How WebRTC Will Mean a Paradigm Shift in Real Time Communications on Mobile

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In the age of devices that seem to do almost everything, cell phones have become more than just telephones-to-go. Our smartphones are increasingly used for “traditional” internet services such as browsing the Web, emailing, or using social networks. The growing revenue lines generated by data will soon cross the declining voice revenue lines. According to a study released last year by the GSMA, this has already happened in Japan in 2012 and will happen in the US and UK in early 2014.

What’s interesting is that while voice data for the phone call is increasingly transported through the same technical means as other data (e.g. through VoLTE) on the back-end, talking into your device to communicate with others is still associated with a disruptive process on the front-end: stopping what you are currently doing, leaving the app you were currently in, switching to the phone app on your device and dialing a number. If you think about surfing the Web on your laptop or desktop PC, you will most likely even leave your computer and go pick up your phone if you need to make a call. This is going to change, and WebRTC is the enabling technology that will make it happen.

WebRTC brings RealTime Communications right onto your computer. Browsers will soon come pre-equipped with this functionality, without the need to download a special plug-in first. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox already offer this capability today. But WebRTC is just a bunch of protocols and APIs; without applications, WebRTC is nothing.

Applications will emerge in customer care, among other areas. Websites for retailers, utilities, travel agencies, airlines, financial institutions, healthcare providers, and many more businesses will offer a direct connection from a Web-surfing session into the contact center. As a customer, I’ll be able to talk to a service representative from within the website I’m looking at simply by clicking a button, thereby without the disruption described above. The representative will be able to view my screen and see what I’ve been doing on the website up to that point. It will improve service, remove friction, increase sales and grow the business.

This is a paradigm shift. Talking and/or video conferencing while you are surfing the Web or working will be made so easy that it’ll become ubiquitous. This shift will not only happen online but also, and even more so, on mobile. While looking at a prescription in my healthcare app, I can talk to a nurse or pharmacist to ask questions. While using the mobile app of my favorite electronics retailer, I can ask questions about the product I’m looking up right now, without having to leave the app. In addition to easier and more direct connections into the contact center, the promise of WebRTC is also to spur new forms of user communities, where existing customers turn into brand advocates and help others.

Amazon demonstrates this new era of frictionless customer service through the introduction of Mayday, a help button on their new Kindle Fire HDX tablet that connects me to an agent with a promised wait time of less than 15 seconds. I can see the agent while he’s talking to me, which adds an extra level of trust and creates a personal relationship, and the agent can write and draw on my device to give me visual assistance.

Welcome to communication ubiquity. Welcome to WebRTC.

Originally published on Voxeo Blogs November 26, 2013

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2 thoughts on “How WebRTC Will Mean a Paradigm Shift in Real Time Communications on Mobile

  1. Arthur,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re touching on an important point: customers do NOT always need a resolution of their issue exactly when they ask for it. Even though modern communication technologies enable realtime response and synchronous communication (talking over VoIP via WebRTC or other enabling technology, chatting, tweeting, …) more than in the past (where we predominantly used inherently asynchronous means such as email, snail mail, or fax), doesn’t mean that synchronous communication is always what a customer needs. As a matter of fact, studies show how the younger demographics in particular prefer “slightly asynchronous” channels: instant messaging, SMS, Twitter, etc. These channels can still carry a dialog, but at a somewhat reduced pace.

    I see WebRTC as an important contribution to “freedom of choice”. IF a customer prefers realtime conversation, WebRTC will make it easy.

    Tobias,-

  2. Making it is simple to connect with live assistance doesn’t necessarily mean it will be synchronous voice or video, but can be IM or asynchronous messaging. Furthermore, because it is impractical, as well as expensive to staff up with enough customer assistance personnel, the old call center approach to queuing will be replaced by “virtual queueing,” along with estimates of wait times.

    Because mobile customers will be more accessible, as well as more flexible, it will be appropriate to give them the freedom of choice in selecting the mode of contact they wish to use, based on their situation, preferences, and wait-time considerations. That means that WebRTC will be supporting the user’s choice of real-time connectivity, including access to the “virtual queuing” service.

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