What Is WebRTC and How Does It Affect Contact Centers?

Whether you’re an avid follower of the latest technological developments or just have a casual interest, it’s probable that you’ve come across the term WebRTC. This new technology is gaining a lot of attention for how it not only promises to revolutionize communication through the Internet, but also drastically change how businesses and customers interact.  In light of all of the growing interest and hype around this subject, those of us here at Telecom Monthly think it’s a good time to take a look at WebRTC and some of the potential implications of this developing technology.

First, let’s consider a basic question: What is WebRTC? To put it simply, WebRTC is a technology that allows real time communication (hence the RTC) between people through a web browser.  What makes it different from other forms of online video or chat is that Web RTC does not require users to create accounts or download additional applications or plugins. With WebRTC, the browser is the application, so to speak, and includes all the necessary capabilities to support audio and video communication, as well as data exchange such as file sharing and text chat.

One of the persistent problems with online communications is the issue of incompatibility between software. Communication takes place through propriety software that requires both parties to have the same program in order to contact with each other. A central idea behind the WebRTC concept is that it is compatible across different browsers, making communication both instant and ubiquitous by allowing anyone to contact anyone else regardless of the software being used.

WebRTC is part of HTML5 and, as befits it goal to bridge communications between all browsers, is an open-source project rather than being tied to one particular company. Still, there are a couple of organizations that oversee the standardization of WebRTC. The first of these is the IETF, or Internet Engineering Task Force, which handles protocols and interoperability. The second is the W3C, or World Wide Web Consortium, which deals with the APIs, or application programming interfaces (keeping track of all these acronyms?), for web development. There are three APIs that make up WebRTC, consisting of GetUserMedia (for camera and microphone access), PeerConnection (for peer-to-peer video and voice calls), and DataChannel (for sending peer-to-peer data).

In terms of support from the browser side, Google, Mozilla, and Opera are all on board with WebRTC. Microsoft was for a while pushing its own specification called CU-RTC-Web that allowed better interoperability with existing VoIP services, such as the company’s own Skype, but that proposal has been rejected. Though it hasn’t declared its support for WebRTC, Microsoft will likely sign up as the technology becomes more widespread. Apple has so far remained silent on the issue and given no sign of either support or opposition to WebRTC.

Hopefully you now have an understanding of the nature of WebRTC. Of course, this is a developing technology and numerous resources are available on the Internet for those who wish to learn more or dig into the technical details. At this point, however, we’re going to look at the practical implications of WebRTC for businesses in regards to contact centers.

Traditionally, organizations have had separate website and contact center departments. WebRTC alters this structure by bridging the gap between these two groups. When communication is available right through the browser as a customer views a company’s website, every web page becomes a potential point of contact. Rather than hunt down contact information on a website and then place a call, a customer can instead be looking at a product or reading technical documentation online and contact a representative to answer questions with a simple click right in the browser itself.

Not only does this facilitate communication between a company and its customers, but it also provides a context for communication. What this means is that interactions through WebRTC will include the availability of metadata to make calls more effective and relevant. For example, a representative can see what items a customer has in his or her shopping cart for purchase and which product pages he or she has looked at but passed on. Thanks to the metadata, a representative begins a call prepared with a sense of a specific customer’s reason for calling and can then identify other products and services that are relevant.

Businesses can also see the specific areas of their website that generate a call to a representative, and which areas don’t, and further tailor web pages to enhance customer browsing. If one page is consistently generating queries, then a company can get a clear sense of customers’ needs and interests.

WebRTC has the potential to further streamline customer service interactions by allowing customers to avoid having to identify themselves multiple times. Customers that have logged in on a website will already be authenticated upon contacting a representative, allowing them to jump straight to the question or issue at hand.

While it’s still developing, WebRTC shows a lot of promise and, after reading this article, you should now have an idea why it’s attracting such intense attention. The examples outlined above are only scratching the surface of what is possible with this new technology. At its heart, the Internet has always been about communication between people. WebRTC takes that communication to the next stage by opening up channels to make it more open and direct than ever before.

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