Friday, February 27, 2015

PBX Auto-Attendants vs. CTI Dialplans

First off, we can say that both of these data structures are quite often referred to as IVRs. Let's have a look at some of the main differences between the two in the Q-Suite.
  • Entry point - The initial entry point of the auto-attendant needs to be a Menu type node, ie. an audio file plays with a greeting message and will instruct the caller on how to proceed using DTMF options. A dialplan can also have a Menu component as the first node, but it is not required or necessary. Perhaps you want to do a database lookup to see if the caller's phone number already exists in the system prior to reaching the menu or maybe you want to have a standalone audio file play. This can be accomplished.
  • Multiple DTMF key input - In an auto-attendant, if numerous multi-key inputs are available, you will need to hardcode those options into the auto-attendant. For the dialplan, you can use a DTMF component which will capture and store the user's input into a variable and the administrator can program the desired routing based on different types of comparisons.
  • Data capturing - This is simply not an easily attainable task for an auto-attendant. A dialplan, however, can use various components to acquire customer input and can then write that information accordingly to the caller's account or record.
  • Routing and transferring - The auto-attendant has the capability to route to any type of pre-defined PBX location, such as a ring group, extension, or conference room. It can also route to any dialplan that is available. A dialplan also has the means to route to any of these options as well, but can also transfer to end points like CTI queues, which provide a richer feature set than standard PBX queues.
Overall, auto-attendants and dialplans are very similar. They both contain the same types of basic logic that deals with callers being routed to the appropriate places. In a strictly PBX implementation, an auto-attendant will likely fulfill all of your needs. If you are more concerned with the contact or call center aspect, it would be highly beneficial to leverage the robust and plentiful feature set that the dialplan can provide.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Blog Post Revisited: Capacity planning for large call centers using Asterisk

It's been almost five years since the post was made in reference to capacity planning for large call centers using Asterisk. As we know, five years is almost an eternity in the world of technology. With that in mind, almost all of the information in that post is still relevant today in some way, shape, or form.

Here are a few interesting points to consider:
  • 'A high end Asterisk telephony server can handle over one hundred concurrent channels with compression and voice recording.' - This statement still holds true today. Although the definition of 'high end' has changed, Asterisk can still handle the load that was mentioned in the 2010.
  • 'The Web server will have to scale ahead of the Asterisk server.' - Absolutely true. Web technology has evolved in awesome ways, and with this evolution, hardware, software, and services has become more expensive to run, in terms of the technical specifications. A web server five years ago may have been able to run smoothly and efficiently with 8GB of RAM. Today, 8GB would be a bare minimum and not recommended. Indosoft often suggests at least 16GB.
  • 'The call center ACD software will scale to accommodate the size of the call center with additional web servers and Asterisk servers.' - Again, this is completely valid. As the size of your call center ACD grows, allocating more hardware resources will allow the center to expand in an efficient manner.
  • 'The MySQL database size will eventually limit the maximum number of agents.' - This may have been accurate five years ago, but it is not the case now. Multiple databases can be used, with or without some form of replication, so that the database does not become strained and incapable of handling hundreds of agents.
The other interesting point is the reference to PRI lines. Using hardware to handle the VoIP traffic was quite favourable at the time, but advances in the reliability and stability of SIP gateways or trunks have made those an enticing solution for your incoming or outgoing voice traffic.

It is quite impressive to look back at a post made in 2010 and see that the theory of capacity planning for a large center is still relevant.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Voicemail in the Call Center ACD

Voicemail options
We are going to talk a bit about voicemail in this post. Whether you like or dislike voicemail as a whole, I think we can agree that it is a fairly important medium for communication. Personally, I am not a huge fan of leaving and/or checking voicemail, but I may very well be in the minority. Let us go over some of the ways to configure and use voicemail in the Q-Suite.

