ShoreTel Abandoned Call Handling

Every call center has peaks and valleys.  Normall businesses operate with very predictable calling patterns.  Traffic over the normal business day, starts out slow and peaks between 10AM  and 2 PM in the afternoon, then trickles down.  The old Bell Curve distribution pattern!   Call centers on the other hand, have very different call characteristics depending on the nature of the business.  One characteristic that we can be confident in, is the fact that there are more callers than “agents” to service the calls.  Thus the need for some kind of qeueing capability.

“We are sorry, but all available agents are working with other clients.  Please hold the line and the next available agent will be right with you.     Unfortunately,  callers might tire of the music on hold and predictable care messages, and ultimately give up and then hang up!   This is generally an “abandoned call” in most contact center environments and reports.    The ShoreTel Contact Center has a facility for capturing this information and doing something producitive with it.

Back to the concept of  “Peaks and Valleys”.  What if we could take the “abandoned calls”, capture the caller id and feed them to our agents during valleys in the calling periods?  After all the staff is sitting there, logged in and idle!  Lets just put them to work.   In a ShoreTel system this is very easy to setup and is a powerful productivity tool.  First, the system “reserves and agent”.   The agent gets a little pop up window that informs them that they are being reserved for a call back.  They have to accept it, or they are put in “release” as if they turned down an incoming phone call (time for management tutoring).   When the agent accepts the reservation, the ShoreTel places the outbound phone call and then connects the call to the agent.   With the exception that they acknolwedged the reservation request, the agent experiences the call as if it were any other in bound call to the contact center.

Optionally, you can play a file to the callED party before you send the call to the agent.  I have found however, that it is better to send the call to the agent immediately after it is dialed.  This is because the agent is better able to deal with “positive answer supervision” using the human ear, then the machine is able to tell the difference between a fax machine, answering machine or someother non-human answer.

Making use of the abandoned call feature is something that every Contact Center can do to increase agent productivity and customer satisfaction.   You can even setup a group that specializes in abandonded call backs, and route all calls to that “win back” group.    The following video describes how to set this up in your ShoreTel Contact Center (or you can just call us, and we can do it for you)!

New Release Process defines ShoreTel Upgrade paths

ShoreTel will often have a controlled release of software.   For example, Version 9.0 might be shipping to new clients but will not be availalbe to existing installations until it is declared GA.    Existing clients with a compelling need, could always obtain the upgrade, but it would be subjected to the terms of a controlled release.  Over the years I have observed that an 8.0 release, for example, never goes GA, but becomes 8.1 when it does.   With the release of Version 9,  ShoreTel has now formalized this “enhanced delivery” process.

Starting with ShoreTel 9 add-on feature sets will be made available as “dot” releases in the form of 9.1, 9.2 etc.  The impact of this new development process is taht features delivered in a “dot” release will not be included in the first major release of the next version.    So if you are on 9.1 you will not be able to upgrade to a controlled release (CR) of 10.0 butt will have to wait until 10.0 goes GA with a 10.1 release.

So we witness a fomalization of a process that has really be in use for quite some time!   It is a process, however, that has built in software assurance as the primary goal.   If you have an interest in the latest feature set, send me an email and we will update you!

Does the ShoreTel Server Stream Media at G711?

You have dutifully enable Differential Service Control Points on you WAN network, to enable EF for voice traffic!  This is the minimum daily adult requirement for QOS on a WAN connection.   Prior to Version 9+ ShoreTel did not mark all traffic with a DSCP value, only media traffic between end points.   If you think this through, what happens to the media stream played out by the ShoreTel server during Automated Attendant of Voice Mail use?  Would this media stream across the WAN using the inter-site codec setting, typically a G.729 vocoder?  Or would it stream at G.711?   Given that there is no DSCP value on this media stream, that might be a QOS problem across a WAN connection.   Would it be possible to set up a  MATC H for the source IP address of the ShoreTel Server and through these IP packets into the EF queue?

