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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A Closer Look at MiFID II Recording Requirements

The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II (MiFID II)—arguably the greatest reform to hit Europe’s financial industry—is finally in effect as of January 3, 2018. This EU legislation serves as a much-needed upgrade from the original MiFID, enacted in 2004, and addresses key issues that resulted from the 2008 global financial crisis.

The directive requires all national governments in the EU to adopt certain laws, which they are free to do in their own way should the resulting effect be the same. Financial services institutions—specifically investment firms, credit institutions and trading venues—are subject to MiFID II, including companies that are headquartered outside of the EU but do business there (for a more thorough overview, see this blog by industry analyst Sheila McGee-Smith).

Recording Regulations: Raising the Bar

Perhaps the greatest impact of MiFID II is the law’s tighter recording regulations. Under the 2004 MiFID directive, there was no mandatory requirement to record communications involving client orders. To ensure fairer, safer and more efficient financial markets, MiFID II now requires firms to record communications (both phone and electronic) for the following investment services:

  • Reception and transmission of orders
  • Execution of orders on behalf of clients
  • Dealing on own account (takes place when a firm puts its own trading books at risk)

The specific customer interactions that are required to be recorded in relation to investment services include:

  • Receipts of client orders
  • Transmissions of orders (both where the investment firm transmits and executes the order)
  • Conclusions of transactions when executing orders on behalf of clients
  • Conclusions of transactions when dealing on own account, regardless of whether a client is involved in the transaction

Important note: MiFID II covers all communications relating to activities intended to result in the conclusion of a transaction or the provision of client order services, even if they do not result in a financial transaction.

Communication of orders placed through channels other than voice—postal mail, faxes, emails, SMS, face-to-face conversations recorded using written minutes—must be stored in a durable medium.

Keep in mind a few rules that apply to this ‘durable medium’:

  • Records must be able to be replayed or copied
  • Records must be retained in a format that does not allow the original to be altered or deleted
  • Firms are required to ensure the quality, accuracy and completeness of all phone records and electronic communications
  • Records must be kept for a minimum of 5 years and, if requested by the National Competent Authority in a specific country, up to 7 years
  • Clients must be notified in advance of recording
  • Records must cover communications made with, sent from or received by equipment provided or permitted by the investment firm (privately-owned equipment used by employees or contractors is not prohibited)

Ensuring Compliancy with MiFID II Recording Regulations

If your business is involved in financial services in any way—even if it’s not your main focus (i.e. credit institutions performing investment activities, branches of third country firms)—you’ll need to investigate to understand whether this new legislation will affect you and, if so, what you need to do to comply.

We recommend a thorough review of compliance across all channels (including back office processes) to determine if they meet the new regulations. If not, you’ll need to deploy a workforce optimization (WFO) solution to demonstrate that policies, procedures and management oversight of the new recording and monitoring rules are in place. Here’s what you’ll need to consider in a WFO solution:

  • Continuous recording: This goes for all inbound and outbound voice and other electronic communications based on business rules. You need a WFO solution that will capture, search and retrieve calls, offer encryption for secure storage, and offer pause and resume capabilities.
  • Desktop screen capture: This is an undetectable back-end process that records desktop screen activity during each customer interaction. Supervisors and managers can use this both in the contact center and back office to view customer interactions from beginning to end via synchronized screen and call recordings.
  • Quality management monitoring: Identify and capture areas of non-compliance, while measuring how well employees are delivering services that align with customer experience expectations.
  • eLearning and coaching tools: Bring employees fully up to speed on regulatory changes and any new requirements, as well as correct any non-compliance behaviors.
  • Voice analytics: Proactively identify, measure and isolate areas of non-compliance by mining intelligence from large volumes of recorded calls.
  • Workforce management: Schedule employee compliance training while ensuring you have enough support personnel with the right skills to serve customers.

The greatest threat to reputability, revenue and customer experience is the thought that your technology is “good enough” to meet current needs. Your ability to innovate and grow are hinged on technology that meets the next-gen needs of today, tomorrow and beyond—something that only 24% of companies say their workforce optimization and recording systems achieve.

To complete a thorough review of your current MiFID II processes, connect with Avaya. For a deeper dive into MiFID II (including a few WFO features not mentioned above) download the white paper MiFID II: What Does it Mean for Your Organization?

MiFID II: What Do You Need to Know?

Sheila McGee Smith Sheila McGee-Smith is a leading communications industry analyst and strategic consultant with a proven track record in new product development, competitive assessment, market research, and sales strategies for customer care solutions and services. Her insight helps enterprises and solution providers develop strategies to meet the escalating demands of today’s consumer and business customers.

If you work in the financial services sector, you’ve likely seen news articles and heard IT, operations and other company managers and executives talking about the impending MiFID II regulation. It’s likely been a topic of conversation for months, if not years. Recently, The Washington Post began an article about MiFID II saying, “The impact of new market rules sweeping across Europe has been likened to motorists suddenly being told they must drive on the other side of the road.”

