Friday, April 24, 2015

3 Minor Annoyances of Not Having Physical Control Over Contact Center Hardware

A situation came up this week where we needed to collaborate with a server colocation in order to rebuild a server. Overall, the process was very smooth and went by without much of a hitch. However, not having full physical access to the server definitely slowed us up a bit. Here's why:
  • Communication Delays - Regardless of how quickly and efficiently your colocation company works, there are always going to be delays, even if they are extremely minor. Every time something was completed on their end, they would respond to an open ticket, either waiting for further instructions or a simple approval. If you housed your server on site and had a dedicated technician working on it, these small communication delays can be eliminated and your contact center can be back in action that much faster.
  • Server Layout - Ideally, your servers for a particular contact center would be racked together in a logical order, connected to common networking equipment, and likely all accessible via some type of switching box, like KVM. While this may entirely be the case at the colocation, it's not a 100% certainty that your servers will be arranged in this fashion. Having multiple points of access to the servers can cause issues if, for instance, the power strip that has 3 out of 6 servers on happens to malfunction.
  • Server Room Access - You have no control who has access to the room or rooms where your servers are located. This can cause small random issues like in our particular instance this week where somehow an ethernet cable became unseated on the primary interface right before we were about to reintroduce the newly built server into the contact center. This caused bad things to happen but we caught it in time. We are not sure exactly how it happened, but cables that lock in place do not magically become unlocked. Someone likely accidentally moved or hit the cable enough to cause the network disruption. Once we opened a dialogue with them, someone needed to go in and reseat the cable, which took much longer than it would have if the servers were in house.
You can see fairly clearly that the three issues above are pretty minor overall and none were catastrophic in nature. I've talked before about using a hosted platform and how great it can be for certain people and my stance had definitely not changed there. But as with everything in life, nothing's perfect.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Agony of Food Poisoning

This is going to be a quick hitter of a post, but I was the fabulous victim of some food poisoning last week and did not manage to get a weekly submission in, but have no fear. There will be something of note to read about later in the week.

Stay tuned!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Game of Thrones Episodes Leak! How to Prevent a Similar Event in your Contact Center

On the weekend the first four episodes of Game of Thrones Season 5 had been leaked on the web. It appears that the leaks were made by a person or group on HBO's list of approved recipients. HBO is assessing the leak and will deal with it as they see fit. The task of avoiding spoilers for the four episodes is going to be fairly tough, I think, but if you're a watcher of the series, I sincerely hope we can all stay spoiler-free.

This brings up an interesting situation. Even though the breach was done by an authorized person, once that person is identified, they will most certainly be removed from the list. Essentially they will have their privilege level lowered or completely revoked. Let's talk about controlling privileges in the Q-Suite.

In the contact center ACD, it is imperative that privilege levels and user access are tightly controlled by someone, be it a System Administrator or the Tenant. From the perspective of the admin portal, you do not want a reporting user to have access to the Campaigns page, which allows for numerous critical settings to be altered. SIP trunking should never be handled by anyone other that the System Administrator, so that page should be off limits to all other users. Leveraging the Q-Suite's Admin Pages and Web Privilege features allows you to customize the user experience by restricting or allowing pages to be hidden or seen depending on the user privilege. You can also create new privileges if you desire.

By using the available configuration options for your users, you can help to maintain the stability of your contact center ACD by only allowing the proper personnel the access to the proper pages. Even if a malicious event is not blatantly caused by a user, it's a much safer route to travel if the event is not possible for them to trigger in the first place.

I'm going to link the opening credits below because it's phenomenal.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Apple Watch or Samsung Gear? Get More Mobile!

Smart watches and wearable technology aren't entirely new, however I'm sure that there are millions of people eagerly awaiting the release date of the Apple Watch. The Samsung Gear has been in the wild for a bit already, but there's always going to be that dividing line of Apple/non-Apple users, so now both sides will have options. How can we relate this to a call center?

Not every contact center requires the same types of options. In fact, almost every center will require something that another center does not. For this particular blog, let's talk about mobile agents. When I say mobile, I mean that the agents aren't necessarily going to be tied to a specific workstation where they will interact with the call center software via a web browser and some type of phone, whether it's a physical device or an application running on the workstation. These types of agents are certainly not the norm in the call center universe.

