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What Is Contextual Communication?

This article was updated on July 6, 2021

In this Communications in Context video segment, Head of Voice Products Roland Selmer defines contextual communication and explains how businesses and developers can leverage the concept to deliver exceptional customer experiences and a significant competitive edge. (To read the full transcript, scroll below the video.)

What Is Contextual Communication? (Full Transcript)

Roland Selmer, Head of Voice Products at Nexmo: Sure. So probably the best thing to do would be to start with kind of a formal definition of kind of contextual communication. And so quite a long-winded one would be something like contextual communication is the bidirectional transfer of information between two parties where both parties are aware of the relational, environmental, and cultural context of the exchange. And that’s kind of a very formal definition. But if you wanted to be kind of distill that down into something, it’s really about both sides actually knowing what the conversation is about.

For instance, if you got a call from somebody, and the CLI was blocked, the identity of the call was blocked, it said “unknown,” there would be no context to that information. And so you’d say, “Hello. Like, who’s talking? What do you want?” And all of those questions kind of allude to building a context around the conversation.

But if you received a phone call, for example, from somebody within your address book, say, from your friend, like John’s phoning you, you kinda know what that’s about. So there’s a bit of extra context in there, but you wouldn’t actually know what John wanted to speak to you about.

And if we kind of extrapolate that further and thinking of customer interactions, if we start making calls from within apps and people on the other side who are supporting those calls know that, for instance, somebody is calling from within an app, they kind of know who’s calling and why they’re calling. So that’s kind of a super overview of the kind of continuum of context within a conversation.

Glen Kunene, Editor-in-Chief, Content Marketing: Right, right, great. And you sort of alluded to this towards the end of your answer, but thinking about that within the context of customer engagement, right, if I’m from a brand and I want to have a conversation with my customer, what does that look like just in terms of a use case or scenario?

RS: Sure. So just a little bit on that question, if we think about kind of two forms of communication or at least the way in which they’re used, we think of comms as core. And by comms as core, I mean really the companies like Viber, WhatsApp, Skype, where, for instance, I would just call Glen or Francisco, and we’d have a general conversation just like we would on a normal telephone network. There’s not much context around that. Whereas, if, for instance, we start talking about companies that use what we call comms as a feature, we’re really talking about things like sharing economy or symmetrical marketplaces, I guess companies like Airbnb or Uber, where comms is really a feature within the application itself.

And so if I’m a driver in Uber and Glen’s a passenger and Glen is trying to get a hold of me to find out where I am and I receive a call, there’s a lot of context around that conversation already within that app, right? I’ll know that Glen is a rider. I’ll know that he’s booked. I’ll have his rough location. And we’ll be able to have an immediate conversation around the context of what we’re trying to achieve, which in this case would be ride-sharing. So I think that’s how kind of contextual communications is gonna evolve certainly from kind of a comms as feature point of view.

GK: Great, thank you for that. And so talk a little bit more about kind of the technology that would need to be there to sort of enable this, right? So we’ve talked, I think, at a pretty high level, which gives great context. What has to be there sort of under the covers to make this work?

RS: Sure. And so if we go back to kind of pre-internet days, I guess the main technologies that kind of we’re all used to were normal telephone calls, right? We used to call each other on what’s commonly referred to as the PSTN, the public switched telephone network. But these new…you know, kind of the whole app economy has brought quite a few new technologies that, for instance, that we’ve been using within this call, right? And one of those technologies is a technology called WebRTC, where the RTC bit stands for real-time communication.

And these technologies are a group of protocols and codecs and technologies based predominantly around IP communications. And so you’re able to have very high-quality, very high-definition video, very high-quality audio, higher quality than the PSTN itself due to the technology involved. And these are now being kinda rolled out for various platforms, available for various platforms mainly around iOS, Android, and on the web. So, for instance, the conversation we’re having now on this broadcast is really around WebRTC that we can use to speak to each other over great distances, obviously, over IP.

And so these technologies have really brought down kind of the barrier to entry to what’s traditionally, 5-10 years ago, would have been really high-end broadcast quality, really expensive communication products. So it’s really kind of a democratization of kind of high-quality communications that are now enabling these quite exciting use cases.

By Vonage Staff

Staff Writer

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