Sunday, January 26, 2014

Speech Analytics not a substitute for broken business process

Speech Analytics is now being offered widely as a solution to improve quality of service through contact centers. The recorded conversations are analysed by a software to extract information relating to the product and service. It can also be used to determine service issues related to center agents.

It is almost a certainty that we have dealt with contact centers. In most cases, what we encounter is a broken process in the back-end with the contact center operation being used as a layer to brunt the effects of the broken process. The frustrations of having to deal with a broken process is immediately felt by the customer and the contact center employee. It takes a very persistent customer to escalate and get the attention from the higher-ups of the organization.

I am not suggesting that Speech Analytics does not have a role in contact center agent issues but there is a more obvious problem. With sales and marketing driven by the pressures of business, customer service, which is usually provided through contact center operations, bears the brunt of every broken process. The availability of Cloud contact center solutions makes it easier for organizations to quickly put up a layer between the customer and the real stake-holders within the organization, through an additional layer of abstraction, namely an out-sourced service provider. Therefore the organizations will require the additional tool to analyze the recordings to learn the obvious. A simpler approach is to collect feedback from the employees who are out in the trenches and identify the low hanging fruits to address. Training and better recruitment process is a way to address the remaining agent issues. 

Automation and adoption of newer technology is wonderful. Cloud contact center services will result in more sub-contracting and out-sourcing. Technology vendors for Speech Analytics will identify areas of application within the contact center operation to find value for the application in areas like determining product strategies. But agent customer interaction is a simpler issue where the cause of frustration can be identified without too much automation.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Evaluating Cloud Contact Center Solutions

Cloud contact center solutions are becoming mainstream and are rapidly gaining market-share. Telecom, Internet and infrastructure service providers are diversifying into contact center services to expand their portfolio by utilizing multi-tenant contact center software. Cloud based deployments offer contact center software and associated infrastructure as a service, catering to on-demand growth. Using Cloud contact center services, with minimum capital expense, it is possible to start a contact center operation as long as there is adequate network bandwidth and connectivity.

In today's global marketplace, contact center solutions form an integral part of the overall business work-flow. When choosing a cloud service for a contact center operation, it is important to consider the data integration requirements with the business back-end systems. Web Services offer a convenient method for the integration of business applications into the contact center software. With hosted call centers, such integration can pose network and security challenges that need to analyzed and addressed from the get go.

Having access to data and metrics of a contact center operation is essential. This is usually accomplished through Application Program Interfaces (API). It is vital to select a cloud contact service with exhaustive API to allow full access to all the operational data generated during the running of a call center service. Functions and method-oriented Web Services can also expose existing contact center management functionality to effectively integrate  Dialer and ACD management software to automate aspects of contact center operations.

Above all, the cloud contact center services should offer high reliability with redundant systems, setup in an High Availability (HA) mode. HA setup should be in place for a fault tolerant system that allows fail-over to hot standby. There should be mechanisms in place to monitor and make failover decisions.

Asterisk is the leading open source telephony engine. Cloud systems based on multi-tenant contact center software for Asterisk provide feature-rich solutions that are cost effective. They offer flexibility and power, due the the power of the underlying Asterisk telephony platform.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Email and Trouble-ticket integration for intelligent ACD routing

At Indosoft, we support a range of customers around the world, requiring different levels of technical assistance. Our customer support department is directly manned by experienced technical staff who do everything from installation, setup, feature development, and automation, to handling phone support. Supporting a contact center software gets complicated since VoIP is an important consideration. Typical data and information systems deal will data whereas a contact center solution deals with voice and data.

Even though a call center software is an independent software system, it works together with a sophisticated technology stack consisting of telephony, web, and database software systems. Therefore the supporting call center solutions is quite involved, and it requires a wide range of skill-sets. Voice systems also have more visibility and less tolerance for down times. Therefore issues received by the customer support require prioritization based on the severity of the issue.

