still kicking the tires — albeit kicking them pretty hard. While I have experienced a few full-blown WebRTC-enabled webpages, they are more proof-of-concept than product. They are out there to play with, but the mass exposure isn’t quite there.

Case in point: I recently read a survey of 105 entrepreneurs, users, and vendors in the WebRTC ecosystem; 68 percent felt that WebRTC would not emerge from the chasm in 2014.

However, another way to look at the data is that more than 68 percent of the respondents indicated that 2014 will NOT be the breakthrough year for WebRTC–that it would come later or not at all. This indicates that while there is general positive outlook on WebRTC, there is clarity that much needs to happen.

That’s not to say that there won’t be quite a few live implementations in as little as six months to a year. Momentum is building in a big way.

Where will WebRTC see its biggest impact?

Finance, customer care centers, health care, and education will likely be in the forefront of the most significant applications. Imagine click-to-call or click-to-video buttons on every company’s webpage. Personally, I would rather point and click than pick up a telephone handset to dial an 800 number.

After that, I envision social media will be a big participant in the WebRTC space. It’s already part of Google Hangouts and I cannot imagine that the folks at Facebook aren’t running prototypes in their labs.

What are the challenges?

Like all new technologies, there are differences of opinion as to how it should be implemented. One of the choices that developers are facing today is choice of video codec. Google is a strong supporter of VP8, while Cisco has put their efforts behind H.264. Avaya has chosen to play it safe and support both codecs until an agreement is reached.

There is some debate amongst the WebRTC community as to the pros and cons of the two codecs. From what I was able to gather, H.264 does a slightly better job with high-motion video, but both perform well in most other situations.

Note that VP9 is just around the corner and it promises to offer significant improvements in terms of speed and media quality.

The biggest difference between the two codecs is that VP8 is open source, while H.264 is patented and therefore licensed. While there are rumblings about a “free” version of H.264, it’s unclear to me just how that will made available, distributed, and supported.

In the end, though, I hope that some consensus is reached. Unified communications really ought to be unified at all levels.

Another challenge exists in terms of the actual experience. Despite the fact that WebRTC is natively available in a user’s web browser doesn’t mean that the conditions to create a WebRTC call are ideal. PCs vary greatly in performance. Network connections can often be far from ideal. A user’s speakers, microphone, and camera can be set up incorrectly, resulting in a sub-par real-time communications experience.

There are also the challenges back at a company’s customer support center. Will the agents be properly trained to handle yet another customer touch point? How will the agents be able to associate a WebRTC call with a customer’s previous interactions? How will success be measured and reported both in real-time and historically?

While all these are fixable issues, they are not solved without planning and effort. New technology can get an undeserved bad rap if it’s not implemented carefully.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

In the end, though, I expect that WebRTC will be a big winner all around.

The codec differences will be worked out and the standard will be solidified. Consumers will welcome real-time communications that doesn’t require downloads or plug-ins. Companies will love the consistent interfaces that address a huge market of disparate technologies (PCs, tablets, smartphones, browsers, etc.). Developers will create a vast array of new and exciting communications applications.

WebRTC is a disruptive, revolutionary technology that stands toe-to-toe with the biggest changes we’ve seen in the communications space. I am sure of that.

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Why Multi-Touch Matters more than Multi-Channel

When it comes to customer service, it seems that change is the only constant. I know you’ve heard it all before; how single channel service evolved into multi-channel service evolved into omni-channel service. You’ve heard countless times about the importance of keeping up with this accelerating pace of change to consistently deliver amazing customer experiences.

There’s a good chance you’re part of the nearly 90 percent of companies today that compete solely on the basis of CX. But what if I told you that your customer engagement strategy is missing the mark? What if I told you that the customer experience is not necessarily about the channels you implement? Yes, you need them, but it’s how you use them that matters. 

I realize you’ve heard this statement before, but have you considered what it really means? I’m betting you have also heard the term “customer journey,” but have you considered the depth and breadth of each interaction held with your organization along that journey? Better yet, have you considered how you’re nurturing that end-to end-journey with your brand?