  • Extension based voicemail - This is the most basic use case. You have an extension and you can configure your voicemail settings via the Asterisk menu that controls the voicemail module. The options and settings will be quite similar to the voicemail menus on your cell phone or land line. This use case is essential and must be configured prior to successfully leveraging the following situations.
  • Direct to Voicemail - Using the visual dialplan builder, you can program certain call routes to be sent directly to a predefined voicemail extension, typically configured in the same manner as described in the first case. This component is popular when creating after hours dialplans.
  • Queue Periodic Message + DTMF Option - In an inbound queue, you have the option to use a periodic message to announce to the caller that they may press a key for the ability to leave a voicemail as opposed to waiting in the queue. The DTMF option routes the caller to a dialplan, which would be configured using the first two cases.
  • Voicemail to Email - This is a highly requested and desirable feature. For each extension defined in the Q-Suite, you have the option to send the voicemail as a file attachment to the specified email address. You can also choose whether or not you wish to delete the voicemail upon delivery. As many people are on the move, this will allow you to check voicemail on your cell phone as opposed to needing to use your actual extension.
Voicemail has been around for a long time and does not seem to be going anywhere in the near future. It makes a lot of sense to use this tool in an effective manner. Providing proper voicemail access to your contact center employees, as well as allowing callers to leave messages, can help bridge communications between all parties. This type of customization can truly benefit your call center.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Recycle Times in the Call Center ACD

Outbound dialing is still an integral part of the contact center acd landscape. Leads can be generated in a multitude of ways, such as purchasing a list or a website inquiry, and depending on the weighted priority, they may be called in different fashions. It's abundantly clear, that when outbound dialing, your agents will not connect to every number they dial. When this case happens, the agents disposition the call in a relevant manner, and carry on with the next call. We need to make sure that these non-connected get called back in a timely fashion. This is where we use recycle times.

Recycle times govern when leads can be available to be called back. Although the Q-Suite has a default recycle time, disposition specific recycle times can be defined. I'll refer back to a previous post where I talked about using dispositions effectively. Pairing dispositions with custom tailored recycle times can keep the calls flowing in an optimal way.

Here are a few simple examples of how you might want to handle recycle times based on the disposition of the call, using two standard dispositions and one example of a custom disposition.
  • Busy - If the call goes out and there's a legitimate busy signal, the lead is on the phone already. For the most part, calls aren't incredibly long, so you may want to make this lead available to be called again in the near future, so a recycle time of 20 minutes is a decent setting.
  • No Answer - Lead could be out running errands or at their child's hockey game. You don't necessarily want to call them back too soon, so a recycle time of 2 hours could be a fair setting.
  • 2nd Attempt No Answer - In this scenario, let's say the business rules of the campaign state that if on the 2nd call attempt there's no answer, you are legally obligated to wait 3 weeks before calling back. In this case, you would simply set the recycle time to be 3 weeks.
Recycling leads can be a tricky subject. Clearly you want to reach your leads as soon as possible, but you also do not want to to badger your leads with calls that are too frequent. Manage your recycle times properly and you will be able to reach the happy medium.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Handling Priority Calling in the Call Center ACD

If you are running inbound campaigns in your Asterisk based contact center ACD, it is quite possible that you may have tiers of callers or subscribers that you wish to handle differently based on the packages that these callers have purchased. In most instances, you would want to attempt to prioritize higher paying customers, so that they will continue being higher paying customers. Using the Q-Suite's Priority Calling features can help you accomplish this.

Let's describe two ways that we can these features to help customize your call flow:
  1. Priority Callers - Use the Administrator portal to add the phone numbers of customers you deem to be of higher importance. In your campaign dialplan, use the Check Priority Callers component, which cross references the list of phone numbers to see if the current caller is on the list, and then routes the call accordingly.
  2. Queue Priority - Each inbound ACD queue can be assigned a priority, which will determine the order in which queue calls are handed to agents. If you do not wish to explicitly set phone numbers and simply want a queue to have a higher priority over another queue, such as new sales versus cancellations, you can arrange this by using the queue.
Whether you decide to use phone numbers specifically to identify the caller that you deem to be more important or you decide to use queues, it is fairly simple to ensure that your highly valued clients get handled in a more efficient fashion. We all want to keep our clients, lucrative ones especially, in a great mood and taking the time to configure your ACD to achieve this goal will go a long way to keeping them happy.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Transfer Types in the Call Center ACD

In a previous post, I talked about call transfers in the contact center. I am going to expand on this topic, and am going to discuss the types of transfers that can be done in the Q-Suite. These types are a little different than the other ones and describe a bit more about the destination target of the transfer.

