4/20/2020

Should You Use WebRTC For Customer Support?

Ben Pinkerton's profile picture
Ben Pinkerton VP of Product Marketing

WebRTC is a browser technology that makes it possible to have a real-time video call from within your web browser. WebRTC streamlines the process of getting a user to join a call by eliminating the need to download or install any software. This makes it seem like an ideal technology for uses such as customer support where the customer joins a call by simply clicking a link in a web page. However, WebRTC does have limitations compared with natively installed apps.

Before choosing a video platform, it’s important to determine how you will use live video to provide customer support. What type of device do you anticipate your customer to use while engaged in a troubleshooting session? If your company is primarily dealing with desktop software, it is safe to assume your customer will be connecting from the very PC or Mac they are running your application on. However, if you are providing support on machinery or equipment of some kind, you are will likely have customers connecting from their mobile device.

WebRTC tends to perform well on desktop or laptop computers but mobile can be a challenge. Computers often have excess CPU to provide good quality audio and video encode capability. However, on mobile devices the story isn’t quite the same. Mobile devices have many more constraints than a computer. They operate off battery power and thus the hardware has been designed to conserve power consumption often at the expense of computing resources. Additionally, mobile devices operate over wireless networks which are inherently unstable.

Another important factor to consider is video performance. When video performance is high you get a better picture, smoother motion, and a more pleasing experience. When using WebRTC technology, you are reliant upon the performance of the video client that is contained in the web browser. Because no software is installed, the video engine in use is what the browser maker has created. This means it isn’t possible to perform any optimizations on the video engine that would lead to better performance for the given use case. With a native application, the video client is under full control of the software maker and is free to tune the video engine for optimal performance. Additionally, a native video client has direct access to the hardware it is running on thus making it possible to adapt and adjust to the available resources better. In other words, you typically get better performance from a video client running natively rather than in the browser.

When choosing between WebRTC and native apps, there are other considerations than just audio and video quality. For example, there may be certain features that your usage might require. You compare the availability of those features in all the browsers you wish to support. WebRTC is not fully implemented on every browser. If you want to give your users a certain feature, what will you do if one of your users is on a browser that does not support that feature? You can make the feature unavailable if the unsupported browser is being used, but this makes for an inconsistent experience. You could also prompt the user to install the supported browser, but this takes away one of the major benefits of WebRTC to begin with; eliminating the need to install new software. In order to provide a consistent user experience, you will find yourself balancing the need to restrict certain features or restricting certain browsers. With native apps it is much easier to create a consistent user experience between devices.

From the table we can see that the native app tends to win for most considerations with the exception of ease of joining. This is a very important consideration. If someone is unable to join a call they will not be able to get the needed support. However, most users are accustomed to installing apps for needed services. You need to decide if the benefits that come from a native app outweigh the convenience of no software installation. For the onetime call, WebRTC may be the right choice. However, if you have customers or field technicians who are routinely calling in for support, the benefits of native app are probably worth the effort of app installation.

In conclusion, the choice between WebRTC or a native app comes down to the unique needs of your organization. There is no “one size fits all” option for service, and your ultimate decision should be based on creating the best possible experience for your customer.

Still have questions? Contact a SightCall representative for help mapping your customer support journey.

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