WebRTC: Benefitting the Call Center and the Consumer

by | Feb. 18, 2014

The webinar that Parks Associates is giving on Thursday, February 20 (Supporting the Connected Home: Preventing The Internet of Broken Things) has some very interesting topics. I’m particularly intrigued by areas such as new innovations and tools for customer support. As I study the technical support/call center space, I think that these areas are of critical importance, as they will determine how satisfied customers are with the support they receive AND they will determine the financial viability of the tech support services out there. If, for example, PC virus remediation can be reduced from two hours to less than 40 minutes by leaning on diagnostic software that largely automates the detection and removal of such malware, that frees up a technician to perform many more support sessions in a given shift, thereby growing revenue. Parks Associates has written about the tools for improving tech support in 2012 and 2013 reports.

One very recent innovation in call center support delivery was brought to my attention just a few weeks ago. In a conversation with an executive from GENBAND, I was advised to keep a lookout for the implementation of a solution called WebRTC (“Real Time Communications"). This browser-based application will have a significant impact on how customer support and other real-time communications are enabled.

Background on WebRTC

Google has been a strong backer of WebRTC since 2009. As a Google engineer explains in an excellent blog, the standards process came about as they were examining gaps or holes between the desktop, particularly with real-time communications. Google eventually identified and acquired a company called Global IP Solutions (Gips) that had low-level components required for RTC. At the time, the components were licensed by several large customers and were present in products from Google, Skype, AOL, Yahoo!, Cisco and others. The acquisition closed in 2011. Work to standardize the browser APIs within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) began in 2011. The International Engineering Task Force (IETF) is working to standardize the protocols.

WebRTC and Amazon’s “Mayday” Button – Creating an Immediate Support Connection

The best example of how WebRTC is being used in a customer support area is with the Mayday Button on the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. You’ve probably seen the commercial showing a Kindle Fire HDX user connecting to a support agent with the press of a button. Not only is real-time videoconferencing activated with WebRTC, but the agent is able to take remote control of the tablet, show a customer how certain applications work, draw on the screen, and troubleshoot problems. A key benefit of the solution – supporters note – is that WebRTC allows the customer support agent to receive the full diagnostics and condition of the device to which they’re connected. That way, they’re able to more quickly determine things like the last known state of the device, detect any changes made to settings, etc.

This kind of instant connection and the ability to immediately present a support agent with all of the critical data needed to diagnose and hopefully resolve a technical issue reminded me of a solution that Intel was proposing several years ago called Castle Peak.  chipset was supposed to provide on the customer support side. Like WebRTC, Castle Peak was intended to allow a support agent to take control of a remote computer (even if the computer could only be started in BIOS), receive diagnostic information, and attempt to resolve the problem.

What Challenges does WebRTC Solve?

Voxeo, a company that specializes in Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technologies, describes how WebRTC eliminates the need for a user to install separate plug-ins or clients for things like videoconferencing or for PC remote control (like BOMGAR, GoToAssist, or TeamViewer, to name a few). Instead of having to download and install a separate and proprietary plug-in for each application, the browser itself offers this functionality. WebRTC also eliminates consumer confusion and consternation in trying to locate and then call an appropriate customer support number to discuss an issue. By enabling the customer to initiate a video chat with a support agent, traditional 1-800 numbers and often clumsy IVR menus may soon be outdated. 

In addition to supporting real-time communications for call center/help desk applications, WebRTC supporters see healthcare and banking as two key areas that will benefit from its use. For example, patients and family members can be connected more easily to the hospital staff for communicating updates. Also, X-ray or other scans can be shared directly with direct data transfers. Banking customers benefit from WebRTC by being able to be connected to customer service agents (to dispute a debit card charge, for example) without having to go through the tedium of painstakingly walking through an IVR menu. Because WebRTC can immediately authenticate a user’s credentials, the need to enter in the last four digits of the social security number and/or the customer’s account number can be eliminated.

Supported Browsers

WebRTC is currently supported by the following browers:

  • For PCs:Google Chrome 23, Mozilla Firefox 22, and Opera 18.
  • For Android: Google Chrome 28, Mozilla Firefox 24, and Opera Mobile 12.

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari browsers are WebTRC holdouts – for now. Microsoft is working on a version that is different from the standard supported by the other browsers. Apple, for now, is sitting on the sidelines, but future versions of Safari are expected to support the standard once it is officially ratified.

It will be interesting to track WebRTC’s rollout and the ways it impacts the ways in which communication between call center agents and the customer are more easily enabled. If its momentum continues, it will certainly lead to improved problem resolution and higher customer satisfaction.

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