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Four Benefits of Switching Your Contact Center Agent Software to WebRTC

| Posted by Tsahi Levent-Levi Follow 0 Followers on May 09, 2016. Estimated reading time: 9 minutes |

WebRTC burst into the world in 2012 and picked up steam in 2015. In a nutshell, WebRTC enables voice and video calling directly inside the web browser; no plugin or installation needed. All you need to do is write the relevant JavaScript code and run it from your HTML page. Today, WebRTC is already supported in Chrome and Firefox, with official support announced by Microsoft in Edge and rumors about possible Apple support in Safari.

Some view WebRTC as a technology with a lot of potential that has not yet been fulfilled, but the opposite is true. You just need to know where to look in order to find WebRTC in use. One such hidden area where WebRTC is making inroads is the contact center: While you may not even know it, your most recent call to a contact center might have been picked up in a browser using WebRTC.

Why exactly are contact centers thinking of, evaluating and even switching to using WebRTC for the agents in the contact center? There are many reasons, but the biggest one of them all is the process we see happening everywhere else - technology and the internet are redefining whole industries.

The Road to Omnichannel Customer Care

Contact centers are rapidly changing, moving towards becoming omnichannel machines where customers can skip across channels while the context of their interactions is maintained. This is not always the case. I had my own share of broken interactions across channels - getting it right isn’t easy.

Most enterprises cannot invest in a full blown transformation of their contact center. That costs too much and comes with great risks (as any IT project does). A different approach is to take baby steps towards a full solution - one in each certain areas of the contact center are modernized and replaced. One such area which is popular for modernization with small and medium contact centers is the agent VoIP client.

In a contact center, each agent is designated a phone. This is how they receive calls. There are today three main ways of providing a “phone” to an agent:

  1. A physical phone, connected to a wall socket. Usually this would be over the IP network
  2. A soft-phone, which is a software application installed on the machine the agent uses
  3. In the browser itself, using WebRTC technology

WebRTC can be used in contact centers in many ways. The most prevalent of them at the moment is replacing the phone used by the agent. The main reasons for this type of adoption is that it is simpler. Because WebRTC isn’t available in all browsers yet, then using it when the environment is at the enterprise control - inside the contact center - makes a lot of sense.

What are the benefits of such a move? What do contact centers gain out of this transition to using WebRTC for their agents instead of VoIP clients or physical desk phones?

Here are four such benefits.

Reduce TCO

In a contact center, there are two main vendors: the CRM vendor and the call center vendor. One offers the database of customer interactions while the other is in charge of taking calls from customers.

Modern CRMs today have their front-facing UI for the agents residing in the web browsers using HTML5. Modern call centers use VoIP to run in the enterprise LAN. The two vendors in the contact center are now looking at this new technology called WebRTC - the CRM vendor and the call center vendor. What is each of them seeing and how are they going to cope with this new technology?.

The CRM vendors run in the web, so the Web part in WebRTC appeals to them. The call center vendors handle Real Time Communications, so the RTC part in WebRTC appeal to them. When both of these vendor types make an attempt to fuze WebRTC into their product - who’s going to win the hearts of potential customers?

Now think of it from the viewpoint of the enterprise, which is now faced with two choices:

  1. License their CRM and call center from the CRM vendor who makes use of WebRTC
  2. Split their contact center between the CRM and the call center vendor

It is no surprise then that many CRM vendors have started introducing their own call center capabilities, often using WebRTC. They might not always have the complex queuing systems or all of the features in a class 5 softswitch - but it gets the job done and it fits to many enterprises while costing a lot less than the alternative.

Increase workforce flexibility

WebRTC operates inside the browser. This means one less software application to have to install, update and maintain. It doesn’t sound like much, but what if you have a 100 agents in your contact center?

  • If each has a software issue once a year, that’s two issues a week to deal with. If some of the agents work from home and not from the office, that means trying to resolve issues remotely
  • When you want to update or upgrade the software, you need to update the installations in 100 machines. Some are bound to fail, especially the ones done remotely
  • You can’t really let people work from any machine - you must supply them. You really don’t want to deal with that specific Windows installation of your agent that just doesn’t seem to work with the VoIP client software you have

Shifting to WebRTC means that there is nothing to install or maintain. The browser is already being used for the CRM software itself. WebRTC is just added as another CRM feature. Upgrades to browsers are rather automatic these days and go without a hitch. CRM and WebRTC gets updated by loading the HTML page whenever the agent logs on.

