Real Time Communications Featured Article

It's a Happier Holiday with Real Time Communications

December 24, 2014

The holiday season is often a mix of joy and stress.  The happiness of new toys, the agony of detailed manual assembly at 2 AM.  Wondering when the last relatives are going to arrive before opening presents and starting dinner, or worse yet, having family stuck at home due to bad weather. It's no wonder that we all have our secret (or not so secret) Scrooge moments every year as we try to get the best presents and get all the details just right. Real-time communications (RTC) provides any number of avenues to smooth the rough edges and allow us to focus more on the spirit of the season than get dragged into the details.

Let's start with gift shopping, the bane of many.  You don't want to fight the crowds, yet you want to have a more intimate understanding of what you are buying than just "Hey, that looks good" from a web site catalog.  Retailers are starting to fill in the gap between virtual "no touch" sales and in-store "must touch" visits with a guided virtual concierge visit.  By using WebRTC video, shoppers can talk with a live human being to ask questions and get a live or pre-recorded look at products with video. Buyers can be more sure of what they are getting.

Once presents are exchanged and opened, gift-givers can pass along some support duties to vendors, rather than having to struggle with twenty questions on "How do you do this?"  Amazon's Mayday service is the prototype for numerous other emerging on-line WebRTC support services that enable customers to talk live and face-to-face with agents, enabling screen sharing for feature demonstrations, configuration assistance and instructions on how to use all the bells and whistles on tablets and smartphones.

Next-generation RTC services -- sorry,  fall 2015 and beyond -- will move beyond consumer electronics into more intimate technical support for services and more physical things.  The support app of the future will enable customers to provide real time video and still photos to customer service.  Both the customer and the agent will be able to look at the same thing at the same time and conduct a two-way dialog.   Agents, not spouses, will be able to say with confidence "That doesn't look right," and offer assistance in assembly and use of everything from toy kitchens and bikes to complicated wooden furniture. 

The best service-oriented companies will provide free customer support for device assembly in the late evening hours of December 24 and early morning of December 25, but I suspect more than a few will try to build it into the price or a service contract. And tech support staff will likely have the option of dressing up like elves during those hours, for comic relief and to cover the parents if lightly sleeping children come downstairs to investigate.

For families that can't get together in person, RTC provides a way to virtually gather the clan. Free WebRTC videoconferencing services support up to 10 locations across all major platforms without having to worry about if Uncle Bruce has an iPad or a Chromebook.  Children can use the family tablet to provide a detailed inspection of the Christmas tree and presents.

Worried about where everyone is?  Location-based services  can provide real time positioning, so you can know if your relatives have been delayed by heavy holiday traffic or are still stuck at the airport.  Current services are built around a one-to-one premise, but future invite services will likely be combine with location in real time, so you can pull up a master guest list and see how far out everyone is from the house, sorting guests out my the distance and/or estimated time of arrival to your doorstep.  More accurate information via RTC will enable the host and any catering involved to carefully time when dinner needs to be put on the table without making phone calls.

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