To improve this situation, ShoreTel enabled “media proxy” on the Fuji or full size 19” switches that have been shipping prior to Version 7.    In this configuration, if a caller across the WAN reached an extension at another site, and that extension RNA forwarded to the VM system, the media stream would be have different end points.  At first you would think that the media stream would be between the originating extension and the Voice Mail server, but it is not.  It is in fact, between the originating extension and a switch at the HQ site (one of the reasons you always need a switch at the HQ site).  A switch at the HQ site would then proxy the media stream to the VM server, transcoding G.711 and G.729 to assure the correct vocoder across the WAN.   In this way the, the source IP address of the server is irrelavent for QOS purposes!

Now with the introduction of the ½ size switches, this is no longer the case.  Apparently with the release of 7+ the server is capable of streaming G.729.   So we need to be aware that an installation using the new switches, will no longer proxy for the VM media stream.    Additionally, there is a requirement that you set the number of media streams that can be transcoded at any one time.   This setting is in the registry of the ShoreTel Server and should look something like this:

Path: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Shoreline Teleworks\TDIMedia

Key: MaxNoOfG729Channels


Default Value: 40

This setting is suppose to be enabled on versions 7+, but if you are upgrading you may have to create and set it manually.    Clearly, optimizing your WAN for QOS is an essential element of providing toll quality voice on any VoIP solution.   Knowing what is class marked with DSCP and what is not, is an important element of achieving the desired result.   Check this issue carefully!

Modify ShoreTel Database to Kill “dial 9” requirement?

Fax Machines on ShoreTel?   It is not uncommon for system administrators to create a user named FAX SEVER, then define it as EXTENSION ONLY.    Though I personally have been trying to eliminate all the forest eating fax machines and printers on the planet, it would appear that Fax machines are going to be with us for quite some time.   Even with a fax server, people want to stick a piece of paper into the machine and watch it “go through” after dialing the distant end.  This is an example of  “Experiential compatibility” as the marketing folks like to say.   We are more comfortable with a technology that is compatible with our experience.

Often, there are other analog devices that survive the move to IP telephony.   For example, the credit card machine!  Many company’s will have another ShoreTel user named CREDIT CARD and it also is defined as EXTENSION ONLY.  These devices share one common trait that many clients find very annoying.   If you connect a fax machine or credit card machine to a ShoreTel analog port, the device will now need to know how to “dial 9” to get an outside line, to complete a call.   So these means that you have to reprogram the fax machine and the speed dial lists that most companies have accumulated over the years.  Not an exciting thought and a great waste of human resourcess.

Is there a way to “hack” l the ShoreTel configuration database to just connectthe fax machine  to an outside line without the need to “dial 9”?   The answer is yes, there is a way.   I hope that you have watched enough of my stuff to have loaded a copy of SQLyog on your ShoreTel Server by now?  In the MySQL configuration database for the ShoreWare sever, there is a data table named “USERS”.   In the USERS database, look for the column labeled EXTERNAL DIAL TONE.   Find the USER of interest, in this example FAX MACHINE, and locate this column.  You will find that the existing default value is 0, requiring the user to “dial 9”.   By changing this value to -1, the user is directly connected to an outside line and is able to dial without using an access code.  Be careful changing this configuration database!  If you do not know MySQL or SQLyog, you should probably find someone who does.    The film clip accompanying this blog will walk you throught the configuration change.   Enjoy!

Microsoft OCS + ShoreTel = IM

Microsoft Office Communications is a powerful collaboration tool. The MOCS provides web conferencing, IM, audio conferencing, desktop sharing and also provided SIP. For purposes of this brief discussion, we will stay focused on the Internet Messaging component of MOCS. With the Release of ShoreTel 8+, the Professional Call Manager provides both desktop to desktop video conferencing and Internet Messaging. The Internet Messaging component makes use of a Microsoft OCS server and the ShoreTel solution integrates the solution as an application server defined within the ShorewareDirector portal.

Internet Messaging, or IM as it is popularly referred to, seems to fall into two corporate philosophy camps: companies who absolutely abhorrer its use; and companies who find it to be an essential business tool. Those companies who do not allow IM of any kind typically have very tightly controlled employee desktops, enable website filtering and block IM ports for Yahoo, AOL, Google and others. Sometimes the excuse is HIPA/Sarbanes Oxley compliance or a general concern that employees might communicate private company information out this internet portal. Companies that find IM to be essential can be broken down into two additional categories: those that allow IM clients on an ad hoc basis and those who want total control of the IM client.