From Servicing Channels to Channeling Your Customers

Today, it’s not so much about what channels are used during the service experience, but rather how those channels are used to engage customers at every touchpoint, enterprise-wide.

Think about it: there are dozens of channels that customers can leverage today depending on what they believe best meets their needs, and dozens more will inevitably emerge as technology advances. By 2020, for instance, Gartner predicts 100 million consumers will be shopping in augmented reality, and 30 percent of Web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.

The question isn’t how many of these innovative channels companies can adopt. Although it’s important to offer a dynamic set of service channels that grows alongside consumer demand, what’s infinitely more important is that those channels are being seamlessly integrated to enable consistent, contextual, predictive experiences across an organization’s entire brand. This is the fundamental difference between multi-channel and multi-touch service.

The Multi-touch Difference

Now don’t get me wrong, multi-channel service has done a lot to help define and shape the end-to-end customer experience. As I mentioned in a previous blog, however, the problem with multi-channel service is that channels act independently in this environment. This means that any data captured across these channels is kept in silos, creating fragmented and isolated communications for customers and representatives alike. Unfortunately, about 90 percent of businesses today still operate within this type of environment. This is why consumers still find themselves dealing with the biggest dissatisfier in customer service: repeating the same information to multiple agents across multiple channels during the same interaction. In a multi-channel environment, channels aren’t intelligently tied together.

Omni-channel service—in which contextual information travels from channel to channel—seems to alleviate these pains; however, there’s still the issue of enabling a contextual visualization of the customer journey organization-wide (in other words, beyond the contact center).

This is where multi-touch service comes into play. This type of environment supports the end-to-end customer journey with 360-degree transparency as interactions travel across an entire brand via any channel. In this environment, for instance, all historical, transactional and real-time data is kept intact as a customer travels from a live chat session with a contact center agent to a phone call with a billing rep to email correspondences with a salesperson. In a multi-touch environment, customers are also matched with the ideal subject matter expert depending on their circumstance; it doesn’t matter who this person is and where they are in (or outside of) the organization during the customer’s time of need.

In these ways, multi-touch service allows businesses to truly keep a finger on the pulse of their customers. This enables them to create anticipatory engagement, contextual awareness and predictive insights that drive the best experiences possible throughout the entire brand journey, however long it may be. After all, a customer’s journey with a brand could be one minute or one month; multi-touch environments are timeless.  Providing the optimal experience and customer journey, all the time, every time will result in positive Customer Lifetime Value.

Research indicates this is exactly the direction the market must take to meet the next-generation needs of today and tomorrow’s customers. The findings of a recent Loudhouse study sum it up best: among 7,000 surveyed consumers, 67 percent made purchases that involved multiple channels; however, 87 percent believe brands must work harder to create a truly seamless customer experience.  

How to Master Multi-touch

Understanding the need for multi-touch is only part of the process. The other, more challenging, part involves taking the right steps to effectively gain this contextual, enterprise-wide view of the customer journey.

It’s not easy to go from “contact” to “engagement,” especially in a way that builds on your existing investments and knowledge. So, how can you begin mastering multi-touch service? To drive exceptional customer experiences at every touchpoint, you need exceptional technology. This means a solution that drives unprecedented value in today’s digital world; one that:

  • Offers integrated, multi-touch support for all media:

    To provide customers with the perfect experience, you must be able to meet them where they’re at—wherever that may be. This requires integrated support for all media (i.e. social, phone, email) across any device or endpoint (i.e. mobile, Web, phone) at any moment for any duration of time. Keep in mind that as you migrate your architecture, you’ll need to ensure the seamless combination of data gathered from past interactions (via your existing systems) with all new data to begin delivering contextual, multi-touch service.

  • Finally breaks down traditional UC&CC barriers:

    To gain 360-degree organizational alignment around the customer experience, the barriers that have historically existed between unified communications and customer contact must be broken once and for all. The right solution will deliver this lasting blow with the ability to flexibly create processes and applications that deeply embed easy-to-access communication capabilities into everyday services and workflows. In short, breaking these silos allows all applications, services and technologies to become more flexibly leveraged organization-wide. This is what ensures customers are paired with the right resources, and that those resources are equipped with the right information at the right time so that information doesn’t have to be repeated (and let’s not forget the ROI impact that will result from this).

