Why your call center needs “TEXT” solutions!

21st Century Call Centers still operate with 1980 business models!

I have been working with inbound call center for some 40+ years and despite all the”omni” channel technology the inbound call center model has not changed very much.   Those of us who have call centers that support a for profit business are focused on improving the customer or patient experience.   We all want lower caller holding times, faster response times and lower costs.   I have never heard anyone say, lets add more agents!   The usual answer is lets add more telephone lines!   This strikes me as more than ridiculous!   Basically, increasing the size of the catchers mitt by adding more telephone lines,  enables the call center to increase the number of people on hold awaiting service by the same number of agents.  Now how can that make sense?   If you think about it, the only reason you have more inbound telephone lines than you have agents, is so folks do not get a busy signal.  Over the years call centers have learned that it is better to capture the call and then hold the caller than it is to generate a busy signal.

One of the major differences between a call center in the 21st century and earlier call centers, is the availability of “smart phones”!   As it relates to the American Business Landscape you are on safe ground if you just assume that every man, woman and child in America has a smart phone.   In fact, it is safe to assume that smart phones have long ago out paced wireline connections.   So why not use this resource to change the call center model?   Why have more incoming telephone lines than your call center has trained agents or customer service representatives?  Additionally, nobody is sitting at home or the office holding a phone handset while waiting for the “next available agent”.  They are driving the kids to school, or running around the market place in an ever increasingly more mobile environment.

“Now that cell phones are owned by 90% of American adults, many are ditching their landlines and going completely wireless in their households. The CDC recently reported that 39.4% of homes in the U.S. indicated having no landline phone and at least one wireless device. This trend is now being adopted by more and more households as many find it unnecessary to have both a landline and one or more mobile devices” – Green Mountain Communications 

Enable two way TEXT in your call center!

TEXT notifications are ubiquitous—from doctor appointment reminders to credit card fraud notifications, they are commonly used to send messages, alerts, and reminders. All too often, however, the message only goes one-way and the customer cannot reply with a question or text back anything other than a confirmation code or a request to stop receiving such messages. Or, the customer is provided a phone number to dial for further assistance.  Enabling two way TEXT applications in your Call Center could be a disruptive game changer!

Imagine a call center in which folks just send a ‘text’ to the call center.   The call center could respond with a useful message that estimates the wait time for a return call if an agent can not immediately call you back.  A very simple change in strategy, but the improvement in customer service and reduced operating expense should be obvious:

  • Customer Sends TEXT – “Please call me”
  • Call Center  returns either a voice call from an available agent or;
  • Call Center returns a TEXT message “We will return a call to you at this number in 5 minutes.   Is that a good time to speak with you”
  • No more IVR “call trees” or extended hold times.  The customer knows exactly what to expect and when to expect it!  Options to call another number of call at another time can be easily worked into the TEXT conversation.   NO need to have more than one telephone line per agent!

The Deep Data Integration options are enormous:

  • Customer Sends TEXT – “Please call me”
  • Call Center returns a TEXT message “Hi Peter, we see you have an appointment on the calendar for Monday, is this what you are calling about”?
  • Customer Sends TEXT – “I need to change my appointment”

The fact of the matter is it may not be necessary to speak with an Agent at all!    The application of Artificial Intelligence and “bot” technology to TEXT based information is significantly more achievable than that required of speech recognition.  It is also much less costly to implement!

No more Abandoned Calls!

A TEXT based Call Centers would drop the abandoned call statistics to zero!  Given that all calls are now scheduled and there is no caller waiting in queue on an incoming telephone line that your call center pays for, there are no abandoned calls!  This would decrease holding times and increase service levels across the board.   It is also self documenting, secure

4 Reasons Your Call Center Needs SMS

Many of the benefits SMS affords companies are specific, but there are also some big picture advantages worth exploring. Here are the top reasons why your call center needs SMS.

  1. Customers Want SMS

SMS is the new email. Customers are comfortable with texting and prefer SMS for the flexibility and convenience. While it was easy to ignore in the past (when only a small fraction of consumers used text messaging), you can no longer ignore SMS without some negative consequences.  According to industry research, call center wait times are one of the biggest turnoffs for customers. The vast majority of customers – 95 percent to be exact – feel like five minutes is the longest you should ever have to wait to speak with someone. Unfortunately, the majority of businesses force customers to wait much longer than this. Enabling SMS not only relieves call center congestion, but it also gives customers the option to ask for a callback, as opposed to waiting on the line.

