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...

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.