WebRTC World Feature Article

November 27, 2013

WebRTC for the Contact Center: The Premise and the Promise

By TMCnet Special Guest
Rick McFarland, President and CEO, Voice4Net

For those of us who travel the world attending technology trade shows, WebRTC is one of the hottest topics you’ll consistently find. It seems every panelist is speaking on it, every developer is inquiring about it, and just about everyone else in the computer and communications game is abuzz about what it might mean for them: omen or opportunity.

As all emerging technologies do at first, WebRTC — or Web Real-Time Communications — is certainly causing its fair share of stir for the contact center environment. But in reality, its emergence poses legitimate questions that technology providers must come to grips with and answer. What is WebRTC, really, and what are its implications for communications manufacturers, resellers and users? Is it just the latest techno media hype or the next big catalyst to disrupt and transform a generally complacent marketplace, one that has grown cool and familiar in the wake of the IP-protocol boom?

A Closer Look at WebRTC

The fact of the matter is, WebRTC is no huff of hot air. It’s here and very real, it’s highly disruptive, and could prove to be a watershed development moment that can drive IP-based communications to a whole new level of ease, interoperability and true worldwide ubiquity — opening massive opportunity for those who embrace it and closing doors for those who insist on ignoring it. 

Let’s break it down. If you’re like many out there who aren’t even sure what WebRTC is, here’s a basic working definition: WebRTC is a next-generation HTML5 technology that enables voice and video calls to be made directly and instantly through an Internet browser. This means no temperamental plug-ins, downloads or extraneous applications to build, buy, or become proficient in. True peer-to-peer communications and file sharing is as easy as clicking a button that’s already incorporated into an existing WebRTC-enabled browser, thus instantly connecting browser-to-browser — speaking, videoconferencing, sharing and collaborating. It requires little to no server-based software on the back-end to implement, nor troublesome platform certifications to manage; in fact, with only minimal Web development, WebRTC can be quickly integrated into virtually any communications environment. If it sounds easy, that’s because it is.

Another interesting aspect is WebRTC’s capability of putting voice on the cloud as a service targeted to multi-user environments.  In this example, instead of just facilitating peer-to-peer communications, WebRTC can be used to transmit voice from a server to a switch or a PSTN, providing peer-to-peer managed communications, and essentially supplanting the need for a premises-based PBX or unified communications (UC) system. When you think of voice-as-a-service as potentially the next communications model, you can easily see how some feathers might get ruffled. It’s not that WebRTC is necessarily ringing the death knell of existing communications technologies, but the roles of these solutions will no doubt need to undergo a kind of existential evaluation — and evolution.

All that said, perhaps the most compelling, and for some, the most eye-opening aspect of WebRTC technology, is that it is not blue-sky thinking. It is not some intriguing idea whose utilization is still a ways off. In truth, WebRTC has arrived and is imposing itself today.

WebRTC in the Contact Center

What does WebRTC mean for contact centers? In a phrase, extremely fast and simplified communications between agents and their customers. So, if you’re a dealer selling contact center solutions, it’s definitely time to get excited.

The advent of WebRTC means providers can take what was once a complex implementation in a cloud-based or premises environment and boil the process down to something as straightforward, intuitive and downright familiar as opening up a browser. Today’s sometimes cumbersome contact center capabilities, such as initiating and conducting live Web chat, are becoming much more efficient and effective via WebRTC — again, without needing any additional apps or plug-ins. Standard voice connections, of course, will always be there to satisfy the primary preference of most customers, but WebRTC simplifies the integration of a whole range of additional media options that have, to date, been available, but not always easily accessible.

With WebRTC technology, the agent and the customer can now connect and communicate browser-to-browser using any method they agree works best for them at the moment, whether voice, video, chat, text, IM or other — as well as benefitting from an underlying simultaneous real-time data stream! — and then, if so desired, they can easily switch back and forth between communication modes any time during the session, all without the need for confusing software downloads or gateway bridging. Such ease and accessibility to multiple communication methods literally redefines what can and cannot be accomplished during any day-to-day sales or service encounters, allowing businesses to immensely improve their customer relationship management (CRM) initiatives.

WebRTC also facilitates administrative operations across the contact center in terms of agent-to-agent and supervisor-to-agent communications as well as wallboard metrics and agent productivity reporting. Since staff can connect through the same open browser, they won’t need to learn or use specialized contact center operations software to manage daily internal interactions. Businesses are also redesigning their websites to allow customers to access contact center functions directly through new and robust GUIs on their own Web pages, making the customer even more self-empowered and self-sufficient. With most every desktop and laptop being engineered today with built-in speakers and microphones, instant contact can now be made by the customer without even needing to plug in a VoIP handset; they can simply begin speaking directly into their browser.

Furthermore, contact center providers can now deploy streamlined, multi-cloud solutions that integrate much more easily than the disparate, sometimes incompatible multi-vendor products available in the marketplace today. For instance, a WebRTC solution is the next logical step for companies using hosted applications that are specifically designed to facilitate third-party systems. WebRTC will also allow customers to take multiple functions like ACD, Web chat and IVR features and conveniently combine them — a much more elegant deployment model as compared to funneling these functions separately through a PBX. 

In truth, contact centers and other customer service-based operations, such as help desks, are the key environments that stand to gain the most from this technology paradigm shift. Think about it. What business wouldn’t want to deliver more cost-effective, results-driven customer sales and service through a less convoluted, more familiar, and certainly more versatile communications platform?

The Premise and the Promise

The technology premise of WebRTC is simple. It enables the easy, interoperable and intrinsically scalable use of multiple communications media simultaneously in one encounter, expanding both the variety and versatility of that encounter. But the technology promise of WebRTC is far more easy to grasp: Better contact center agent communications means better service for customers — which, in turn, means increased revenues for business owners looking to better their bottom lines. That’s a promise that is seeing fulfillment more and more every day.

Those who embrace the potential of WebRTC across any business environment — far beyond the contact center — will successfully ride the tectonic shifts that this technology is currently causing, as its inexorable progress quite literally reshapes the technology landscape. But for those who may make the mistake of insisting this is yet another passing tech fad, and continually put off serious consideration and engagement, they may be left isolated on their own island, as the rest of the technology world breaks away and moves on without them.

Our best advice: Spend no more time simply poking and browsing; it’s time to figure out where you fit in this new paradigm, and become a WebRTC believer.

Edited by Rachel Ramsey


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