  1. Self-Service Options

As you know, many of the calls your customer service department fields are simple. However, they still tie up your time, energy, and resources. What if you could automate these simple, yet time-consuming calls and free up your resources for the bigger picture issues? Well, you can.  Ultimately these self-service options benefit businesses in multiple ways. To quote our article, “consumers will often take the path of least resistance, so offering a text in service will save them having to call in, while avoiding having complaints aired in public on social media.” In the end, this leads to more satisfied customers, better brand image, and fewer wasted call center resources.

  1. Superior Service

The bottom line is that phone lines simply don’t cut it anymore. The modern consumer expects businesses to offer multiple channels of engagement and doesn’t want to be forced into placing a phone call. SMS is seen as much more convenient and service-oriented.  This is why text-enabled concierge services like GoButler have seen tremendous success. Customers feel like they’re getting more value from a company or service provider when the company is willing to communicate in comfortable and convenient ways.

Consider a cable and internet provider. Instead of needing to place a phone call and wait on hold for 10, 20, or 30 minutes, a customer could send a simple text message to the company that reads, “Hey, my internet is down. Can you help?” The provider can then respond with some simple questions about the situation and set up an appointment time without further disrupting the customer’s day.

  1. Customers Answer Texts

From the enterprise side of things, it’s sometimes necessary to contact customers. Well, the problem with contacting customers is that they’re often hard to get in touch with. Many users won’t answer numbers they don’t recognize and others rarely check their voicemails after missing a call.   SMS is an entirely different story. The Pew Research Center says 67 percent of cell phone users check their phone for messages even when they don’t notice it vibrating or ringing. Roughly 44 percent sleep with their phones next to their beds in case they receive a message or notification while sleeping.

Both of these statistics prove that customers are highly connected to mobile messaging. This rapid response makes SMS the quickest way to connect with customers, especially when the issue at hand is timely in nature.

Give TEXT a chance now!

The benefits of enabling TEXT in your call center will increase customer satisfaction, enhance the service experience and significantly increase productivity in your call center while reducing over all costs!   If you would like to experiment with TEXT in your call center, send the keyword DEMO to 424-348-4000 and we can get you setup in short order.   You might also check out www.Click2WebChat.com for some additional thinking on this subject.

Cloud based Next Gen Firewalls?

Firewall or Security Appliance?

Along with the general tend for business to move to a subscription based, recurring revenue model, the ubiquitous firewall has also moved to the cloud!   In the case of the firewall, however, there is measurable and dynamic benefit to be realized by coupling your firewall to a cloud based subscription.   The “wild west” that characterizes the internet in the 21st century demands a dynamic, self healing, unified treat management strategy!    It is no longer acceptable to use simple statefull packet inspection based firewalls that limit activity based on network layer source and destination IP address matching.  Firewalls must now become “security appliance” solutions!   Content Filtering Intrusion detection and prevention and a growing shared database of malware protection with cross referenced “reputation” based real time analysis is now the minimum daily adult requirement for network Internet work security.

Most of the popular firewalls in the commercial market place now couple some form of a subscription service to the base cost of the actual hardware.  Generally these subscriptions are spam and email filtering solutions at the low end, but include very advanced content filtering and malware protection at the high end.    Effective content filtering and malware protection requires access to a ever growing database where global information about daily treat and reputation analysis can be analyzed and shared among subscribers.    Identity based networking is also an essential component in managing network resource access.  Group policies that limit the facilities that the “guest” wireless network can access and the bandwidth that it can use, from the facilities and bandwidth that the corporate user can access begin to define the minimum specification for network computing.

Meet My Meraki!

We are particularly fond of the Meraki solution as a good fit alongside of the more sophisticated CISCO Next Generation and “SourceFire” solutions.  Both technologies are recent CISCO acquisitions and significantly expand the company’s well established range of threat management, Identity and VPN solutions.   The Meraki products are not only subscription based,  but are truly “cloud” resident.   This makes it very attractive for IT teams or Managed Service Providers to remotely install, configure and monitor geographically distributed firewalls and VPN devices.    When coupled with the subscriptions for ongoing software updates, the system provides unparalleled cost/benefit performance in the following key areas:

  • Identity Based Access and User Group Policy Control – Local or Active Directory definition of users and guest
  • Intrusion Prevention – Active before, during and after monitoring of known treats
  • VPN Automation – Mesh or Hub and Spoke configurations to integrate remote offices and work groups
  • Content Filtering – Limit internet access by specif URL or Group like “peer to peer”,  “file sharing” or “Social Media”.
  • Anti Malware and Anti Phishing – Active scanning of all HTTP traffic
  • High Availability and Fail over – Device and connection security through multiple uplinks
  • Application Visibility and Control – Know exactly who is using what and how much!
  • Centralized Management  – Log into the device through your cloud based “dashboard

Content Filtering and Central Management

Content Filtering is based on subject matter or specific site URL and is intuitive to configure as show below.     The group polices enable you to assign content filtering based on Active Directory identity and group authentication.  Guest log in pages enable visitors network access.   All of this functionality is dynamically made current through subscriptions and is centrally managed through a “dashboard” that is defined in the “cloud” and accessible by authorized personnel from anywhere on the Internet!



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ShoreTel adds Siri features with SpeechBridge!

Anybody who has used Siri or Google to ask for directions while driving, understands the importance of being able to navigate through an automated attendant menu using voice commands! Natural language, speaker independent speech recognition has come very long way and can be economically integrated into every ShoreTel system deployment. One of the best kept secrets in the ShoreTel community is the availability of a low cost, high performance voice recognition solution that makes your digital automated attendant understand human speech! Folks driving along, even those stuck in a traffic jam, cannot be pressing extension numbers into their iPhone! Why not let them “speak” a name or extension number? Siri does it and so can your ShoreTel system.

SpeechBridge can hear!

Enter SpeechBridge by Incendonet of Encinitas, California! The company offers a speech recognition appliance, optimized for ShoreTel systems that can give your Automated Attendant ears! Using a SpeechBridge, callers can “Say or Press 1 for Sales;” or “Please say the name of the person you are trying to reach.” SpeechBridge easily eliminates that frustrating “spell by name” touch tone, key pad game that dumb automated attendants expect callers to play.   SpeechBridge can also integrate with your Calendar and Email systems!  The product is easy to install, and easily interfaces with back office systems like Exchange and Active Directory.

Easy to Configure!

As the name suggests SpeechBridge establishes a SIP trunk to your ShoreTel system.  Inbound calls are directed to off premise extensions, where 2-8 ports of powerful speech recognition, are available to play the normal role of an automated attendant.  Though the SpeechBridge can collect touch tone digits, it is optimized for Speech and the spoken word!  Callers can say an extension number, voice navigate a menu or speak an internal user’s name. Using SpeechBridge “sounds like” patented technology, the system will sort through names and phonetically match the sounds uttered by the most inarticulate callers!

The system has a unique Scripting and Menu editor which enables you to rapidly implement new call trees and custom IVR applications. Use the bundled system prompts or upload your own prompts! The system can be used to look up, confirm and reschedule or create calendar events like appointments. The SpeechBridge can even create transcriptions of your voice messages and send it to your email!  There are a variety of fully formed APIs that enable third party integrations for those who seek to use the appliance in custom applications.

Adoption Strategy!

When Voice Mail systems first came to market,  smart marketeers would install them free of charge with each new phone system, on a “try it, if you don’t like it we will take it out” basis.  Thirty days later, there is no way you could take away someone’s voice mail system!  We recommend you make the SpeechBridge a standard part of your ShoreTel deployments! Give them the Speech enabled Automated Attendant.Then grow recurring revenue adding the many other applications where TTS “text to speech” and SR speech recognition can be applied! Include SpeechBridge menu and directory maintenance as a “service” offering and differentiates your company’s ShoreTel implementation!

The technology is not difficult to understand, implement or maintain!  Incendonet has an excellent dealer education program, superior technical support and a growing product portfolio of speech enabled applications! If you like Siri on your iPhone, you will love SpeechBridge on your ShoreTel.  The product is certified by ShoreTel and fully supported by Incendonet!  Add Speech Recognition to your ShoreTel today, by calling Incendonet at 760-944-7698 and ask for Sales!  (Before you ask us, yes, SpeechBridge can be integrated with any VoIP PBX that supports SIP trunks!)

Contact Center Remote Agent Locator!