Let's take a taxi company for an example, where the drivers are classified as agents. Clearly these agents are not going to be looking at computer monitor as they accept calls. Using the Q-Suite, we can configure a mobile login mechanism that will allow them to accept inbound calls without relying on an agent web portal. Many newer model vehicles have some type of Bluetooth or wireless capability but it's a bit unreasonable to think that a driver will be in the car for the entirety of the shift. When the driver doesn't have access to the features of the vehicle, the phone itself could be used or they could rely on a headset of some type without having to fiddle with the phone. Introducing the watch, while it might be overkill, is just another iteration in the technology we can leverage to stay connected.

It can be tough to stay current on all of the emerging technology that is being developed and released. Just keep in mind that this technology most definitely can have real life value for your call center, depending on what your requirements are.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Customize Your Experience!

We've talked a few times in older posts about how agents can effectively use scripts and how scripts can be created with ease in the Q-Suite. Aside from the scripts being used by agents in day to day operations and how to actually construct the scripts themselves, we haven't necessarily talked about how an administrator can manage these scripts. Let's do that now.

When I refer to managing scripts here, I'm mostly referring to how scripts can be assigned to different entities that already exist in the contact center software. The three major structures than can have a script assigned to them are campaigns, queues, and lists.

Campaigns are the most generic of the components in this case. They house information like outbound or inbound type, caller ID name and number information for dials made from the campaign, and the DID in the case of an inbound campaign. Scripts can be assigned to a campaign and whenever a call is made or taken, the script assigned to the campaign will be displayed to agent.

Queues are used to route inbound callers to appropriately skilled agents. The number that the caller dials to reach these queues will most often belong to a campaign. However, queues that are reachable via a campaign's DID can be vastly different. You may have Sales, Technical Support, and Customer Service queues. The types of questions that your agents will be reading to the caller may also vary by a great degree. In this case, you would create a few queue specific scripts to handle this scenario and assign those as desired.

Lists are the data structure that contains your outbound leads. Lists need to be assigned to outbound campaigns in order for the ACD software to know what leads are to be queued and dialed. Multiple lists can be assigned and active for any campaign, and each list may have some important specific fields that are not relevant to the any of the other lists. You can tailor your list specific script to account for these differences and assign the scripts are required.

The level of detail involved in having multiple scripts that may more or less accomplish the same goal is not absolutely needed, but isn't great to know that you have the option available?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Call Center ACDs and the Common Cold

I was on the receiving end of a fairly vicious cold this week and I think I've almost got it beat. Let us hope! Winter can also go away as well.

This got me thinking about some of the most commons reasons why your call center ACD may be sick, or just behaving poorly. Here are a few big ones.
  • Network connectivity - There are too many factors to list here as to why your network might be functioning in a non-optimal fashion. ISP issues, a sudden massive influx of calls, agents downloading torrents, etc, are certainly common reasons. Poor network performance most typically affects call quality and can impact the responsiveness of the agent workstations.
  • DDoS attacks - These events can cause the first reason discussed, however, measures can be taken in order to prevent these from happening. Using firewall rules or a form of intrusion prevention software can keep these under control.
  • Database overload - Some database operations are very expensive to run and require a large chunk of processing power. Running and executing these types of operations during production hours, even in low volume periods, can cause unwarranted stress on the system. It is generally advised that doing any type of major database activity be done outside of the center's calling hours.
  • Underpowered hardware - Using server hardware that does not meet the minimum recommended specifications is going to cause problems running the necessary software and processes for your center. Agent workstations also need to be able to handle the more recent versions of particular applications, like web browsers and softphones. An agent PC with 2GB of RAM is going to struggle to keep up with the demand.
Certainly there are more reasons as to why your operation's ACD may be performing in a sub-optimal manner. Properly documenting and relaying as much information as possible to your support team is paramount in helping speed along the troubleshooting process when these instances arise. No one enjoys being under the weather and your call center is no exception. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why are my calls disconnecting? I'm not in an elevator!

We ran into a bit of a troubleshooting situation fairly recently. A few different clients were reporting that calls were disconnecting. Not only were calls disconnecting, but they were disconnecting at reproducible durations. Right away, given the nature of the drops, we can rule out normal every day occurrences, like horrible cell phone reception or driving through a tunnel.

During the troubleshooting period, we found a common ground between the two clients. They were using softphones from CounterPath. One client was using their free offering, X-Lite, whereas the other client was using one of their commercial softphones, eyeBeam. Because both of these clients are developed by the same company, it was easy to compare settings and preferences.

