WebRTC – Ski Lifts for Contact Centers
Minimizing costs is the most important goal of most contact centers. Talking with a few contact center executives, their bull’s eye is on minimizing the amount of time an agent used to get prepared to help a user. If helping the user is skiing down the mountain, then, today, the agent (and the user) are slowly and painfully hiking up the other side first. WebRTC is then a high-speed chairlift, enabling the user and agent to use their time skiing down the mountain, rather than struggling to get to the top of the mountain. A ski lift that saves the contact center, and the businesses that it serves, a lot of money (agent time).
A Tale of Two Calls
The example above shows a user initiating two sessions to a WebRTC-enabled contact center (calls 1 and 2 in blue), and another user initiating two phone calls to a call center (calls 1 and 2 in red). Note the relative time length of the red sessions (the out of band phone calls to the contact center) – this out of band model causes the user and agent to hike up the mountain before they can ski down it (address the user’s problem).
Step 1a – the user seeks help from a contact center:
- In the two contextual sessions, 1a is a short and productive step – like getting on to a ski chairlift. The user navigates the contact center’s WebRTC-enabled application (web-based or a native mobile app) to try to solve her problem. The user is in control and can easily find the information she seeks.
- In the out-of-band calls to the contact center, the IVR is in charge of step 1a. The user is at the mercy of IVR trees and wastes valuable time.
And this graph assumes a very good (and expensive) IVR with excellent CTI to pass information, and therefore eventually gets the user to the same level of value as 1a of the contextual session, but with longer time and higher costs.
Unfortunately, that is the best case scenario! In other cases, the out of band step 1a will be very long and expensive, yet still not generate any value – a long hike most of the way up the mountain, only to tumble back down before reaching the top. How many times have you wasted minutes of your life in queues and IVR trees, only to be connected to an agent that then starts you back at square one, at the bottom of the mountain? Note also that if the user first tried to do self-help on a website or app, then the information (and value) from that session is not connected to his phone call.
Step 1b – the user connects with a contact center agent:
- In the WebRTC-enabled contextual sessions, the user chooses when to add the agent to the session. Critically, this is not a new session, it is an extension of the session started in step 1a. This extended session, contextual communications paradigm means that the WebRTC application has already taken care of identification and authentication during the self-help stage (1a). It means the WebRTC app has also already initiated a session (behind the scenes) with the contact center, including adding information from relevant systems and databases (based on your credentials) to the session. So, when you choose to hit the contact button, the sessions are linked such that the contact center agent already has all the contextual information, including all the information learned during your WebRTC app self-help stage (1a) such as the key information from your clicks, swipes and touches in the WebRTC app. This not only means that the agent is able to help you from an excellent starting point, but also that the agent himself can be selected to be the one that best matches you, your information and the actions you took on the app. A linked, continuous, contextual sessions is your high-speed ski lift to the top of the mountain.
- In the out-of-band call, 1b starts when the agent answers the call. In most cases, the agent will then need to use more time to do further identification and authentication. After the agent has spent this precious time, he next needs to slowly query one or more systems that house your data: find out what products or services you use, check out your history, grab your financial information and view your call history (remember, that was all done behind the scenes during 1a for the contextual session). You are at the top of the mountain, yet you still can’t quite ski. If you are fortunate, that agent will solve your problem.
However, we all know from experience that it is not uncommon to be thrown back into a queue to be transferred to another agent. In the out-of-band model, you are still hiking up the mountain for much of 1b. Helped by an agent, but still hiking.
In sum, this is why you see in the graph above that the red 1a and 1b takes so much longer and costs the contact center so much more money (agent time) than in the blue 1a and 1b.
Step 1c – the contact center session is terminated:
- In the contextual session, most of the information is retained. The information gathered is therefore also valuable to future sessions. This could include a transcription of the session, possibly enabled for quick keyword-based search that also enables the contact center to efficiently watch relevant sections of the video or listen to select part of the audio.
