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WebRTC, SBCs Meet Up in the Contact Center

WebRTC was not just front and center at last month's Enterprise Connect 2015 -- it was everywhere, including in discussions about its role in the contact center. WebRTC is a natural fit there, but it's only when integrated with the session border control (SBC) that contact center organizations will reap real benefit.

One of the big opportunities for WebRTC is to use it in contact centers to enable customers to “click” directly from the website and have a conversation with an agent within the browser or from a mobile app. This has two significant advantages: It reduces the loss of contact that occurs in the transition from the webpage to a phone number, and it enables automatic implementation of context for agent management. In fact, with 70 to 90% of contact center interactions preceded by a webpage visit today, the challenges of losses in transition and providing similar information to get to the right agent/support person in an IVR can impact customer satisfaction as well as close rates.

To optimize the transition from the website to an agent, an implementation must have two components. First, it must be click to call, enabling the call without exiting the app or browser window and moving to another window or app and entering data. Second, the context from the Web, potentially augmented by questions asked through the webpage when the customer asks for an agent, must map into the partitioning (or "routes") that have been built to manage agents by skills, knowledge, language, etc.

WebRTC is a natural solution for the first issue, as it enables a very easy and natural transition within the browser from the webpage to a real-time interaction. However, WebRTC alone will not enable the use of context or Web-based questions to map to the agent assignment models that most modern contact centers use. Also, while most contact center back ends use audio protocols like G.711, G.722, or G.729, browsers often use Opus.

For these cloud contact centers, the integration of WebRTC into their SBCs used for their SIP peering is a natural extension of their existing investments. Generally, cloud contact center services manage agent seats directly by using SIP trunking and TDM gateways to bring customer calls into the cloud network. Using SBCs is a natural way to increase peering capabilities through a single point of presence, enhancing quality by reducing hops and transcoding.

Implementing the Sonus WebRTC Gateway as the WebRTC integration point with the new Sonus SBC deployments enable cloud-based contact centers to provide a fast and powerful WebRTC integration. Cloud contact centers can leverage WebRTC as a means of simplifying the task of routing Web-originated customer interactions to the agents with the appropriate skills, leveraging Web context to simplify the routing specification for their customers.

For the consumer, the transition from Web browsing to speaking with an agent is seamless. For the contact center and Web team, configuring this is a simple specification of a few different URLs and tags from the website that define how the transfer from the website to human interaction is managed. This is simplified by the capability of the Sonus WebRTC Gateway to enable the cloud contact center client application to dynamically specify those connections and deliver them properly within the contact center.

The Sonus WebRTC Service Solution interfaces to media servers to provide the transcoding from browsers that use Opus for WebRTC and SIP codecs like G.711 or G.729 used in the cloud network. Another key advantage of the Sonus implementation is that the Sonus WebRTC Gateway is a separate element from the SBC and can be centralized into cloud data centers, while the SBCs and media paths are located at the edge of the network in locations that optimize performance. By having these distributed SBC nodes manage the WebRTC-to-SIP transitions at the edge of the network, performance is enhanced and transport costs for the contact center vendor are often reduced. According to cloud vendors, deploying the WebRTC Gateway independent of the SBC and sharing access across a number of remote SBCs optimizes quality for clients, while minimizing the operational costs of delivering this service.

The emerging partnerships between a leading SBC vendor and cloud contact center vendors are indicative of the need to rapidly integrate WebRTC into many common apps. For a cloud contact center provider, the need to deliver WebRTC as a powerful tool to increase customer interactions and improve overall contact center performance through analytics and decision processes was delivered through adding value to the new SBC system, resulting in a play that will enable clients to get a leg up on the market.

By utilizing SBC components that were already coming on-line, cloud contact center vendors avoid much of the cost and complexity for their clients looking to leverage WebRTC in their business models. What will be interesting is to see how cloud contact center vendors position these types of offers later in the year and how it will change their customers' website and contact center environments. In my discussions with Sonus and potential cloud contact center vendors looking to use Sonus technology, it became clear that implementing WebRTC as an integration to contact centers is easy with the Sonus architecture, enabling cloud contact center vendors to focus on other value adds, not the underlying plumbing.

Editor's Note: With its stock price tumbling, Sonus earlier this week announced that it has initiated a "review of its cost structure" to ensure its ability to continue investing in technology development. Its 1Q2015 earnings are due out on April 22.