This enables an organization’s agents work from virtually anywhere that has a decent internet connection:

  • Agents can work from home or a coffee shop
  • Agents can work during peak hours without adding the hassle of travel time to the office for 2 or 3 hour shifts
  • Workforce size can be increased without increasing his office space

Reduce risk of expansion

This is something I heard from Chloe Stubbins of Just Eat at Twilio’s Signal event.

Just Eat is a food ordering service. They need a contact center to handle complains, and they’ve built it over Twilio’s WebRTC SDK. They are startup, yet they already operated in 13 countries last year.

WebRTC enabled Just Eat to reduce the time it took to create a new contact center in a new country from a month to less than a week. They do that with no physical servers required for the call center.

Think about it. What took a full month of labor work, coupled with a high upfront cost got taken down to less than one week. The use of WebRTC enabled adding a new call center in a brand new country with virtually no CAPEX spending.

As a global startup, this is important, as it enables penetrating a new country with very little upfront expense which in turn reduces risk.

Increase visibility

The CRM and the call center are highly correlated - there are reasons to have the data gathered from both analyzed, correlated and then presented. But if these systems come from two different vendors, then this usually means another IT project - one related to BI and Analytics. This tends to be an additional expense, that is usually viewed as a one-time effort when it’s actually more of an ongoing one.

By having a single vendor offering a coherent, integrated product, there’s a chance the reporting system you get from that vendor will give you a better picture of how your business is operating - simply because it sees both the CRM system and the call center system together.

This is what Intuitive Solutions told me about their own migration from a VoIP based CRM+call center with 4 different vendors to a WebRTC based CRM+call center from a single provider. In this case, LiveOps. The biggest “side effect” from this migration, apart from reduced maintenance costs, was that they started making better decisions in their company because they had better visibility to how their service actually worked.

Getting WebRTC into contact centers

If you need to get WebRTC to work inside contact centers to replace the phones of your agents, there are several approaches. They all assume that your contact center is built on top of some VoIP based PBX that makes use of the SIP protocol to communicate between the PBX and the phones - be it desk phones or soft phone software.

In most cases, the technical part means having some kind of a gateway or mediation between the VoIP world, where SIP is used to the web world, where WebRTC is used. The easiest way in such cases, is to rely on SIP over WebSocket (RFC 7118), which enables using the SIP protocol directly from a web browser.

Here are a few alternatives that different enterprises use:

On premise

Use a PBX that supports WebRTC - many of the existing PBX vendors and even call center vendors support WebRTC today. It includes open source alternatives such as Asterisk and FreeSwitch but also several commercial vendors. By using such a PBX, a company can get its agent phones run inside a browser.

Build or purchase a ready-made gateway - if the PBX doesn’t support WebRTC, then another way around it is to use a gateway to bridge between the PBX (SIP) to the browser (WebRTC). For the adventurous, Janus makes a very good choice for in-house development. Other alternatives are to find commercial SIP-WebRTC gateways

Cloud

Instead of using an on premise PBX and call center, there is always the alternative of having it all done from the cloud. This means a lot less hassle in the long run.

You can build your own cloud contact center with dialing login that fits your exact needs. This is what Just Eat has done as far as my understanding goes, and how Vacasa Rentals is also doing it - they have built their own call logic and agent software on top of WebRTC by using a communication API vendor that supports WebRTC - this usually boils down to using something like Twilio’s WebRTC gateway.

Another option is to opt for a CRM vendor that offers incoming WebRTC calls for agents. This is exactly how Intuitive Solutions is operating by using LiveOps. Other alternatives include FreshDesk and ZenDesk who integrated WebRTC into their helpdesk/ticketing systems.

No matter how you look at it, WebRTC offers powerful benefits to contact centers. While this is true in many other places, such as in-app calling and consumer click-to-call buttons, there are immediate benefits in replacing the agent VoIP software with WebRTC. These benefits come at a very low risk and with minimal changes to the customer’s experience. This being the case, why haven’t you switched your contact center agents to use WebRTC?

About the Author

Tsahi Levent-Levi is an Independent Analyst and Consultant for WebRTC. Tsahi sometimes writes on behalf of Twilio. Tsahi is the author and editor of bloggeek.me, which focuses on the ecosystem and business opportunities around WebRTC.

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