What is Co-Browsing?

Uncategorized 12 November 2013 0 Comments

Every day, call centers walk a thin red line: balancing customer happiness with handle time. New technologies like live chat and advanced IVR solutions have helped call centers do this with drastically higher efficiency over the past decade. But as we shift into the second decade of the new millenium, it’s clear that the first generation of web-based support tools isn’t enough to satisfy customer demands. Many customers need a hands on experience that a chat or phone support solution has difficulty providing on its own.

Companies that care about customer happiness have started to react to changing customer demands using a new technology called co-browsing. You may not have heard of co-browsing before, but even if you have, you might think it is something that it’s not. This is because many customer support companies misuse the term co-browsing in order to check a box on the RFP questionnaire they send you.

Let’s talk about what co-browsing is, how it can be helpful to your business, and what to watch out for when a company supposedly selling “co-browsing” technology knocks on your door.

What co-browsing is

Co-browsing is web technology that allows a support agent to connect up to a customer’s browser window, see the customer’s web page and mouse cursor, and interact with the web page in real-time.

Co-browsing is like screensharing except that it’s limited explicitly to what’s in the browser. When a rep is co-browsing with a customer they can only see what’s on the web page itself, not the customer’s other open browser tabs, and not anything else on the customer’s computer.

Co-browsing technology typically comes in two different flavors: Java-based and Javascript-based. These may sound similar but they’re very different: each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

Java-based co-browsing

Java-based co-browsing – as its name suggests – is based on the Java programming language. Typically a Java-based co-browsing solution comes in the form of an applet that a user can load onto their browser to start a co-browsing session.

Java-based solutions have a few benefits, but also a few key drawbacks.


– A Java-based solution does not require installation into the web page itself. Many Javascript-based solutions require that a company that wants to provide co-browsing install a Javascript snippet into the head tag of every page that they want to cobrowse on. Java-based solutions don’t require this.
– A Java-based solution is not limited to just the web page. Java-based co-browsing can actually let you view and control the entire computer, but they often artificially limit their solution to only show the browser. This is why many Java-based solutions are labeled as screensharing instead of co-browsing. If you need a solution that lets you look outside of the browser, this may mean that a Java-based solution is right for you.


– A Java-based co-browsing solution is generally less private than Javascript-based co-browsing because a customer rep can see the user’s entire desktop including potentially sensitive files and tabs which the user might not want them to see.
– Java-based co-browsing is less secure than Javascript-based co-browsing because of frequently found vulnerabilities in Java.

– Java co-browsing also requires that the customer has Java installed on their computer. There are a large number of consumers that don’t have Java installed, or won’t have the most current version. This requires the rep to ask them to download and install Java which takes time and requires a computer restart. Furthermore, Java also does not have full device support – newer versions of Mac OS X block it.

– Java co-browsing also does not work on many mobile devices such as iPhone and iPad that don’t support Java applets.

Javascript-based co-browsing

Javascript-based co-browsing might sound like Java-based co-browsing but in fact it’s very different. That’s because Java is a programming language and framework that has to be downloaded and installed on every computer that it’s run on. Javascript, by contrast, runs on any device with a browser. Javascript is what runs almost every website online today. That means it never requires any downloads or installations and runs across platforms. These benefits extend to co-browsing solutions built with it.


– Javascript-based co-browsing solutions only allow you to see what’s on the web page itself. This means that they’re not as useful for debugging issues that involve things outside of the web page – such as customer support for desktop apps.


– Javascript co-browsing requires absolutely no downloads or installations for either the viewer or presenter. It’s instant. Java-based solutions, or regular screensharing on the other hand, will always require some kind of bulky desktop application installation process or the Java framework. This adds precious minutes to any support session and fuels customer frustration.

– Javascript-based co-browsing is isolated to the web page. Not your desktop, not any other browser tab. This can be a drawback, but it’s also a huge benefit. That’s because it allows for a much more private, secure, and focused sharing experience that instills a sense of security in the co-browsing experience making ideal for use with sensitive information.

– Javascript-based co-browsing also works across any device with a browser. Whether you’re on an iPhone, Windows computer, or a Samsung Galaxy S II tablet device, it just works. Java-based solutions, and traditional screen sharing products simply cannot promise the same level of cross-device support. And in the rapidly changing technological environment in which we live today, mobile support is growing increasingly important to any business’ operations.