Microsoft OCS provides a solution for that last group of customers; those that need IM but want to control and monitor its utilization. MOCS enables you to “record” all IM conversations to an achieve server to meet those HIPA and Sarbanes Oxley compliance requirements and to assure the content of IM does not violate Corporate use policy. MOCS also enables you to set up “federations” so that inside IM participants across the Company can communicate with Yahoo, AOL or Other corporate MOCS users outside the domain. All in all, MOCS is the great unsung hero of the Microsoft Servers!

The integration of ShoreTel Professional Call Manager and the MOCS is not that complex, but falls under that summary statement “well know, to those who know it well”. Microsoft clearly has a VOIP strategy in which the MOCS plays a key role. Working with a ShoreTel IPBX and a Professional call manager, it becomes a viable solution for adding IM to and existing ShoreTel installation. The video is just a quick overview of how you actually deploy the integration.

ShoreTel Legacy Integraiton: ShoreTel as Voice Mail!

One of the more interesting aspects of PBX system installation in general and ShoreTel in particular, is the subject of Legacy PBX integration. There are a variety of reasons that a new ShoreTel installation might need to integrate with the old, in place or “legacy” PBX phone system. You might be installing the ShoreTel at the first location of a multi-site installation with the rest of the sites coming on line as older equipment leases expire. PBX’s typically use a tandem tie-line to join systems together. The ShoreTel, in this instance, would know the dial plan of the other PBX extensions and know which users lived in which PBX. If a ShoreTel user dials and extension number or receives a call for an extension known to live across the tie-line, the call is sent to the other PBX. The tie-line is typically define as part of a trunk group that outlines a list of “off-premise extensions”. The ShoreTel can also provide digit translation and manipulation to accommodate over lapping dial plans.

Increasingly, as ShoreTel grows in popularity and increased market acceptance, it is being asked to be the Voice Mail system for the legacy PBX. If you think about it, legacy PBX systems have traditionally been installed with separate Voice Mail systems. As it relates to market share, large corporate clients often have OCTEL voice mail systems that are now coming up on ten years after service life! Perhaps the telephone system is not ready for replacement quite yet, but the VM is about to die under its own weight. The ShoreTel makes for a great solution! Install the ShoreTel as a voice mail system for the legacy PBX. Then, as the opportunity allows, let it grow up and strangle the PBX as its obvious replacement.

We have been involved in the integration of Nortel, Avaya, NEC, Mitel and even a Toshiba key system to the ShoreTel as a PBX. We are now seeing growing demand for the ShoreTel to do both functions! The ShoreTel not only integrates as the new PBX with the old, legacy PBX to smooth client migration and transition; but it simultaneously provides VM for the users on the legacy PBX. Now how kool is that? ShoreTel as VM is a powerful migration strategy and a win/win for both client and vendor. Finding someone, however, that has a demonstrated competency in legacy integrations for both ShoreTel as PBX and ShoreTel as VM , complete with a client list that can be referenced is an essential element of a successful solution and implementation.

ToolBar Options for ShoreTel Call Managers

The Personal or Professional Call Manager has long been a key element in the success of the ShoreTel solution. This desktop call control application enables you to easily manage your phone calls. “Point and Click” to take action, or “right click” on an active call to immediately list all of your options. (You will find that there is always more than one way to do things in the ShoreTel Call Manager). The Call Manager can be customized by the system administrator. Each user can have up to 6 toolbars each supporting up to 24 buttons! You can dock or move these toolbars around and they can be hidden from the View menu in the Call Manager user interface. The System Administrator can create “Global Toolbars” and push them out to users as part of a class of service options.

Global and Personal Toolbar

You can create buttons that monitor other members of your team, launch applications, transfer live calls to remote cell phones! If you are using the Integrated toolbar (see previous post) as part of the ShoreTel Enterprise Contact Center, the list of options for your toolbar can include call center specific functions. These functions might include Release with Code and Wrap Up with Code, both generally used in a contact center environment. ShoreTel Toolbars are easy to create, push out to users and offer a wide range of customization options that enable you to create a true “air traffic control system” for manipulating your phone system!   The graphic shows three rows of buttons that are a combination of user-specific, and “Global” that were pushed out to Call Center agents via a COS option.   If the PCM looks strange to you,  it is because you are on a version before 8+ which changed to this new look and feel.