  • Captures and capitalizes on big data across the entire enterprise:

    As I mentioned, you simply can’t rely on quarantined data. The right solution will break down the silos surrounding traditional analytics tools, empowering you with a richer visualization of data throughout your entire organization. This will fuel real-time, smarter decision making (which, of course, will drive customer satisfaction and loyalty).

At Avaya, we believe that multi-touch service is a necessity that shouldn’t be so complicated. This should be easy for companies to adopt in a way that meets their budget and infrastructure requirements, allowing them to migrate at their desired pace with no disruption or financial strain.

The way we see it, when someone asks how they can capitalize on today’s multi-touch world, you should be able to tell them that the solution is simple (literally).

Want help getting started?  Using a proven process, we’ll help you create a strategy to increase your customer experience and develop a priority plan – short term, long term, you name it – to help transform your organization.  Interested?  Interested?  Contact us.  We’d love to hear from you.

Make or Break: The Customer Experience Imperative for Midsize Businesses

According to the Wall Street Journal, 2016 Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales have already accounted for more than $3 Billion in “desktop spending”—aka, e-commerce. While many of these purchases are simply one click and a check off of gift lists, the customer probably made several decisions well before the submit-order button was activated. Whereas item and price have been the primary drivers of purchasing decisions, the customer experience is increasingly the new battleground.

  • We know that customers tend to repeat shop at places where both the self and assisted service is efficient and knowledgeable.
  • We know there is an expectation that they’ll be able to use mobile, desktop, voice channels—often all of them in the course of a transaction.
  • And we know that making them repeat information over and over is a black mark against the perceived experience.

Big companies can and are dedicating investments and resources to digital strategies focused on an elevated customer experience that checks all items on the list above. But if you’re a midsize business, is it even possible to break through the bulwark of expectations and large enterprise investments, and stand out from the crowd on customer experience alone?

At Avaya, we strongly believe the answer is a resounding YES! We are well aware that what goes on behind the scenes to coordinate the customer experience can be dauntingly complex. The latest release of Avaya IP Office Contact Center takes into account midsize businesses’ needs and requirements for simplicity and affordability, and the desire to deliver a top-notch customer experience.

Tips for Creating an Outstanding Customer Experience

Midsize businesses can ensure their customer experience sets them up for the kind of preferred vendor relationships that lead to profitability, growth, and long term customer loyalty.

  • Integrate Multichannel Customer Contact into Your Strategy

    An overwhelming majority of customers expect organizations to offer different channels to meet their needs, and make it easy to do so (Marcus Hickman, The Autonomous Customer 2015). Avaya IP Office Contact Center enables a midsize business to offer web chat, email and voice as an integrated, multichannel customer interaction strategy.

  • Drive an Efficient Experience with Skills-Based Routing
    It doesn’t help to offer multiple channels if the channels are kept separate within the company. For example, web chat is a great way to capture the customer while they’re in the evaluation stage on a website and turn them into a buyer. But if the channel only goes to those handling web chat and not the best agent for the customer needs, you may end up with someone who’s more frustrated than satisfied.Avaya IP Office Contact Center can help companies optimize their multichannel strategy, providing voice, email and web chat and enabling skills-based routing that can get customer inquiries to agents who are best qualified to handle them, including choice of channel, expertise, and past experience with a particular inquiry or customer. This can create a much more efficient experience by increasing first contact resolutions, reducing interaction handling times, reducing or eliminating transfers to other agents, and reducing callbacks.
  • Drive More Efficiency by Letting Customers Serve Themselves

    The preference to use self service is on the rise, and can be a money saver for the company and a time saver for the customer. For those that call in, an interactive voice response (IVR) can greet and direct callers, allowing them to use speech recognition or their touch tone keypad to get answers to common questions. This may quickly resolve issues without involving live assistance, or if needed, quickly get the customer to the right agent.