Now that we have a good overview of real co-browsing, let’s explore the kinds of products that many companies label “cobrowsing” but are in fact something else.

The first source of confusion, whether genuine or not, are screen sharing applications that are branded as cobrowsing. To be clear, an application that has to be downloaded to the computer to start a session is not co-browsing. Even if it limits itself to the browser. It’s screensharing.

The second source of co-browsing confusion is a type of simple link sharing integrated into many support platforms. A lot of modern chat applications will display the URL of the page that a customer is on and provide simple commands that let you automatically redirect the customer to a new page on your website. However you can not see the actual web page that the customer is on, you cannot see what the customer is doing on that web page, and you cannot collaborate on the web page with the customer. This is just link sharing. Not co-browsing.

What is true co-browsing? True co-browsing is software that lets you share just web pages on any device with a browser. And this is achieved via JavaScript. It requires zero downloads, installations and it just works no matter what device you’re using. It recreates the web page instead of streaming the entire computer as a video, and so it can achieve significantly faster speeds with far less latency.

The differences between these imposter co-browsing features and true co-browsing applications are sometimes quite nuanced and subtle, but at other times are rather dramatic. It is important to understand the different options that exist out there in the marketplace before selecting a co-browsing vendor.

If you’re interested in a Javascript-based co-browsing solution tailored specifically for call centers, our company Firefly can help you.


Do You Dread Support Calls?

cobrowsing 2 March 2013 0 Comments

You probably love your job. You spend all day on the phone with customers helping to make them happy. But when you get down in the thick of things, it’s not all roses and perfume in the business of making customers happy. Some days you come into work and you actually, gasp are dreading getting on the phone.

Why is this?

You probably had one too many long phone calls with a problem customer whose issue you just couldn’t figure out. Or you spent 30 minutes on the phone with a woman in Idaho trying to explain to her how to reset her password. Some days you still do love your job, but some days you just can’t stand the thought of having another conversation like this:

“Click the red button that says ‘My Account.’ You should see it at the top right of your screen? No, you don’t see it? Well have you scrolled all the way up the page? Yes, you have but you still don’t see it?”

We felt this way too

We’re entrepreneurs and we’ve been doing phone and chat support on our web sites for years. And we know exactly what this problem feels like. We wanted to love our customers again, instead of sitting by the phone dreading another call from a confused customer.

After experiencing this problem every day, what we realized is that if we could just see what the customer was seeing we would be able to diagnose and fix their issues a lot easier. So we went looking for a solution.

Traditional screensharing is too slow and clunky for web support

We knew there were screensharing products out there that might be able to fix our problems. So we tried out downloadable solutions like WebEx and GoToMeeting. We tried out Java-based solutions like LiveLook.

None of these worked for us. For one thing, we didn’t want to see a customer’s entire desktop. That’s a little creepy. All we really needed to see was the web page they needed help with. That meant we couldn’t use WebEx.

For another one, we didn’t want our customer to have to download any software or install any plugins. Screensharing solutions like GoToMeeting required us to explain to our customer how to download and install it to their computer before we could even start trying to fix the original issue. That was just opening up another can of worms that we didn’t want to touch.

Finally, we needed it to work on every browser 100% of the time, including on mobile. That meant Java-based solutions were out. They don’t work on mobile and are not installed on every computer.

Cobrowsing with Firefly will make you love your job again

After trying out everything under the sun, we decided to build Firefly. Firefly does cobrowsing exactly the way we wished it would be done. You can connect up to a customer’s web page instantly without asking them to download any software or install any plugins. You see exactly what’s on the web page itself and nothing more. No chance of seeing private information on their computers.

Learn more here.

How Cobrowsing Can Fix Your Broken Support Flow

cobrowsing 27 February 2013 0 Comments

Put down your coffee. Sit up straight in your chair. We’re about to tell  you about the best thing to happen to your customer support process since the telephone.

Let’s talk about why website support is broken

Imagine that you’re a customer support rep. A customer calls in and says: “I need help! How do I add a new user to my account?”

The first thing you do is say: “Ok, can you tell me what page you’re looking at?”

Since the customer, we’ll call him Bill, hasn’t used your site very much, he’d say: “Umm. At the top of the page I see your logo. And I see a few links to the right. And then I see a headline that says ‘You’re just 30 seconds away from the coolest experience of your week.’”