We recently had a request for an “emergency locator” application with a different twist.   Historically, we have written a number of “locator” type scripts, but this request had some unusual requirements.   The client wanted to have live agent support for a technical support queue, even after the agents went home at end of shift.  Basically, put the caller on hold and then go find an agent to assist!   Now if agents are logged in, that is more of a remote VPN phone type of solution.  This was different, the agents were not logged in and not on a VPN phone,  but reachable by cell phone.   The requirement was that the caller should have the same experience after hours that they might have during business hours.

The Challenge!

If that was not a sufficiently large challenge, they also had multiple CSQs and that would mean processing a list of agents that was CSQ specfic.  Additionally, all of this should be reportable in the normal historical reporting process.  If an agent could not be located, an email was to be sent to the CSQ team, and the client offered the opportunity to leave a VM or request a call back.   What was different about this request for script assistance, was not that we had to locate an agent, but that we had to keep the client in the queue and somehow pass the client to an available cell phone based agent.

Not entirely sure if we could do this in a ShoreTel ECC, the CISCO UCCX has the ability to create scripts that manage multiple contacts.  The “Triggering  Contact” being the caller that launched the script, and then we need an email contact and an outside phone contact.  There is no way, however to conference or transfer the caller to an active call.   Additionally, we needed positive assurance that we reached a human and not an answering machine!  This made for an interesting set of challenges!

The Solution

The caller handling front end was a typically call queue strategy, but the back end agent locator was tricky.   First we had to create a way of searching a list of available agents.  Not a single list, but a list for each CSQ as the agent skill set was product focused.   That requirement was initially handled with a SWITCH step and later improved by use of an XML file.    We place the caller on hold, then find the first agent and call them as the second outbound contact or new active phone call.   To confirm we actually reached a human, we ask them to press any key to continue and when they press a key, we know we reached a human and not a machine.

Next we ask them to press one to accept the assignment, or two to reject the assignment in which case we have to return to the list and find another agent.  If they accept the assignment, we tell them to keep the line free as the next phone call will be the caller on hold in the queue.  We terminate the call and then retrieve the caller from hold and transfer them to the agent.

This all worked very well and we are now enhancing the features and script strategy to make the code portable and more flexible.   If the agent had rejected the call, we would send an email to management and call the next agent on the list.    We are eager to find ways of leveraging the script for more applications and welcome your input!


HA server in “Split Brain” mode?

What is a High Availability Server Configuration?

HA availability server configuration often results from the sharing of a database between two servers.  One server is Primary or Active, and the other server is Secondary or Inactive.   Generally in the case of Voice Mail servers or Contact Center servers, there is a shared trunk group that interconnects the iPBX or Call Manager to the Active Server.   Should that server fail, the call searches through the trunk group ultimately connecting with the Secondary Server which has now taken on the Primary or Active Roll.   In the case of the Contact Center both ShoreTel and CISCO use this strategy with great results.

Is it “alive”?

A condition known as “Split Brain” can result, however, causing both servers to get “confused”.    This is generally the result of one of three conditions: a server loses power or becomes disconnected from the network during a database replication between the servers; or one of the servers actually restarts during the database replication process.    When this happens database updates to each server may not be replicated to the other server and we get a Split Brain.

The first step in remediation to to recognize the condition!   It  may not be readily identifiable.  In the case of CISCO you can log into the server through the CLI and run utils service database status which will show the present condition of both servers.  If you see the status “connection status unknown” or “Primary/Unknown” or “Secondary/Unknown” you are now in a schizophrenic mode!  Both servers are up and operational but neither server is processing calls as neither server knows that it is the Primary server!  Bad things are happening!


If this condition exists action is required to restore sanity as quickly as possible!

Split Brain surgery!

The remediation can be summarized as restoring each server to a role, Primary/Active and Secondary/Inactive.  Once that is established you will need to pick which database is most current,  and then copy it to the other server, restoring synchronization.  Again CISCO has tools to assist with this process and if followed, this surgery can go smoothly and quickly!  Basically log into the CLI of the server that has the data you want to keep and run the command utils service database status . Then log into the other server and run the command utils service database drbd discard-node which should restore database replication to normal.   Then run the command utils service database status and you should see something that looks like this:


You might then need to double check Distributed Replication Block Device or DRBD meta data for corruption if the servers do not sync up.  This DRBD is what synchronizes data between the two servers.  Check the status as described above and if you see the DRBD error, then run the command utils service database drbd force-keep-node which will reset the DRBD and set the server to Secondary/Inactive.

Ah life in the world of HA!