While the statement may seem like hyperbole to some, for those who work in financial services the statement will have the ring of truth. They have been working for years to create and refine practices and systems to be compliant with a European Union directive that became effective January 3, 2018: the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive II or MiFID II.

An original MiFID was enacted in 2004, prior to the 2008 global financial crisis. Ad hoc changes were made by individual countries to address issues that resulted from the crisis. These issues are being addressed through MiFID II, which harmonizes the rules for all firms with EU clients, across all countries. The main goals of the MiFID II are:

  • Customer protection
  • Increased financial product governance
  • Unbundling of advice from the sale of financial instruments
  • Broader scope of supervision to include equity and non-equity trading
  • Firms must take “all sufficient steps” to ensure that transactions are executed in the best interest of customers
  • A considerable increase in the requirements for transaction data reporting

From an enterprise communications perspective, the aspect of MiFID II which is relevant is that it requires the capture of all communications and orders intended to lead to an execution of a trade, even if the transaction is not actually finalized during the interaction.

Penalties for non-compliance are set by the regulatory agencies in each European Union country. The first fine for non-compliance of the 2004 MiFID directive was given out to Barclays for inaccurate transaction reporting. Barclays’ fines totaled £2.45 million for their inaccuracies between 2006 and 2008. Since then, published reports say that banks have paid over $204 billion in compliance-related fines and infractions.

Every day, millions of transactions are reported by hundreds of trading venues, for thousands of different financial instruments. As a result, the potential for individual company fines of tens of millions of dollars is very real.

If, like so many companies, you are not sure if your current recording procedures will be sufficient to meet the requirements of MiFID II, the time is now to prioritize an assessment. Businesses need a comprehensive review of their compliance across all channels – phone, email, and SMS – to meet the new regulations. In addition, they need to demonstrate that policies, procedures and management oversight of the MiFID II recording and monitoring rules are in place.

If this post has made you wonder whether MiFID II regulations apply to your firm or what types of transactions need to be recorded and which do not, download the white paper MiFID II: What it Means For Your Organization? It gives a more extensive review of the MiFID II regulations and answers questions about what geographies are impacted, what types of firms are affected and how the new transaction recording rules are different from the rules in effect today.

We’re Doubling Down on the Cloud-Based Contact Center with Google

Nearly every business, no matter its size, has some mechanism in place to engage with their customers. For the world’s smallest companies, that’s usually a voicemail number or email address that one person responds to in their spare time.

In contrast, the world’s biggest companies deploy sophisticated, multimillion-dollar systems capable of efficiently processing hundreds of thousands of customer interactions per hour, using tens of thousands of customer engagement agents working 24/7.

But what about the millions of entrepreneurs who find themselves between these two poles?

Companies that are ready to improve their customer engagement, but aren’t ready for a big upfront investment, are increasingly looking to cloud-based, subscription services first.

Read: Avaya Chooses Google Cloud Platform for New Cloud-Based Contact Center Solution on the Google for Work blog

Analysts at Frost & Sullivan estimate the cloud-based customer engagement market will grow 11.6%, roughly twice the growth rate of premise-based customer engagement solutions.

Today, we’re announcing the Summer 2015 availability of Customer Engagement OnAvayaTM Powered by Google Cloud Platform. August 2015 update: The product is now available. Please click here for details.

I want to take a closer look at some of the new features we’ve been hard at work on, and why they’re so exciting.

This new solution provides low-cost agent setup, and allows agents to work from anywhere, right in the browser.

Imagine opening up your Chromebook and logging into the Customer Engagement OnAvayaTM Powered by Google Cloud Platform app with a simple username and password. No VPN required.

We do this by using HTTPS to establish a secure connection between the app and Avaya Secure Border Controller Element, software that verifies access to the database and routes relevant traffic to and from the app. Interactions inside the app are handled by WebRTC, an emerging Web standard that we’re strong supporters of.

HTTPS opens up a temporary information tunnel between the app and the enterprise, which closes as soon as the agents logs off. Every time you use Gmail, buy something online or check your bank balance from your phone, you’re using HTTPS.

Application-specific access using HTTPS has three major benefits for the enterprise: Simplicity, security and scalability.

First, simplicity. Onboarding a new agent is a snap, and can be done completely remotely. Instead of provisioning a new VPN token and sending the agent a complicated sheet of instructions, they log into a Web app–just as simple as logging into Gmail.

Second, security. VPN opens up a bigger tunnel into the enterprise, essentially placing the entire computer on the network virtually. With HTTPS access, data to and from the enterprise is limited to a single application. Nothing else gets through.

Lastly, scalability. The solution is hosted on Google Cloud Platform, which offers world-class reliability. It’s easy to scale up as your business needs grow, and new features are added automatically as they come online.

All customer data exists in the cloud, so if the agent’s Chromebook gets lost or stolen, your risk as an enterprise is greatly reduced.

The result is a truly virtual customer engagement solution, perfect for companies looking for a subscription-based cloud software model.

Customer Engagement OnAvayaTM Powered by Google Cloud Platform is widely available in the U.S. through certified Avaya business partners and Google for Work services partners.