Friday, November 21, 2014

Live Data Collection in the Call Center ACD

The ability to collect data during the client-CSR interaction in the call center ACD is a very powerful feature. This data can be used for quality assurance purposes, can be leveraged in reports to track call progress, and can be used to help confirm or deny any disputed responses. In Indosoft's Q-Suite, this data can be gathered using custom fields.

Custom fields can be of the following types:
  • Textual
  • Numeric
  • Checkbox 
  • List of Values (ie. dropdown)
  • Textarea
  • Date
  • Calendar
When any and all desired custom fields have been created and configured, they can be incorporated into the agent scripts via the script builder. These fields will typically be presented to the agents as questions to ask the caller. The agents then enter the appropriate responses into the fields, which will get stored and related to the caller's history.

Capturing accurate and relevant information during the duration of a call in an Asterisk based call center is paramount to maintaining confidence with your customers. Happy customers are loyal customers and ensuring that their data is properly handled will solidify a long-lasting relationship.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Connecting Agents to the Call Center ACD

When using an Asterisk based ACD product, agents will require a registered device to interact with the call center software in order to properly take and make calls. This post will outline some of the options available to use in the Q-Suite.

Softphones are lightweight applications that run on the agent's local workstation. These are found in free varieties, but there are also paid for versions. The softphone account is configured to match an extension that can be created in the administration portion of the contact center software.

VoIP hardphones are also viable options. Still very common in the call center landscape, these phones can be configured in a few ways, assuming they are reachable on the internal network of the center. Some models have easy to use web interfaces, whereas some rely on some form of auto-provisioning.

External devices, such as a mobile phones or hardphones that are not reachable internally, can be used. These types of devices simply require the phone number of the device and a valid VoIP gateway that allows for the numbers to be dialed externally. This flexibility allows for agents to work from home, or even be on the move using their mobile phones.

The days of agents using physical hardware as their only method of communication in a call center are long gone.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Adding Complexity to the Inbound Call Center ACD

In a prior post, it was shown that preparing a simple inbound ACD scenario can be fairly straightforward. This post will illustrate a few of the more complex components that can be leveraged in Q-Suite's dialplan builder.

  • Caller data such as phone number, first name, and last name can be stored in the local database and may be pre-populated prior to any calling being done. Using the Lookup component in the IVR, we can query that database to see if the caller in the dialplan already exists. If the caller record does exist, we can display any information already associated to that caller to the agent, such as call history. This will allow the agent to properly address the caller and the agent may also be able to gather information about previous calls.
  • Storing information as a caller traverses through an IVR can be critical in assessing the cradle-to-grave progression of inbound calls. With the ability to set a variable, using a dialplan component, to contain the results of these types of interactions, the full scope of the call can be tracked and reported upon if desired. This data will also be captured and linked to the caller's record.
  • External web applications may be used in order to maintain customer data and interactions, along side the Asterisk based contact center ACD software. In some particular cases, we will need to access this external application while the caller is in the IVR. Using the web service component, we can send a specific query to the application to request the caller's account information, and we can store the results in defined variables. Combined with the Lookup that was already mentioned, the IVR can have a significant amount of data available to pass along to the agent.

With the magnitude of available components, the dialplan builder can achieve almost anything the inbound contact center needs. It is up to the administrators to decide how elementary or how sophisticated the IVR interaction needs to be in order to satisfy their goals.

Friday, October 31, 2014

From Call Center to Contact Center

The changing marketplace is quickly bringing about new technologies for communication including e-mail, Twitter, and SMS. Increasingly, consumers are moving to these new mediums and expecting businesses to do the same. Staying on top of these fast growing channels of communication can provide an edge to the contact center of the future.

Roughly 85% of generation Y is already using a smartphone as their main tool of communication. This gives them access to not only voice, but SMS and other text based communications such as e-mail and various forms of social media.

Integrating non-traditional forms of communication into an Asterisk based contact center can be difficult, but the rewards can be great. A single agent that was once able to answer only a single phone call at a time, can now respond to multiple non-verbal mediums simultaneously. This reduces overall handle time and increases the number of contacts a single agent can handle. Responding to clients in their chosen medium will also help improve their impression of the customer service.

Traditional telephony ACD will still be a necessity to handle the more complex interactions, but is looking less likely to be the first point of interaction as the marketplace evolves. Calling will likely shift from inbound to outbound, as agents proactively respond to these types of inquiries.