Since we offer phone, email and trouble-ticket access for customer support, it is important that the technical support handles issues based on urgency without totally ignoring lower priority support requests. Interestingly enough, our call center software has a multi-channel ACD that can queue phone calls, emails, and web generated trouble tickets into the ACD queues. Any number of queues can be setup; queues have a priority level and a set of skills required to handle the calls or contacts. The ability to push phone calls, emails and web requests into a specific queue is controlled at the diaplan level using the Visual Call Flow Designer tool within the call center software. The tool also offers intelligent routing to determine the final destination based on other parameters like the CallerID, DNIS, pin or postal code (collected at the IVR level). The destination can be a queue, an extension, voice-mail or an external DID.

Trouble ticket systems allow email notifications that can be very effective for both customer communication and queuing. Email notifications generated when receiving a new issue or a customer update will automatically draw the attention of the technical support staff based on the call center ACD queue. Skills based routing governed by queue priority will ensure that all customer inquiries are addressed, just not the high priority issues. In large customer support operations, such an ACD will manage multiple Asterisk servers for handling phone support as well as queue e-mails from trouble-tickets and other web channels.

It has been a long road and the technical support staff are working hard to improve the quality of support. Things are getting better with smarter tracking and management, holding us accountable for open issues. We support very large multi-tenant contact centers with multiple Asterisk servers in clusters that present a fair degree of complexity to trouble-shoot. Since we have a very good High Availability system with monitoring tools that can swiftly identify any issue, we can recover automatically for mission critical operations.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Indosoft contact center software development evolution

As one of the early pioneers migrating our call center solution to Asterisk telephony, Indosoft sensed a shift in the market sentiment due to the gaining popularity of open source Linux. VoIP was still in its infancy in 2003 and only the very courageous were willing to venture into it for production systems. During the last decade, fast paced evolution of technology in many frontiers has worked in our favor, especially since we opted to build a contact center software from the ground up, for use with Asterisk. We also embarked on a multi-tenant software while sticking to the popular technology stack consisting of Asterisk, Linux, Apache and MySQL. Today, in the tenth year, Q-Suite 5.8  is a mature, multi-tenant,  Asterisk based call center software with high availability and fail-over. It caters to small, medium and large cloud driven installations scaling seamlessly with the growth requirements.

Along the way, a lot has changed and our product software development methodology has matured to accommodate the rigors of the communications industry. Contact center solutions have to fulfill the demands of a very mature industry, all out of the box. The expectations on feature and functionality are very high. Redundancy based on High availability (HA) and automatic fail-overs are standard. There is need to accommodate geographically distributed workforce while satisfying multi-tenant requirements. 

The contact center ACD is more powerful and versatile than ever. There are powerful tools within the call center software like the Visual Call-flow Builder that allow building Interactive Voice Responses (IVR) dynamically. Multi-channel integration with Email and Chat into Skills based routing allows efficient use of work-force.

At Indosoft, we are constantly striving to produce a better product that is feature rich, but not overly complicated. We try to take advantage of newer technologies to allow for better integration with a wider variety of external systems. We offer an intensive API for this.  Most importantly, we want to ensure the quality and usability of the product and support it well.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Managing your call center software technology stack

The economic impact of Linux and Asterisk are immeasurable. Contact center software built to run on top of this powerful technology stack can offer a greatly superior platform at considerable cost savings. Technology managers are starting to realize the benefits of Asterisk, a powerful hybrid PBX that can also serve as a media server and a protocol gateway. This VoIP switch runs on Linux, the dominant server operating system. For many years now, Linux has dispensed away the need for endless licensing costs enforced by the proprietary operating system software of the earlier decade. 

A Linux based infrastructure with Asterisk PBX requires a sophisticated contact center software with an ACD that is capable of clustering and scaling to multiple Asterisk servers. Like any sophisticated platform, this requires skilled technicians who are capable of managing the technology stack. This is an absolute requirement with managed services, where well trained, quick thinking, and knowledgeable technical team well versed in Asterisk, Linux, and call center software deployment, can quickly resolve problems. A perfect example is the entire 2.6.32 line of kernels for Ubuntu 10.04, when used in an environment requiring G729 transcoding. The presence of  artifacts  sounding like stuttering or wavy underwater type of muffling, impacted the quality of voice communications. In the words of Justin Traer, the Director of Support at Indosoft, "Identifying and resolving such problems are a difficult exercise especially when indicators like load and disk I/O are normal. Compiling a matrix of all the different working versions of Asterisk/Linux Kernel/Hardware will assist in identifying the common thread."

