Will Contextual Communications Disrupt How Businesses Interact?

By Rob Pickering
16 Oct 2017

There are thousands of innovative UC tools promising to simplify collaboration and communication, but despite customers demanding more user friendly ways to talk to businesses, and employees looking for simpler, friction-free interactions, communications tools seem to create more complexity and fragmentation, not unification. Generally UC tools are built in a walled garden, operate in silos, involve annoying plug-ins and don’t work with the UC tools your partners or customers use. What’s unified about that?

This experience continues to exist because we’ve largely normalised communication as a separate task or "special" sort of interaction, and many of us rely on traditional phone conversations, or setting up a video chat, on a completely separate platform. This means comms are devoid of context and are separated from the information pertinent to a communication exchange, frequently frustrating and complicating the interaction.

For humans, who are hard-wired to communicate, this constant experience significantly impacts the way our brains deal with information. If we do something with an awareness of why we are doing it and when, information is consistent then our brains are broadly happy. But if we experience conflict or contradictions, it causes confusion in the brain and we effectively go into meltdown. This readily happens when we’re forced to context switch and we become worried about inconsistency; we stop absorbing information and our bad day kicks in.

To give a UC example: you’re getting on with a task, and you receive an email with an attachment, a calendar invite and a download to a web conference call to discuss a new contract. You stop what you’re doing, open all the items, click on the meeting link to download the software. You wait, and something pops up. Is this malware? You just click OK, because that’s what you’ve been trained to do over the years. The conversation eventually starts; over five minutes later. You think you’re over the hurdles, but the biggest challenge is actually the mental space you are now in. All your brain’s ideas about how the conversation wanted to run are now firmly in the back seat. It’s not just about a physical context switch, but much more about what our current methods of communication are doing to brain flow. In fact, most of what we do all day really is contextual. We fire up parts of our brain to complete a task and then communicate to complete the task. So, why isn’t UC there yet?

Seemingly there’s a fundamental flaw in the way that many UC tools are built: they’re not designed in a way that’s congruent with how the human brain naturally operates. And that’s really important to understand if we’re going to be able to make communication tools that are useful, efficient, and intuitive.

A new way to communicate - called contextual communication - will deliver simple experiences within the context of what someone is doing. This might be by bringing context to the point of conversation, or by bringing conversation to the point of context. For example, apps that embed a call or chat function within a web page allow efficient and frictionless comms in the context of what that page is all about. A typical contextual communications experience might be where you are trying to fill in a complicated government form, but can’t figure out what’s needed. You’re frustratedly searching the web to find answers. If there’d been a "help" link within the same web page that you could click and get connected to an expert, then you could have a two-way audio and visual conversation in context with that expert in a much more natural way. You get to understand what’s going on and the form is co-created, quickly and accurately. All of this would happen from within the web with no context switch, and nothing to install.

The thing that makes this transaction so different is that we use language, visual cues and written language in a consistent way. The brain stays in charge, and the end result is rich, contextual communication and a much heightened user experience.

This is great news for resellers, who are facing the problem of making money in a world where the proportion of business transacted through a telephone is diminishing. Contextual communications is the next phase, where it becomes much easier to offer open, joined up solutions that allow people to interact with businesses, customers and the real world using all, and any, available media. In the commercial world, the end result of contextual communication is that key business functions like sales and support can make customer engagement quicker, more intelligent, human and ultimately more memorable – adding real value beyond cost savings and efficiency. In the coming years, we expect to see more resellers solution selling in this way.

By Rob Pickering, CEO at IPCortex