Quality as Standard: Great User Experience is a Right, Not a Privilege

Guest Blogger

Guest Blog by Damian Wallace, Vice President of Product Management at CounterPath Corporation

Quality as Standard: Great User Experience is a Right, Not a Privilege

Now that every kind of user has had a dose of lockdown-mandated video conferencing – and new legions of homeworkers are suddenly reliant on United Communication and Collaboration (UCC) technology for meetings, collaboration and customer engagement – the honeymoon period is well and truly over for putting up with dodgy call quality.

Providers with proactive call analytics in place stand to gain the most as demand increases for services that ‘work no matter what’, irrespective of location, network, IP endpoint and time of day.

Everyone wants optimum call quality, but knowing what’s necessary to make it happen can be a frustrating, time wasting guessing game – especially now with home-based infrastructure sitting outside the control of corporate IT departments. And besides, we’re all armchair experts on call quality diagnostics now! Lately, who hasn’t pleaded with their family members to stay off Netflix or avoid hammering the WiFi during your crunch video calls? Or flatly blamed them for your frozen screen without knowing for sure it wasn’t caused by something else?

Asking for opinions misses the point

The domain of call analytics is undoubtedly a dry, back-office field of technology, but also one that everyone seems to have a strong opinion about – particularly when experiences are subpar. For instance, users of many video conferencing solutions will be familiar with the 5-star ratings engine that polls your experience following every session; the intention being to correlate scoring patterns with known technical issues. The invisible contract with the user is clear: tell us when it’s bad and this will go some small way to making it better next time.

In corporate environments, such as a contact centre implementation with hundreds or thousands of users, frequently polling users gets in the way of their productivity. Such reactivity – rather than proactivity – may also betray a failure of preventative maintenance and continuous improvement. In other words, what does it say about quality assurance standards within the UCC system if affected users must be relied upon to tell you that the experience isn’t good enough?

Fix the issue before the user notices

Gaining access to real-time and historical call metrics is imperative to recognising patterns and remediating issues before users become aware. But the key point here is ensuring that enough data is being collected across the environment to isolate the full range of potential causes. It may be the application itself is buggy, or that the underlying network is at fault. And finding all this out after the fact is small consolidation and doesn’t help IT teams keep to the their Service Level Agreements (SLA).

Looking at individual sessions in terms of standard based quality scoring (based on sampling, rather than reliant on user feedback), packet loss and jitter is a fundamental requirement. Then the wider enterprise network from the point of view of server, gateway and SBC performance metrics, as well as the endpoint client.

At the UCC softphone client, there are a host of additional metrics to check against, such as what kind of network is being used to connect the endpoint device e.g. WiFi, cellular, LAN. Also, is the softphone connected to headsets, external mics or speakers, and what specific type of hardware is being used?

Compare apples with apples using standard data categorisation

An end-to-end view of what’s happening with UCC interactions only makes sense when the data is collected in a common language. If the starting point is numerous vendor technologies, each with proprietary reporting outputs, then industry-standard measurements (like RTCP XR/RFC 3611) are the only way to make sense of it all quickly enough to make effective, accurate decisions.

Likewise, if the data isn’t readily accessible without heavy lifting then it will compromise efforts to make call analytics as proactive as they can be. If Admins can’t easily access and export the data, how can they use that data to communicate with the rest of the organisation? As well as dealing with user issues proactively, with access to call quality, data organisations can see and highlight the overall health of the network to the organisation. It’s important to deal with the five users having issues for example, but it’s as valuable to the organisation to know that 99.98 percent of the calls are excellent.

Conclusions

Call quality has perhaps never been so important, and occasional bad experiences more damning of an otherwise well-developed UCC service. Providers need to understand the maximum context for the calls they support and use industry-standard, real-time metrics to pinpoint issues and their associated solutions.

But retrospect action is no substitute for proactively shielding users from sub-optimum experiences – even when those could be compounded by unfortunate choices of network, device or location. Providers and enterprises alike can congratulate themselves all they want for finding the root cause of a quality issue, but not if it has already meant users losing confidence in their service. Once the cause is found, then users can be given immediate actionable solutions to the problem, even before they complain. The solution could be replacing overtaxed WiFi with wired alternatives for example, or updating their configuration remotely to use more resilient codecs.

Today’s advanced, machine-speed UCC user experience call metrics make the classic ‘rate this call 1-5’ method of quality control appear hopelessly out of touch in these COVID-19 times. But don’t write it off just yet. When some providers who use a more modern approach identify an emerging quality issue, they find issuing old-style polling prompts a useful way of ‘fishing’ for its impact among the wider user base, or even in testing how effective their pre-emptive fixes have been in keeping positive experience levels high!

 

Guest Blog by Damian Wallace, Vice President of Product Management at CounterPath Corporation
Damian Wallace is Vice President of Product Management at CounterPath Corporation. He brings 20 years of experience in entrepreneurship, product management, product marketing, business development, and R&D to his role. He has in-depth knowledge and experience working with leading cellular and wireless network operators globally. Prior to joining CounterPath, Damian held executive roles at several public companies and founded several companies. Damian is a Founding Director of the BC Product Management Association. He is also a Mentor member of the ProductBC Mentor Program and has served as an organiser for ProductCamp Vancouver since 2013


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