As a customer rep, you know that there are at least 3 pages on the site that fit the description. But you decide to take valiant stab in the dark. You say, “Ok do you see a button that says ‘Add User’ on it?”

Bill says no. He doesn‘t see a button that says ‘Add User’ on it.

Now you’re stuck. You don’t know whether the ‘Add User’ link is there but Bill doesn‘t see it or whether it’s not there at all. And you don’t know if there’s a bug on the site that’s causing the link not to show up where you think it should.

This is incredibly frustrating for you. And it leads to longer call times and lower customer satisfaction.

Cobrowsing gets everyone on the same page

Cobrowsing is an incredibly powerful as a support tool for this simple reason: seeing what the customer is seeing magically fixes most frustrating support situations. If you could JUST see the page that Bill is on you’d be able to help him instantly.

With a cobrowsing product like Firefly you can do exactly that. Cobrowsing allows you to see the page your customer is on (not their desktop, and not other open tabs) and helps you guide them through the site by highlighting different elements of the page. The experience is just like being behind the customer’s shoulder, pointing things out to them as you try to help resolve their issue.

Want to learn more? Check out how cobrowsing helped Discogs.com improve their support process.

Java vs. Javascript- Based Cobrowsing, Which Is Better?

cobrowsing 19 February 2013 0 Comments

The cobrowsing wars. Who has the best solution?

In the cobrowsing space there are two main solutions to the problem of seeing your customer’s screen: one uses Java and the other Javascript. In this article we’ll go through the product differences that you’ll see between Java and Javascript-based cobrowsing solutions, some products in each space, and what we see as the benefits and drawbacks between different solutions.

In this post we’ll explain some of the security and customer experience issues involved with Java solutions, and present a case for why Javascript cobrowsing – including our product Firefly – might be the best fit for your business.

Java-Based Cobrowsing

Java-based cobrowsing uses a Java applet installed on the user’s browser in order to start the cobrowsing session. The Java applet provides a few key benefits.


– A Java based solution allows the representative to see the customer’s entire computer, not just the HTML on the web page

– Java solutions can be more reliable for finding cross-browser bugs because they don’t deal with DOM element rendering, and instead just show an image of what the customer is seeing.

However, Java-based cobrowsing also has a few drawbacks.


– A Java-based cobrowsing solution is generally less private than Javascript-based cobrowsing because a customer rep can see the user’s entire desktop including potentially sensitive files, and tabs which the user might not want them to see. There are some Java-based solutions that allow you to constrain which applications a customer rep can see, but many of them do not allow for this.

– Java-based cobrowsing is less secure than Javascript-based cobrowsing because of frequently found vulnerabilities in Java. For example, here’s a recent PC World article discussing a recent Java patch from Oracle that fixed 50 previously unknown vulnerabilities in the current version of Java. Here’s another article from Ars Technica discussing similar security problems.

– Java cobrowsing also requires that the customer has Java installed on their computer. Though this is true for many users, there are a large number of customers that won’t have Java installed, or won’t have the most current version, requiring the rep to ask them to download and install Java which takes time and requires a computer restart.

– Java cobrowsing also does not work on many mobile devices such as iPhone and iPad that don’t support Java applets.

The most widly used Java-based cobrowsing solution is LiveLook. They can be found here.

Javascript-Based Cobrowsing

Javascript-based cobrowsing covers a lot of the security and privacy issues that Java-based solutions face, but it’s also not perfect. Here are the benefits of using a Javascript-based solution.


– Javascript-based cobrowsing only allows you to see what’s actually on the web page that the customer is looking at. Unlike Java-based cobrowsing, a rep can never see other tabs on the user’s computer, the user’s desktop, or other potentially sensitive files. This makes it a much more private experience for the customer.

– Javascript-based cobrowsing allows for client-side field masking. Many Javascript-based solutions allow for websites to mark sensitive field like credit card fields, or password fields. Once marked, the information in those fields are never transferred off of the customer’s computer, making it easy to maintain PCI compliance with a Javascript-based cobrowsing solution. This is sometimes possible for Java-based solutions, but many do not include this.

– Javascript-based cobrowsing is more secure than Java-based cobrowsing. Javascript solutions are not subject to any of the security vulnerabilities present in Java-based solutions, making them a more secure option.