When setting up your transfer targets, you can choose from the following types:
  • Outside Number - Here you will need hardcode the external phone number and select the desired trunk that you wish to use to handle this external transfer.
  • Queue - With this option selected, you are presented with a dropdown containing the list of available contact center queues that you can designate as the target for this transfer.
  • PBX Extension/DID - Choosing this option will open up a dropdown of all relevant DIDs and PBX extensions for you to select.
  • Agent Specified Number - As this type will require the agent to type in the phone number manually, the only other configuration option you have will be the trunk you wish the transfer to use.
  • Play Sound File - Perhaps you need a transfer destination that will play a desired audio file and then will terminate the call. You can choose this option which then allows you to pick a previously uploaded audio file from a dropdown.
It is important to note that these options can all be configured to be one of the 3 types mentioned in the previous post, ie. Blind, Conference, or Consultative.

With the vast multitude of transfer options available, your center should have no issues implementing a desired structure for transferring calls.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Automated Queue Callbacks in the Call Center ACD

When making a call into a call center ACD, it's almost inevitable that you will end up waiting in a queue, while some form of hold music and/or periodic message plays until you eventually get connected to a live agent. With wait times being unpredictable at the best of times, being able to signal to the ACD that 'Hey I'd actually like you to call me back when an agent is available instead of waiting for who knows how long here in this queue' is a very solid option for people who do not want to sit around on hold. The ability for a caller to trigger this type of event is a standard, out-of-the-box feature of the Q-Suite.

As an administrator, enabling the feature is accomplished by clicking a checkbox. That's it! Audio files, queue periodic messages, and DTMF options will then need to be arranged in order for the feature to be easily managed by the caller. As a caller, DTMF responses at the proper times are all that is required, letting the background handle all of the actual logic.

Being able to maintain your position in an inbound queue in an Asterisk based ACD while not actually being tied down to being physically on the phone is a marvelous option to have for any caller. Configuring the option as an administrator and navigating the queue callback menu as a caller are a breeze. Simple operations and convenient options can help to keep callers happy.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Call Transfers in the Call Center ACD

The need to transfer calls is an inevitable use case in the workflows of almost every contact center ACD. Whether it's a transfer to an external entity, a different internal department, or to a supervisor, transfers do not necessarily follow the same pattern given the scenario. Let's talk about the 3 major types of transfers that can be configured in the Q-Suite.
  1. Blind Transfer - Blind transfers are typically used when the agent needs to sent the caller to an external source that has no direct affiliation with the center. Perhaps you call into a local Home Depot and your question or concern needs to be directed to someone on a more corporate level. The agent can simply make the transfer and it's as though you had dialed the number yourself in the first place; the initial agent is long gone at this point.
  2. Conference Transfer - We should all be fairly familiar with these given how frequently they are used in the world of business these days. In our case, an agent can transfer themselves and the caller into a predesignated conference room and any other interested parties can dial the conference room's extension and join as they wish.
  3. Consultative Transfer - These types of transfers usually happen when the initial agent needs to send the caller to a different department or queue, or if they need to escalate to a supervisor. In a consultative transfer, the agent triggers the transfer to the 3rd party while the caller is placed on hold. The agent then relays the caller's information or problem to the 3rd party. When the 3rd party is prepared to take over, the agent then starts talking to the caller, the 3rd party is placed on hold, and the agent finalizes the transfer which bridges the caller and the 3rd party together, while the agent departs the conversation.
Transfers are fantastic tools. When configured and used properly, they can dramatically increase the effectiveness of your Asterisk based call center.

With 2014 wrapped up, I would like to point out that the Q-Suite has celebrated its 10th year of being a leading provider for call center software for Asterisk. Onward into 2015!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Wrapup Post!

I'm going to end 2014 here on Contact Center ACD Software by listing the 5 most popular posts of the year. You may have already read or skimmed through the posts I'm going to list, but please feel free to read again or share as desired.
  1. Smooth and Flexible Script Building for Call Center ACD using TinyMCE
  2. Impact of Cloud Contact Center Services on Inbound Call Routing
  3. Audio Files in the Call Center ACD
  4. Inbound Campaign Scheduling in the Call Center ACD
  5. From Call Center to Contact Center
I hope you enjoyed reading these posts and I truly hope that you continue coming back for more in 2015. Enjoy the rest of 2014 and we will see you in the new year.

Cheers.