The example above makes a compelling case for organizations to seek managed service where a hosted provider with all the required skills will provide the services to keep the technology stack running. The demand for large and distributed contact center operations are increasing due to globalization. An Asterisk based contact center with a sophisticated call center ACD provided by a technically competent hosted service provider will result in considerable cost savings.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Premise based or Cloud Setup, which way should your Contact Center go?

Studies are pointing up to 20% growth in the 'Cloud' deployment of business communication applications in 2013. This includes the migration of contact centers to the 'Cloud'. In large measure, this trend of Cloud based contact center ACD deployment is driven by three factors, namely,
  1. Consolidation of infrastructure and associated services
  2. Rapid adoption of Voice over IP
  3. Elimination of Capital cost and expenditures
I will attempt to break this high level characterization into more granular contact center technology benefits and constraints, which will be of assistance in deciding whether a premise based or a cloud based call center deployment is more appropriate for your need.

Cloud implies an infrastructure away from your premise with established data connectivity. This data connectivity will be the key pipeline for transporting both voice and data for any call center application. VoIP and SIP trunks are the primary transport mechanism for phone calls. Therefore, Cloud based installations benefit from very good data connectivity available in large data centers and can take advantage of SIP for their telephony requirements. SIP has the added flexibility of scaling up and down your telecommunication trunk capacity in a cost-effective way.

Some Cloud providers might offer all the services associated with deploying the technology stack required for your call center software. This is beneficial if you can exercise control over the setup without having to support the technology behind it. In other words, a managed service from a Cloud provider can be an economical way as long as you have the required control to setup and run your contact center platform.

Premise based setup can also be a managed service. Here the service provider can offer the same services at your premise. Therefore your business reasons behind wanting a premise based installation out-weighs all other considerations. The up-front capital costs will pay for the installation if the life for the call center operation exceeds two years. Asterisk based call center software stack is a great way to reduce the overall capital cost and still end up with a leading contact center technology platform.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Integrating Chat, Email and Twitter into ACD with Skills based Routing

Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) has evolved to provide an efficient mechanism for routing and distributing incoming phone calls to the right agent in a timely manner and increase the productivity of the contact center. A sophisticated Call Center ACD offers Skills based Routing where calls are routed into separate queues based on the number dialed by the caller or the options selected through an IVR interaction after the call lands in the phone system.

Skills based routing distributes calls from queues to agents. Queues are abstractions that hold the position of the incoming calls. They are tagged with skills to associate attributes that may be required to handle the calls. The agents are contact center employees who are assigned with skills and associated skill-levels. The ACD has two scenarios to consider.
  1. When Agents are waiting and a call comes in
  2. When calls are waiting and an agent becomes available
Skill level is used as a determinant to distribute calls when multiple agents are ready and available to take calls. Queue priority is used to distribute calls when multiple calls are waiting for the agent.

Chat and Twitter integration to an ACD can be treated as a media analogous to a voice call. Therefore they can be routed into their separate queues, each with priority and skills association. This allows the Skills based Routing mechanism to treat them like any call and distribute it to the most appropriate agent.  For an Agent, handling Email is more like handling a voice call. Other text media calls like Chat and Twitter are different since the conversation need not be synchronous. This can impact productivity due to idle time between texts. The contact center software will provide mechanisms to enhance productivity and minimize idle time by,
  1. Handling multiple Chats concurrently
  2. Having Chat time-out for conversations
  3. Planning Voice to Chat and Chat to Voice transitions while distributing calls from the ACD
Q-Suite offers an integrated ACD that allows Asterisk based contact centers to integrate Chat, EMail and Twitter.