– Javascript-based cobrowsing works on mobile. Because Javascript is the “lingua-franca” of the web, a Javascript-based cobrowsing product can run on any device with a browser, including mobile devices and tablets.

– Javascript-based cobrowsing never requires any installation. Unlike Java solutions which may require an installation process for certain users, Javascript-based cobrowsing never requires any downloads or installations for the customer. This makes the cobrowsing experience much more instant than Java based solutions can provide.


– Javascript-based cobrowsing solutions only allow you to see what’s on the web page itself. This means that they’re not as useful for debugging issues that involve things outside of the web page – such as customer support for desktop apps.

This site is run by Firefly, which is a Javascript-based cobrowsing solution. If you’d like to learn more about Javascript-based cobrowsing feel free to visit our website here, or check out the other articles on this blog.


Why Would I Use Cobrowsing Instead Of WebEx, GoToMeeting or Join.Me?

cobrowsing 11 February 2013 0 Comments

We get asked a lot of questions about how cobrowsing is different from traditional screensharing solutions like Join.Me, WebEx, or GoToMeeting. The truth is that these products work very well for a broad range of use cases.

For example, if you need to interact with the files on someone’s desktop, or help them debug a downloaded application then traditional screensharing is great. But it does fall short in certain areas that cobrowsing shines.

Cobrowsing has huge advantages for customer support

The best place to use cobrowsing is in live support situations on websites. Because a screensharing solution like GoToMeeting or Join.Me requires the customer to download an application in order to share their screen, it can add minutes to a support call and also increase frustration for an already confused customer.

Cobrowsing is much more lightweight and flexible which makes it an ideal product for support situations where speed and privacy is important.

Cobrowsing only shows you what’s on the web page

With traditional screensharing you might see everything that’s on a customer’s computer including open browser tabs, sensitive documents or other open programs. This is a problem for customers who might have concerns allowing a rep to access their entire desktop computers. Similarly, for the companies providing the support it can be a major security headache to use screensharing in their support process if private data is present on the customer’s computer.

Cobrowsing allows you to filter out sensitive data

Another advantage of cobrowsing is that it allows companies to filter out sensitive data from the website itself, so that it’s never seen by the rep and actually never even leaves the customer’s browser. For example, a bank or financial services company would not want their reps to be able to see all of their customer’s account information.

With a screensharing solution it would be impossible to filter out the sensitive information on all of their pages. However, with a cobrowsing solution, those sensitive form fields and DOM elements can be marked with special tags so that they are never transported off of the customer’s page and are never seen by the rep.

Cobrowsing works on mobile devices

Over the past 5 years there has been a pervasive shift to the use of mobile devices among consumers. That trend means that when providing support, a customer rep can’t rely on their user being on a laptop any more. With downloadable solutions, sharing from an iPhone or iPad is next to impossible. However, Javascript based cobrowsing works on any device with a browser, allowing a rep to provide website support even if their customer is on mobile.


Increase Customer Satisfaction With Cobrowsing

cobrowsing 11 February 2013 0 Comments

One of the biggest questions companies large and small have about cobrowsing is: “What kind of effects is cobrowsing going to have on our support process?”

Cobrowsing is specifically useful in a few situations:

Customer Support

1. When customer support frequently talks to frustrated customers through live chat and phone and has difficulty instructing them how to navigate a website or web application

2. When customer support is trying to diagnose bugs on the client-side that are difficult to replicate

Sales Support

1. When sales reps frequently talk to customers as they try to navigate a website and go through the checkout process.

Seeing what the customer is seeing with cobrowsing helps customer reps guide customers efficiently and identify bugs quickly. It can also help sales reps to decrease friction in the buying process and help more customers get to purchase.

Because cobrowsing is a relatively new technology, integrating it can be a point of anxiety for larger companies. A major issue is whether customer support reps will be able to maintain the same throughput as phone or live chat if they are also cobrowsing with customers.

For organizations where reducing call times is the number one priority, cobrowsing is not always a good choice. However, many organizations today are putting more emphasis on customer satisfaction than call times. In this scenario cobrowsing can be an incredibly effective tool.

Cobrowsing has the highest customer satisfaction ratings

According to a study done by Forrester, cobrowsing has the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any customer support tool.

