Is Contextual Communications the Promised Land for UC?
IPCortex founder and CEO Rob Pickering explains to CommsTrader his vision for breaking out of the UC silos
They say that sometimes you have to look backwards to move forwards. That’s something Rob Pickering would agree with.
While most of the attention in Unified Communications industry is, understandably, on present and future forms of communication – the Cloud, multimedia applications, social media – the man who founded British vendor IPCortex believes we shouldn’t lose sight of the the lessons offered by a much older type of technology. Namely, the telephone.
“Business communications technology has been learning lessons from mainstream consumer apps, like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, which provide an efficient, rich, varied and partly asynchronous way to communicate,” he explained.
“The problem for UC is, as with consumer apps, that most of these tools operate in silos with limited interoperability – a far cry from the universal reach of the telephone.”
For Rob, the key challenge for the future of the UC industry is to break out of the proprietary software model which has come to dominate the market. His company is one of a number which have come to the conclusion that end users would prefer to use a single app to for all forms of contact, regardless of which apps those people were using. Just as you can with a telephone.
Explaining the impact of this thinking on business communications, Rob said:
“A new approach is emerging: real time, open, web-based applications that embed comms tools within them, delivered via the Internet as a service. This approach – called contextual communications – doesn’t only allow businesses to engage with colleagues and customers in the way they want to communicate, while removing barriers, but it makes communication more efficient by being task-based and informed by relevant transactional and trend based data.”
To support this approach, IPCortex makes a comprehensive range of APIs for its business UCaaS solution, IPCortex Hosted Suite, readily available to the developer community. Rob wants to see customers take IPCortex applications and use them to create their own bespoke communications solutions, by embedding them in the platforms they already use.
“A simple example of this would be a customer having a multimedia conversation with an advisor directly from an application or webpage that they are already on,” he said. “This is efficient, frictionless communication – an alternative to the distracting and time consuming process of realising a call is needed, then thinking about the best way to make contact, choosing a standalone device or program before finally initiating the conversation.
“As the potential of context is fully realised, we’ll see simplified user experiences, as well as greater efficiencies and convenience both for the customer and the organisation they’re engaging with.”
“The best contextual applications will provide this by meshing in all the information needed to effectively exchange real-time and non-real time communication flows which are appropriate to the phase of each task. We believe contextual comms will gain significant traction in the coming years and deliver a fundamental shift in how people communicate – all delivered via the cloud.”
Along with the Cloud, and companies throwing off the proprietary shackles in favour of open software architectures, Rob believes another recent technological innovation will be key to achieving this – WebRTC.
“WebRTC is a disruptive technology that enables real-time communication over peer-to-peer connections via a common set of protocols,” he explained. “We’ve been developing apps using WebRTC for Chrome and Firefox for the last five years, and now Apple has announced it will support WebRTC on Safari Autumn 2017.
“This effectively means that WebRTC is now supported in all modern browsers and is becoming even more ubiquitous. As a result, contextual communication – which delivers most benefit when engaging with customers, who could be using any device, anywhere – becomes even easier to deploy.”
Asked whether he anticipates any stumbling blocks in overcoming what has become a deeply embedded proprietary culture in business telecom, Rob believes ultimately common sense will prevail.
“Proprietary software that has its own ecosystem to lock businesses in creates silos, complexity and walled gardens – far from the promise of unified utopia. Initial confusion and cultural resistance will pass, but there is a long term challenge that is sometimes overlooked: UCaaS tools usually also mean that users have to context switch to communicate and get things done, which is highly inefficient.
“For example, if I want to Skype someone about a document we’re working on, I still have to switch context to a separate communication app or tool. The sheer number of apps I may use in a working week makes this context switch even more time consuming. And people are notoriously bad at context switching. It interrupts flow and, like a computer reset, the brain needs to re-contextualise to a new task. It can take an average 25 minutes to resume a task after being interrupted, according to Inc.
“With contextual communications, however, it’s different because it allows people to communicate within the context of the task they are already doing, within an application they already use. Applications can very easily integrate and embed features and functionality needed by a range of different use cases and industries.”
“Users view [communication] as part of their existing platform rather than something entirely new. It doesn’t fight the way that the brain is hardwired to communicate like other UCaaS tools. As a result, user adoption is far less of a challenge.”
Another key point for Rob is that a more integrated, contextual approach to how communications platforms are accessed and used will also help businesses improve customer service. IPCortex includes a wide range of contact centre features as standard as part of its Hosted Suite. But beyond that, Rob believes that it is crucial that UCaaS adapts both to suit the way customers want to communicate, and to make the contact experience as fluent and efficient as possible.
“The pervasiveness of the Internet has enabled so many new ways to communicate: Internet-enabled voice, text, video and social media, via apps and mobile devices, and now consumers expect to communicate with a mixture of these, both socially and with the businesses they interact with. So, businesses have had to adapt their customer services to provide different engagement channels and often a single customer view to support retention, loyalty and advocacy.
“Many are beginning to look at contextual communication and how it could significantly improve customer experiences and an agent’s ability to deal with customer contact effectively and proactively, in a joined up way. For customer focused businesses, contextual communications give service agents a means to quickly and easily predict or pre-empt why a customer is contacting them.
“For example, it would let an agent see which web page a customer is on before they hit the ‘click to call’ button, how they got there, and what other services they use. This puts the agent in a much stronger position to deal with the call quickly and efficiently. Additional context such as that customer’s previous contact history can also set the stage for more meaningful interactions.”
Looking to the future, Rob also believes the nuts and bolts of contextual communication being put in place now will one day drive effective automation in the contact centre.
“In the longer term, contextual communications can also support machine learning, bots and even AI in contact centres, allowing them to deal with the most common queries or complaints, while agents are free to tackle more complex enquiries. Beyond this comes cognitive interactions where robots understand accents, sentiment and context, so they can handle communications in a more natural, human way.”
For more details on Contextual Comms, please visit the IPCortex website.
This article is part of the July Series of the Technology Track on Cloud Communications, follow the link to see all published and planned articles.