Live Operator or Automated Attendant?

Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression! How you handle an incoming telephone call will largely define your company to the calling public, scarefully consider what image you want to project. Some businesses feel strongly that all incoming calls should be answered during normal business hours by a live operator. Others believe that what an automated attendant lacks in up-front personality, it makes up for in promptness and routing efficiency.

There are two characteristics that need to be understood in order to make either choice work effectively. First, how many calls can one live operator handle graciously at any one time? Secondly, an automated attendant cannot make more people answer the phone! You may be surprised to fi nd that statistics identify that less that 3 out of 10 phone calls to your place of business are clients or prospects. Most phone calls are “friends and family”, other employees, outside vendors, and other enterprise support organizations. If the reason for having a live operator answer all incoming phone calls is to provide “high touch” personal attention to the company’s clients, you may want to set up a “back door” automated attendant.

Friends and family know exactly who they want to talk with. Even the vendors have a particular person in mind when they call. In most cases, if the target is not available, nobody else can help them. Why burden the live operator with these phone calls? With a “back door” automated answering solution, you provide friends and family a telephone number that is always answered by an Automated Attendant. This strategy will free your live operator to give that much more time and attention to clients when they do call.

Automated Attendants can be very effective tools for greeting the caller, providing a standardize and uniformed greeting and salutation; and then providing stream lined screening, routing to include message acquisition and retrieval. Used effectively they can by very powerful call flow solutions. Just remember, an AA cannot create more employees to answer the phone! It does not make sense to have a recording that says “dial one for accounting and two for sales” only to have the calls routed to the same person no matter what the caller selects!

Most AAs make it possible to have a company directory available to the caller with a “dialby name” option. This may or may not be a good idea, but it is an option never the less. If the extension that the caller dials is unavailable, the system can prompt the caller to leave a message. Many systems now capture the Caller ID of the caller and make it available to the inside target even if the caller did not leave a message!

Sometimes it is better that a call be routed to a group of individuals rather than a specific single individual. “Dial One for Accounting” might result in the caller being directed to a HUNT GROUP.  The hunt group might first ring, Tom, then Dick, then Harry. Optionally, the hunt group can be set up to ring all three department members simultaneously. If nobody answers, the call is usually forwarded to some individual’s mailbox and the caller is urged to leave a message for call back.

The difference between a hunt group and a WORK GROUP is this: rather than terminate an unanswered call in a voice mail box, you can now play the caller a care message and put them on hold until someone can answer the call. If Tom, Dick and Harry are already on a phone call, we might want the caller to wait a few minutes until one of the team members hangs up. While on hold the caller can listen to pre-recorded music or company messages. Most workgroups have the ability to announce estimated hold times and to provide a “bail out” option to voice mail if the wait is too long.

In my box “VoIP System Planning Guide” (down load from the DrVoIP.Com) there is a diagram that shows an example of all the call flow elements that are available: live answer, automated attendant, hunt groups and workgroups. You will need to create similar documentation and make it available to your phone system vendor so that they can program your call flow vision accurately and to assure that when you “go live”, there is a published understanding among your user groups as to how “call flow” impacts your business operation.

When planning call flow for a live answer operator, remember to separate the operator function from the person who is the operator. If Midge is the company Operator, will calls ring Midge’s desk or an Operator extension that appears on Midge’s phone? The answer to this will determine if Midge will have a personal extension and voice mailbox that is separate from the Operator extension and mailbox. Whenever possible, separate the function of “operator” from the person, in this case Midge, who answers the operator line. Additionally, it is possible for the “operator” extension to have multiple line appearances, a button on other phones that might be a back up to Midge.

How does a ShoreTel SBS compare to a CISCO CCME in $?