- In the out of band session, when you hang up, most of the past 30-minutes of your life are wiped out. The fact that the call took place will be logged and maybe the agent will enter some notes. If there is an audio recording then it will be an independent artifact – not correlated or connected with the rest of the session. Any information that could have been derived from your self-help session is effectively gone (perhaps “retained” in some web server logs; not connected or correlated in any way with your phone call).
Steps 2a – 2c – another session from the same user, but one with a head start
The subsequent sessions shown in the graph above – steps 2a – 2c – mainly mirror the first sessions. The key difference is that the contextual session builds on the information gathered in the first contextual session – notice where the blue 2a starts, compared to where the red 2a starts.
This means the second contextual communications session can be even more effective and quick than the first session. On the other hand, for the out-of-band session, if you call again in five minutes, then you will be back at square one, back hiking up the mountain via IVR prompts and back struggling through music-on-hold ice patches, and an agent will eventually be wasting time again (costing the contact center money), also starting from square one. So, not only does the WebRTC call center save time and costs on each call, they save even more time on subsequent calls (from the same users).
Other cost savings?
The example and graph above focused on the agent costs and time that contact center executives feel is the most important and viable to minimize. There are of course many other costs that can be saved by WebRTC call centers, especially once sessions become end-to-end VoIP and video over IP. These costs include PSTN costs (including toll-free), PBX costs, CTI costs and agent endpoint costs (replace expensive desk phones with software on agent computers, tablets and mobiles). It also makes it easier and cheaper to distribute call centers (including to homes), leverage cloud-based services and easier to make changes (compare making web site changes to making IVR, ACD and PBX changes).
Can WebRTC also help the revenue side of contact centers?
WebRTC call centers can also add value (revenue), especially to relationship-driven call centers. To simplify, let’s consider two types of contact centers (and some of course are really in the middle):
- Cost-driven contact centers. These contact centers deal with calls about transactions that are relatively low-value, low-interaction and low repeat sale oriented. The performance of these contact centers is not perceived as moving the needle on the revenue side of the house. The CFO has this contact center on the top of her list, but the sales and product VPs barely know it exists.
- Relationship-driven contact centers. These contact centers seek to maximize customer satisfaction. They are focused on relationship management, support, sales and marketing of high-value, high-touch, repeat-business, long-term relationship focused products. Sales and product VPs work hard to get budget allocated to improving these contact centers because these centers generate revenue.
I will discuss the potential revenue-side benefits (especially to relationship-driven contact centers) in more detail in other posts, but the overall drivers are that WebRTC enables the contextual communications sessions described above (which can add value, in addition to decreasing costs), and can add revenue driving functionality such as screen sharing, persistent chat and video. Meanwhile, one quick example below.
Adding faces to contact centers
As a quick example of the revenue benefits of WebRTC, how much better would it be if you could choose your favorite contact center agent, similar to how you might walk into a store and choose your favorite clerk or salesperson? In some cases, you could schedule the session to make sure you get the contact center agent that you like to work with – similar to how you might choose a specific doctor, mechanic or hairdresser. WebRTC can help humanize and personalize relationship-driven call centers. How does that help revenue? We buy more when we are comfortable and we are less inclined to move our business if we have strong relationships.
Contact center agents don’t need to be presented as faceless, interchangeable commodity parts. This won’t make sense for all contact centers – specifically some of the cost-driven contact centers – but WebRTC can help enable our relationship-driven contact centers to show us brief profile and videos of each available agent, and let us initiate a video session with our agent of choice, and then let us choose that agent for future sessions if our experience is good, even scheduling the interaction ahead of time.
Contact center conclusions
There are many verticals and domains that WebRTC could help. I think contact centers are one of the strongest, partially because they have a cost-side business case. Business cases based on cost savings tend to move quicker than cases that are only based on the revenue side, especially in the communications industry. Meanwhile, there is tremendous revenue potential around WebRTC-enabled contextual communications sessions as well.
Of course, it is not *just* WebRTC. The combination of pervasive retail Internet access, mobile and tablet proliferation, cloud-based applications and data analysis and correlation are the building. But WebRTC is the door that will enable many contact centers to walk in. And enable many of us to take the high speed quad chairlift up the contact center mountain.