Enterprise Connect 2014: Val Matula on How Video Will Change Contact Centers Forever

WebRTC is new, hot, and not terribly well-understood by many. Thankfully, Val Matula, Avaya’s Senior Director of Multimedia Technologies, knows the ins-and-outs, where it came from and where it’s going, and laid it all out in this Q&A as part of our Enterprise Connect content.

Val Matula

Matt Young: I know you spoke at Enterprise Connect last year- how would you compare last year with this year? What are the trends you’re seeing?

Val Matula: Last year, WebRTC was still something that was coming in the browsers; not yet standardized. It was green field, being promoted by Google for sure, but it was mostly just the startups saying, “We can break the chains of tyranny of PBX enterprise companies, where everything will be free and much easier because people will be able to communicate just using their browsers!” That was partially because last year, in a way, it was the newest thing to talk about.

Fast-forward to now. I expect there will certainly be a number of people who may not have a complete picture of it yet, and so begin to say, “Oh, I think I know what it is – it will allow me to communicate off of tablets.” Well, not really. Just Android tablets. “Oh, it will be viable on all browsers.” Except for Internet Explorer, which is what 60% of what the people use.

We’ll end up talking more about things like that. It’ll be a combination of educating them about what’s real and what’s hype; telling them about the products we have that are coming out very shortly this year that will allow them to use the technology in their enterprises.

MY: Is there an opportunity to learn from the chatter about the features people would like to see?

VM: Absolutely! And that’s one of the best parts of my job! People will come to me and (if they’re honest) they’ll say, “This sounds like a dumb idea; like something you wouldn’t do,” and I’ll say, “Well, let’s just talk about it. You may be onto something that, frankly, would be very powerful.”
What I more often get is someone feeding me the hype of a different company. It’s a great way to find out what the rest of the industry is saying and figure out how we’re going to address that in the marketing and with products.

Related article: Debate Over Online Video Codecs Continues at WebRTC Conference & Expo

MY: A little while ago, you were talking about the platform for WebRTC.

VM: Yeah. So if you step back… When we had HTML 4, engineers would get together; IETF, W3C; and they said, “What should we do with the next release?” They called it HTML 5, and they said, “We want to do most of the things that Flash can do,” which is great graphics, programmability, and live, two-way streaming of voice and video.

When they dug into it, they realized that defining programmability and great visuals? No problem there. With the voice and videos, it was easy to specify the mechanical things. They found themselves slowing down on what codec to use, how they should stream the media and what the signaling should be. They broke that off of the original, all-encompassing HTML 5, and they made that WebRTC.

So WebRTC and HTML 5 go hand-in-hand. Therefore, when you look at it, many of the companies, including Apple, are integrating aspects of HTML 5 – the web-programming language – but they’re not picking up the real-time communications part.

WebRTC is designed to go browser-to-browser with no server in the middle. And that’s another reason why there’s some difficulty in translating over.

MY: So the more direct nature of the communication has an effect on latency?

VM: In some sense, that deals with the issues of latency. Essentially, the more you can get servers out of the equation, the less latency there’s going to be. This is why the cleanest, fastest, screamingest audio/video you’re going see on the Internet is when you walk into some demo lab and see two laptops next to each other using WebRTC between them, because basically the signals are only going 10 inches across the table. Anything else is going to take longer, so WebRTC can definitely remove latency from the communications path.

MY: How does WebRTC fit between a customer and a call center, where there are different needs and priorities on each end?

VM: The customer might use WebRTC to get up into a call center, but then we’re gonna still use the servers. They might use WebRTC to deliver the media, but we’re still going to bring them though servers, so we can route the call, do reports, record, escalate to a supervisor – all the things we normally have had. They’re not “shackles of tyranny,” they’re simply what our enterprise customers have said, “Please build this for us! We need this to be efficient as we serve customers!”

WebRTC doesn’t change that so much as when you need a human agent, you really need a human agent. You’ve still got to find the right one, the best one, and report on it, and so on. So we think there are a lot of reasons, especially in the context of customer service, where WebRTC is the onramp, but then you’re going to use the tools that are already there to go the rest of the distance and find the right agent.

Related article: Why Avaya is Embracing WebRTC in a Big Way

MY: How does WebRTC work with thin clients?

VM: Good question. Typically, we’ve been formulating our discussion into three parts: “onramp,” “off ramp,” and “built right in.”

Think of the onramp situation first, where I’m the customer. I’m on a website; I’m dealing with someone and I want to talk to somebody. I can text chat with them today, or I can call them on the phone. What I’d like to be able to do is text chat with them today, or click and take that voice channel and add a voice-and-video channel right to the same agent using WebRTC.

I don’t need an extension; I don’t need to register a switch – I don’t even need a password. We already know what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to onramp into the business!

The other side is the off ramp. The agent wants to sign into the call center, sign in with their login, be prepped and put themselves “available for next call,” but they want to do it with a browser instead of downloading a client because they’re offshore or they work at home.

They don’t want to download software. That’s the off ramp. You do want to register; you want to transfer calls, take calls, push calls, voice, or voice-and-video. If you think about it, it’s harder to do than just a simple on ramp, but that’s the second way we see thin clients being used.

The third way is “baked right in.” If I’m on WebRTC and I want to join a conference call, I could come up in, on ramp into the enterprise, turn in to a SIP call and then have the call go into the bridge. But why? I could just have the bridge do RTC natively and browse right to the bridge and be done with it. And so putting it right into the bridge, from the consumer’s perspective, doesn’t look any different.

From the IT perspective, I took a whole bunch of servers out of the middle that might turn it into SIP and then send it into the bridge, and have the bridge talk about it.

MY: So, what’s your message for Enterprise Connect? What value are we bringing to our customers?

VM: Basically, my message is: If you’re in the “trust business” – and I mean trust with respect to health or money, where people have vested personal interest, that’s where you can do a better job of serving by building up a relationship between the agent and the consumer before you move on to “true business.” And that’s where video really helps.

When I’m talking to somebody, do I think I’m getting a straight answer, because I’m going to make life-related decisions around it, either about retirement planning, savings, loans, mortgages, health plans, life coaching – that sort of thing.

When people hear “medical,” they often jump to, “Oh, let me talk to a doctor.” That’s not what we spend most of our time on. We spend most of our time talking to nurses based on whether there’s too much sugar in cough medicine for diabetics.

It’s the lower-level stuff where I don’t know if I’m talking to an expert. You have a lot of calls where you don’t know if they’re reading off of a script or if they really know what they’re talking about to where you can trust them or double-check the advice you’re getting. That’s where video can really help.
MY: What would you like to see happen over the next few years?

VM: I’d like to see people move from talking about call centers to across-the-counter customer service. With video, people say, “I can’t do a call center! Have you been to my call center? It’s just cubes! People are wandering around in jeans and tee shirts!” When I go to the airport or a bank, I see lighting, branding and people wearing the company logo polo.

When you’re projecting an across-the-counter/across-the-desk experience, instead of a call center’s nameless/faceless experience, lighting, branding and formal wear become important.

The good news is, it’s not very expensive to do that. For fifty bucks, you can put a drape behind somebody, put some desk lamps out and put a polo shirt on the person and you’re ready to go! They need to pay attention to that detail.

MY: I think that can also help people to feel more “on” and have that subconscious accountability that they’re doing something important.

VM: Yes. And you know what? You just struck on something that we haven’t talked about in a long time. It brings an air of professionalism to the agent. Not just to the projected image. You really do feel more “on,” if you would. We’ll definitely talk about that – that’s a good point.

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