I am always being asked to compare ShoreTel and CISCO in one or another area.    CISCO has a family of products that range from the UC500 through the CCME and on to the full blown Unified Communications Call Manager.    One way to compare these two systems is to look a the raw cost of equipment, generally the tip of the ice berg in a voice over IP deployment, but a useful starting point.    Lets assume an small configuration of 85 users, with a PRI and a need for 24 analog telephone devices for fax, modem, credit card, elevator, etc.    I configured the ShoreTel single image solution using the Small Business Version of the product as this was only a single site example.   The equipment list came in as follows:

  • ShoreGear-220T1   =           $5995
  • ShoreGear-24A   =               $2995
  • (2) ShorePhone IP 560 =     $698
  • (8) ShorePhone BB 24 –     $2392
  • (75) ShorePhone IP 230 –    $19425
  • Small Business Server and Voicemail – $1,500
  • (85) Extension and Mailbox License = $11,900

The ShoreTel solution would come in at approximately $49245.50 in equipment charges and warranty support, but not including Installation or Service.

For the CISCO I choose to compare this with a CISCO CCME,  Basically a CISCO 2851 Integrated Access Router with phone software and a Unity Voice Mail module inserted in the IAR along with a four port FXO card and a PRI card to bring the specs in line with the ShoreTel.

  • (1)  2851 VOICE BNDL W/PVDM2-48 FL-CCME-96 SP SERV 128F/256D   8595.00        = $8595
  • (1) 1PORT 2ND GEN MULTIFLEX TRUNK VOICE/WAN INT CARD – T1/E1  1300.00         =$1300
  • (1) 24PORT VOICE OVER IP ANA.GATEWY   5395.00 MSRP                                         = $5395
  • (75) CISCO IP PHONE 7945 GIG COLOR WITH 1 CCME RTU LICENSE  665.00                =$49875
  • (4) 7916 IP PHONE COLOR EXPANSION MODULE  495.00 MSRP                                      =$1980
  • (4) IP PHONE POWER TRANSFORMER FOR THE 7900 PHONE SERIES  45.00             =$180
  • (4) 7900 SERIES TRANSFORMER POWER CORD NORTH AMERICA  10.00                    =$40
  • (2) CISCO IP PHONE 7975 GIG COLOR WITH 1 CCME RTU LICENSE  955.00                  =$1990
  • (1) US ONLY SNT NBD 8X5 + SAU 2851 VOICE BUNDLE  876.00                                        =$876
  • (75) US ONLY SMARTNET 8X5 NBD CISCO UNIFIED IP PHONE 7945  8.00 MSRP          $600

The comparable CISCO CCME came in at approximately $75101 for equipment and warranty support, but not including Installation or Service.

Both are excellent solutions and both have strength.   Each has a desktop call manager that integrates with Outlook.  Both would require the addition of Ethernet switches with POE capability.  One might argue that the CISCO has the advantage of being the router and optionally, the firewall as well.  Clearly these are published MSRP and I am sure you can beat the hell out of your business partner to get these prices down. But at the end of the day, before installation costs the CISCO will cost you about more than 50% over the cost of a ShoreTel at this line size anyway.

Leave a Message by spell by name?

In an early April Blog entitled Add ShoreTel Extension Lists to your Automated Attendant we talked about limiting a callers ability to dial internal extensions. This is the same feature you might use to provide “tenant services” to a ShoreTel installation that was serving more than one company. In Version 9 of ShoreTel, you now have some additional new options that can be used very creatively. Lets assume you do not want to allow people to directly dial an extension at all, but you will allow callers to leave a message for someone. How do you do this without providing a dial by name directory or allowing for multiple digits to bounce around your system? A new feature has been added to the Automated Attendant drop down list: “Leave a message by first name” or “leave a message by last name”. Now your Automated Attendant might have a greeting option that sounds like “….if you would like to leave a message for a specific member of our staff and you know their name, press 9 now”. When the caller presses that option, they are prompted to spell that persons name and then they are directed to that persons mailbox where they can leave a message. This option enables outside callers an ability to leave a message for a specific individual without being able to know or dial their internal extension number. You should use this option along with the Extension name list previously discussed to increase security and maintain privacy! This is a truly unique ShoreTel 9 feature!


Example of Extension List for Take a Message
Example of Extension List for Take a Message