Fortunately, we've seen and dealt with this before, but due to the age of the post, it took a bit of memory jogging to recall the exact issue.  After some re-adjustment to the client softphones, calling began to flow in the desired fashion.

To look back on this, it seems like a pretty awful idea to have a setting enabled by default that can be 100% responsible for calls ending when they certainly shouldn't be. In my opinion, this is a fairly poor design decision and perhaps CounterPath should sort that out. Considering that the referenced post was made more than 5 years ago, I will not be holding my breath for this setting to be modified in the default installation. I can hope though.

Friday, March 13, 2015

White and Gold or Blue and Black?

As internet users, we were all exposed to one of the most ridiculous debates of all-time a short while ago: Is the dress white and gold or blue and black? It was (clearly) blue and black. However this leads me into my next topic. As a user of contact center ACD software, what do I see? Let's talk a bit about privileges.

In the Q-Suite, a top level administrator has the ability to set, create, and define web privileges. A user's web privilege simply controls the list of admin portal pages that that user type will have access to when they log in to the portal.

There are default privileges in place out of the box. These labels can be edited as desired as perhaps your call center may not use these specific terms. Here they are:
  • Tenant
  • Administrator
  • Team Supervisor
  • Reports User
  • Agent
If you take a brief look at the names, it's abundantly clear that a Tenant will have more freedom to navigate and will experience fewer restrictions than an Agent. It's also entirely possible that you do not even want agents to have access to the admin portal. In this case, the Agent privilege would have an empty set of web pages assigned.

These five options may not suit all of your needs, which is why you can also create custom privileges. Do you have a set of users whose only function is to create IVRs using the dialplan builder? Create a Dialplan Editor privilege and only assign the exact pages needed for access to the IVR builder. How about a particular employee whose job is to create lead templates and upload leads using these templates? Assign those specific pages to a newly created privilege and that person can work away.

Controlling who sees what in your operation may sound like a trivial feature, but it is incredibly effective. If you want your center to run as smoothly as possible, you certainly do not want under qualified staff members clicking on links and buttons that they do not understand.

It was clearly blue and black.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Keeping callers (or me in this case) interested...or at least trying to

I'm going to ramble a bit here about a personal experience I had a few days ago. I was calling in to Rogers to ask about their new tiers on Internet packages. The one that looks the most similar to mine, as far as details and pricing, is significantly better so I want to know if I can get a no hassle, no cost upgrade to this new tier. I eventually get sent to the Loyalty department, where after about a minute or so, I get put on hold. After about 15 minutes, Skype apparently decided I was connected for too long and disconnected or I hit the hold timeout for that queue, which is annoying in either case. However, while being on hold a few things popped into my mind.
  • The quality of the hold music was atrocious. The audio quality of the files used for the music on hold was terrible. It was muffled and full of static. The files themselves were also cringe-worthy. I get that great hold music can to tough to find, but I have to think there are some better options out there.
  • Play some messages periodically. Splicing in a few spoken messages from time to time would be a favourable course of action here. Tell me about your new promos or how to sign up for NHL GameCenter Live via the website. Something, anything, to break the flow of the hold music.
  • Why am I on hold for 15 minutes? I'm in the Customer Loyalty queue. When I call into a contact center ACD, I don't mind being put on hold. But I'm a bit skeptical as to what may be occurring on their end to justify this. It's not a great way to inspire confidence from a long time customer's point of view.
  • If I did indeed hit the Hold timeout for the queue, why is the ACD hanging up my connection instead of routing me somewhere else? Even a reroute to the Main Menu would be a better outcome than simply severing the connection. Q-Suite allows a jump to an existing IVR as an option in this case, instead of simply hanging up.
I'm going to call in again in the near future to see if I can indeed get this new tier. Maybe not today or this week, but soon enough. While I fully expect the first two points to still be true, I'm sincerely hoping that the third and fourth ones don't repeat themselves. I know I have a lot more patience than a lot of people, but if the behavior above is continuously repeated, keeping me interested while being on hold might not be good enough in the long run.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Touch of a Milestone

While the titled milestone does not necessarily refer to the Contact Center ACD Software blog, please take a bit of time to wander over to the IndosoftNotes blog. It has reached the century mark for the number of posts! Quite impressive.

We'll get there someday...