  • Narrow the Gap by Using Agent Downtime More Efficiently

    Undoubtedly, there are times when incoming interactions are slow. This is a perfect opportunity to automatically start outbound or proactive marketing campaigns and fill in the gaps between peak times and seasons. With Avaya IP Office Contact Center agents can use predefined scripts during outbound call campaigns to help increase sales revenue and upsell opportunities, to reduce accounts receivable backlog, or generate sales appointments for field sales.

  • Make Faster Connections: Link Your Customer Engagement Platform to Your CRM System

    Your CRM system can be a tremendous boost to contact center agent productivity by simply linking one platform to another. Now, agents don’t need to search for customer details or create activity records—it’s all in one place. From here they can click to dial or email from customer records, greet customers by name, and quickly access relevant information for more personalized, well informed customer interactions.

  • Look Back to Go Forward: Measure to Identify and Pursue Improvement Opportunities

    Companies need to determine what success looks like to understand if they’re on the right path. For the contact center, KPIs should be outlined by an agreement on what’s important to the business. Metrics such as new customer acquisitions, new and repeat sales, debt collected, or sales appointments made can be good starting places from which you establish a benchmark to chart future progress. Contact centers may also want to measure some of the more traditional indicators such as number of interactions handled, number of first contact resolutions, wait time, etc. And here’s a strong tip: Tout your customer experience metric successes to demonstrate the positive impact your contact center is having on the overall business.

If you’re an Avaya IP Office company and not already using IP Office Contact Center, make a New Year’s resolution to check out all it can do for you to make the next peak season one that breaks records—not backs.

Time to evolve a Siri-like CHATBOT

2016 is shaping up to be the year of the Chatbot. From Jarvis, Mark Zuckerberg’s Iron Man-inspired assistant, to Microsoft’s rather unfortunate Tay experience, chatbots have been making the news this year—although as of yet, nobody seems to have figured out a way of getting them to write it. So what are these exciting new digital automated friends doing to help where they are most needed, in the customer experience.

Automation in customer experience is all about making things faster, easier and more streamlined for customers—so automation can be said to deliver a more personalized experience, as we don’t have to repeat ourselves multiple times, and explain our problems to different agents every time we contact an organization.

Pretty much any organization today has some sort of customer experience process in place, and that process has evolved along with technology. From the traditional call center, with rows of agents handling multiple calls, we have moved on to the contact center, and multichannel communications, to the omnichannel experience. Customer experience professionals love the omnichannel. It allows them to shift their customer experience from a fragmented model (when you call the contact center 10 times, you get 10 different contact center agents, and you have to authenticate yourself and your problem 10 times too), to a seamless, or “smart” omnichannel experience (you make contact one time from any communication medium and enjoy a continuous conversation).

With a multichannel Contact Center, the goal in delivering an awesome customer experience is gluing the pieces together: linking the various knowledge and functional teams to customer service, delivering new capabilities and features that, eventually, enable us as customers to call one time, and see our problems solved. This first-touch resolution wasn’t possible before and vendors continue to bring new tools and technologies to achieve that. Customers however want more as they evolve as digital citizens.

At heart, many brands are still providing customer service the same way: you initiate communication with a person in the contact center, and they respond, albeit now that can be done via phone, e-mail, text or social media. And, let’s face it, people still don’t like contacting customer service. We are still really reluctant to make that initial contact—we don’t get the immersive experience we seek as consumers.

The promise of artificial intelligence to deliver the combined objectives of first-touch resolution and immersive experiences is almost complete. Avaya is leading this transformation with an upcoming evolution in its technology, where chatbots, amongst other modular analytics tools, are only the beginning of a brave new digital world. Our R&D and customer experience folks are perfecting that digital persona “who” is intelligent enough to learn from experiences, predict your preferences, and resolve your problems—almost before you know you have them.

So why stop there, I ask? I don’t want to talk to a robot, I want to see them, joke with them and maybe play a game together. The technology to allow that to happen is here, isn’t it? We have headsets, digital glasses—surely, whatever is coming can catch up with my dreams. Maybe. In the meantime, we have to live with Siri.