Live-assist communication channels (phone, chat, cobrowse) have much higher satisfaction ratings than asynchronous electronic channels (email, web self-service). Satisfaction ratings are:  phone (74%), chat (69%), cobrowse (78%), email (54%), and web self-service (47%)

What this means is that if your company is looking for increased customer satisfaction ratings, cobrowsing might be an effective solution.

The tide is turning

The customer satisfaction lift inherent to cobrowsing also appears to be riding a trend among larger companies. In today’s connected world, big organizations are starting to look at great customer service as a differentiator. Because a happy customer can now spread their good (or bad) experience quickly and easily through new social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, providing a satisfying customer experience can create a new marketing channel for large companies that is more effective than traditional ad buying models.

A 2010 survey by Bloomberg Businessweek Research services says that,

80% of C-level executives said that getting closer to customers and providing them with a differentiated experience is one of their top strategic objectives.

Given this shift towards a customer focused support experienced, cobrowsing should be an important future initiative for any forward-looking organization.

What’s the Difference Between Cobrowsing And Screensharing?

cobrowsing 11 February 2013 0 Comments


Because cobrowsing is a new technology, it’s easy to confuse it with screensharing. Ostensibly, screensharing and cobrowsing accomplish the same thing: allowing one person to see another’s screen, but they accomplish their jobs in very distinct ways.

Screensharing Allows You To See The Whole Computer

Screensharing allows one person to remotely see and control another person’s entire computer. With screensharing a viewer can see everything on the presenter’s computer including open applications, and sensitive files. They can also control everything on the presenter’s computer.

Cobrowsing Lets You See Only Webpage

With cobrowsing, a viewer only sees what’s on the presenter’s web page. For example, if a customer rep is cobrowsing with a customer all they will be able to see is the website that the customer needs help with, not the customer’s computer. This makes cobrowsing a much more secure option than regular screensharing, especially for a support scenario that involves sensitive information.

Screensharing Requires Downloads Or Plugins

Traditional screensharing software like Join.MeWebEx, or GoToMeeting requires a presenter to download and install software to his computer. This can be cumbersome and take space on the user’s hard drive. Downloading software is not an ideal way to screenshare in a remote scenario involving a website because it adds extra friction that can increase call times and further frustrate the customer.

Cobrowsing Is Download Free

Setting up a cobrowsing session doesn’t require downloads or installations. In order to cobrowse the customer never has to leave the web page he’s on, and the rep can instantly see what he’s looking at without asking him to go to an external site, or download any software.

In short: screensharing is for when you need to see the entire computer, cobrowsing is for when all you need to see is the webpage.

How Cobrowsing Helped Discogs.com Improve Their Support Process

cobrowsing 11 February 2013 1 Comment


This is a part of a series of case studies that we’ll be releasing about how cobrowsing has helped companies diagnose issues quickly and improve their support process. 

We sat down with Leeann Newell, the Director of Customer Support at Discogs.com to talk about how Firefly (a Javascript-based cobrowsing solution) has helped improve her support process.

About Discogs

Discogs is an online music marketplace. It was established in 2001, and the site allows you to track the music you own, discover new music you’ve never heard and connect with other music lovers.

Discogs has the world’s biggest music marketplace. Its collection spans more than 10 million records. The records are made available by thousands of sellers that post them on their platform.

The wild goose chase of customer support

Discogs has a database interface that allows its thousands of sellers to manage their inventory, upload new products for sale, and manage their account. When their sellers have a problem it can be hard to diagnose it if you don’t have cobrowsing.

“A lot of times, with a support request, it’s just asking pile of questions and hoping that you’re asking the right ones and a lot of back and forth,” says Leeann Newell the Director of Marketplace Support at Discogs.

Before using Firefly as their cobrowsing solution, Leeann had to ask customers a lot of questions to diagnose the issue. She might say things like:

“What page are you on? What does it say on the top of the page? Do you see a login button on the right?”

This back and forth is a waste of time valuable support time, and can increase frustration for the customer.


Cobrowsing tools help solve these issues

Instead of asking question after question trying to figure out exactly what the customer is looking at, Leeann just uses Firefly to cobrowse. She can connect up to their web page immediately and guide them through the site by highlighting different areas of the page for them to click on. Firefly also allows her to identify and report customer-side bugs that might be difficult to replicate right from within the cobrowsing session.

“With Firefly these issues get solved much faster,” Leeann told us.

Watch this blog for more updates on how cobrowsing can help your company do better remote support.