These changes have the potential to transform the industry from call centers with many low skilled agents into a contact center with a handful of highly skilled agents. To leverage these changes, the new Q-Suite 6.0 offers full integration for both email and Twitter, with plans to include SMS and other non-traditional mediums in the future. Agents will have the ability to multitask multiple non-realtime channels, while still being able to take inbound calls from a queue or dial a client directly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Influence of Asterisk on Cloud call center landscape

Cloud based managed service providers are rapidly growing. The most recent financial statements from inContact and Interactive Intelligence point to this trend. Most call center software vendors are making a concerted effort to move from selling hardware and software as a product to selling an on-demand service. This move is being thrust upon them by the rapid change in networking and infrastructure. But the biggest threat to their survival comes from technology companies that leverage Asterisk and other open source elements for the technology stack.

The per seat cost for establishing a sophisticated call center ACD with IVR, skills-based routing, multi-channel ACD, and outbound predictive dialing, had dramatically decreased in the last decade. The use of VoIP, especially SIP, and hosted infrastructure grew during the same decade. With the evolution of hosted infrastructure, organizations were able to establish a geographically distributed workforce through centralized cloud contact centers. This was made possible by the adaptation of many associated technologies that make up the necessary stack for cloud computing. Many of these technologies are open source driven and are becoming more sophisticated by the day, exerting downward cost pressure on players with proprietary legacy technology.

Linux, Asterisk, MySQL, and Apache are open source technology heavyweights that directly impact the economics of  cloud contact centers. Call center software leveraging this technology stack will exert tremendous pressure on legacy firms. The open source driven innovation in telephony will drive growth in cloud contact center services. This can be seen at asteriskexchange, the market place promoting products and service revolving around Asterisk.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Auto Provisioning VoIP Phones for Contact Center ACD

Unlike a standard telephone, voice over IP (VoIP) phones require special configurations to connect to the telephony server across your network. These settings can either be entered manually, or through a process called auto provisioning. Auto provisioning provides a central location for all the phone to access the configuration files necessary for them to register to your local telephony server, whether the server is on premise or in the cloud. This adds to ease of administration and reduces the overall cost of maintaining mission critical infrastructure for an Asterisk based call center.

Many popular phones come with auto provisioning capabilities, including many Polycom and Cisco models. When selecting which phones to use, it is best to choose from a reputable vendor and ensure all phones on your network are identical. This add simplicity to the auto provisioning process.

Auto provisioning VoIP phones works similarly to how the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) functions and even makes use of DHCP options. Each phone begins by contact a DHCP server to identify itself and receive the location of the provisioning server through option 66. The phone then contacts the provisioning server which provides a set of configuration files for the phone to use. These files contain everything from the bootrom necessary for the phone to operate to the graphic files that will be displayed on any visual interfaces attached to the phone.

Depending on the type of VoIP phones being used, provisioning is commonly done using the file transfer protocol (FTP) or the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).

Configuring many VoIP phones manually is a time intensive process that can be prone to user error and often requires the attention of administrators. Having a central location to administer the configuration saves both time and money. From the perspective of the employee, they are simply handed a phone that will function no matter where they plugged into the network.

Additional benefits to administration come into play if the phones require a firmware update or change in basic functionality; which can be easily applied the next time the phone provisions itself.

Advanced Contact Center ACD products, such as Indosoft’s Q-Suite, includes features for auto provisioning many types of phone. The process is as simple as uploading the provisioning files to the server, configuring DHCP option 66, and assigning each phones MAC address to a specific employee or extension.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Building a Basic Inbound Contact Center ACD

Implementing an inbound contact center using Asterisk can be simple or difficult, depending on the needs of the center. This post is going to focus on creating a basic inbound campaign that will incorporate a direct inward dialing (DID) number, an IVR, and a few queues.

First, you will need to acquire your DID from a provider. The provider should also supply the inbound gateway or trunk, so that phone number gets routed properly to the ACD. Once you have obtained the DID, you can then assign it to your desired inbound campaign.

We are going to need an IVR now. Using the Q-Suite's visual dialplan builder, we can quickly and easily construct an elementary call flow. All we need is a type of menu component that plays an audio file outlining the available choices to the caller, which will redirect the caller into an appropriate queue based on their selection.

The queues that we create will be the end points of the IVR. Combined with skills-based routing, your inbound agents will receive the queued calls once they are or become available.

The complexity of your inbound contact center depends on many factors. It is very possible that an IVR could contain hundreds of components, multiple dialplan pages, and numerous queries to external sources. On the extreme end of the spectrum, sometimes all you need is a menu of options and a couple of queues to send callers to. If you have the means to keep it simple, keep it simple.