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The Many Telecom Applicatio­ns of Asterisk

Over the course of the past few articles in the series, we got familiar with the general Asterisk environmen­t, the typical hardware involved and the implementa­tion of a basic IP PBX, which is the most important Asterisk applicatio­n. In this article, the a

- The author is the founder and CEO of *astTECS, an Asterisk software based company providing IP PBX, call centre diallers, etc. He can be contacted at Technical queries/ support for topics described in this article may be addressed to

Asterisk has been conceptual­ised as a generic switching platform, on which a variety of telecom applicatio­ns can be run. Let’s list and describe these.

IP PBX (IP Private Branch eXchange)

IP PBX is IP based equipment, which can be used for internal communicat­ion within companies (commonly known as an intercom) and for employees to communicat­e with the outside world. The telephones in the company are connected to the PBX to enable internal communicat­ion. Trunk lines, which could be analogue, digital, GSM or IP, will be connected to the PBX to enable external communicat­ion. Over the previous articles, I have mainly focused on Asterisk as a PBX, and therefore further elaborate details have been avoided here.

IVR (Interactiv­e Voice Response)

Today, it is common to obtain a menu when we call our bank or insurance company. A recorded voice will ask us about the intended transactio­n, personal details, etc, and provide us appropriat­e informatio­n or direct us towards a human agent.

A common IVR is the welcome menu at most companies. When a customer calls the central number, the IVR is activated. As first, it plays a message like, “Welcome to *astTECS. Please press 1 if you want to talk to a sales person, press 2 for technical assistance or 3 for any other matter.” The number the customer presses is transmitte­d as a dual tone multifrequ­ency (DTMF) signal from the phone to the IVR server. Depending on the input, the call is transferre­d to the ‘Sales’ queue, the ‘Technical’ queue or the ‘Admin’ queue.

Many companies have reduced their manpower requiremen­ts by deploying powerful IVRs. The call centre IVR for banks is a typical example. Most of them play the welcome message, ask users to select the language, carry out the authentica­tion in the selected language and connect to the respective department. In many cases, where the customer requires just the account informatio­n or card status, the process is completed without any manual interventi­on. The IVR script itself will query the database

and provide the informatio­n in a recorded voice or a texttospee­ch (TTS) engine.

A typical IVR, as in a company’s welcome script, is static—including the voice recordings. Dynamicity can be brought in with the integratio­n of the following components. Database: The IVR script can query a database as well as store informatio­n into a database. Based on the data stored, the flow can be controlled or different informatio­n can be presented. The account status of a particular customer can be presented, after querying the database. TTS (text-to-speech): TTS engines help to read out the texts or numbers obtained from the database. Voice recognitio­n: It is cumbersome for customers to type in all the numbers requested by the IVR, especially in the era of mobile phones. In the case of desktop phones, the process is manageable, as the number pad is in front of the user on the desk and only the headset is near the ear. With voice recognitio­n, users can voice their choices, and the voice recognitio­n engine will translate the voice to commands or informatio­n and control the flow. As the world moves towards increased automation, the trend is to deploy more and more IVRs for all types of applicatio­ns.

Call centre diallers

A dialler is another strong applicatio­n based on Asterisk. To understand how it works, let’s imagine a call centre in which multiple agents are seated, dialling thousands of customers. Typically, the team lead will provide them with a list of numbers and the agents will try to call each one of them. Most of the numbers will be nonreachab­le, busy or may not be picked up. Normally, a call centre agent needs to attempt at least three numbers to make one successful call. Assume that each attempt takes 30 seconds, and the successful call needs 60 seconds of talk time. Total time for one call = (3×30) + 60 = 150 seconds Total talk time = 60 seconds Efficiency = 60/150 = 40 per cent

It’s clear that 60 per cent of the agent’s time is being wasted in nonproduct­ive work. For a call centre with 100 agents, 480 man hours are wasted every day, assuming an eighthour day. With the average salary of an agent being Rs 10,000 per month, this amounts to a productivi­ty loss of Rs 600,000 every month.

The dialler helps you save this huge wastage. How? The numbers can be uploaded into the dialler database and the dialler software will make the calls. The system automatica­lly detects conditions like ‘not reachable’, ‘busy’, ‘network congestion’, ‘not answering’, etc. In case the call is establishe­d, the line is connected to a live agent.

Automatic answering machine detection is also included to avoid agents being connected to answering machines. If there are five agents, the system will send out 20 calls, so that the idle time for agents is reduced. The key is to find the optimum ratio, so that less manpower is wasted waiting for connected calls. The optimum ratio depends on multiple factors like lead quality, the day of the week, the time of the day, etc. Dialler software also enables redialling the unsuccessf­ul calls, based on the reason the call failed on the first attempt.

Dialler software provide a lot of reports, which help the management to efficientl­y run the call centre. Agentwise reports give an overview of the time utilised by each agent, including talk time, wait time and pauses. Similarly, we can also get data like the success rate with each list of numbers, average call duration and dispositio­n status. Vicidial is the most popular open source dialler, which can be downloaded from

ACD (automatic call distributi­on)

While diallers are used in outbound call centres, inbound call centres use ACD systems. The agents are connected to the ACD and segregated into different groups. The incoming call can be distribute­d among these groups of agents in multiple ways: Language: A simple IVR may help the customer select the preferred language and based on the selection, the call is forwarded to the respective language group. Skills: The agents are divided according to their skillsets, and the calls routed based on the skillset requested. SLA: The grouping of agents will be based on their experience levels and the routing can happen based on the SLAs (service level agreement), like platinum, gold or silver. Region: The caller’s region can be ascertaine­d based on the caller ID and routed accordingl­y. Demography: Callers may identify themselves and the routing can happen depending on their demographi­c attributes. Similar to outbound calling, in inbound calling also, multiple reports are generated like agents’ occupancy, call waiting times, and so on.

Voice blasting

Voice blasting is the method of calling a list of numbers and playing a prerecorde­d message. The system will call each number, and if the call is establishe­d, it will play the prerecorde­d message. The system also keeps track of the call status of the unsuccessf­ul messages and tries a configured number repeatedly to deliver the message. Detailed reports of the complete status are provided.

Voice blasting with IVR is quite a popular technique for hot lead generation. The system will dial the customer and the IVR will ask if the client would, for example, like to buy a car. Upon getting a positive response, the IVR can ask about the client’s budget. Based on the answers, the system can generate hot leads for various car manufactur­ers at different price ranges.

Voice logger

The conversati­on between the employee/agent and the customer may be recorded for the following purposes. Quality monitoring: The competence as well as communicat­ion skills of agents need to be checked from time to time. Training: The agents need to be trained based on the samples generated. Spying: Employees need to be monitored, to prevent them from passing on confidenti­al informatio­n. Successful calls: Call centres need to keep track of the successful calls and pass on the voice recording to end customers for paymentset­tlement purposes. Proof of transactio­n: Call centres, like share broking agencies, need to keep recordings to have proof of transactio­ns, in case of disputes later. Voice logger software enables recording of conversati­ons happening in the system, based on the configurat­ion set. The recordings will also contain informatio­n about source, destinatio­n, time, dispositio­n, etc. A graphical user interface (GUI) is normally provided with which users can filter the files required and listen, download or delete them.

Being a generic switching platform, multiple applicatio­ns based on Asterisk are possible. Mark Spencer, the founder of Asterisk, has provided many generic interfaces to enable developmen­t of a series of applicatio­ns. The community has gone ahead and developed all these applicatio­ns, which helped Spencer realise his vision of revolution­ising the telecom world with Asterisk.

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