1. Asterisk in the Call-Centre survey - the results are out

    We are glad to announce the release of our first call-centre customer satisfaction survey as a free eBook.

    According to our corporate philosophy that binds accurate data measurement to relevant business improvements, we sent to our customers a survey about the usage of Asterisk® and QueueMetrics™ for their daily needs in call-centers management, analysis and statistics.

    This was done to assess the perceived needs of existing customers so that we could prioritize future improvements. This is the first professional case study of its kind reported in the contact-center industry for installations based on Asterisk® technologies. Data collection for the survey was done in the period of October and November 2013 and treated as an anonymous on-line form. We did not collect personal information on respondents and didn’t offer any prize or giveaway in order to avoid biasing the sample in our favor.

    The results are quite interesting and speak for themselves - find them here: http://queuemetrics.com/callcenter-survey.jsp

     
  2. WombatDialer 0.7.5: bug fixes and more

    What is Erwin the Wombat doing sitting on a large cup of coffee? well, he’s been working quite a bit lately.

    We have just released version 0.7.5, that is meant mostly as a bug fix release but also adds some architectural improvements.

    • First, we fixed a number of issues to improve the accuracy of call and queue tracking. The bottom line is that the dialer is more efficient when tracking queues and will try to keep them fully saturated at all times. We also fixed a number of error conditions that were reported by our partners.
    • Secondarily, we changed the log storage model. This means that logs will no longer make entities impossible to delete. Logs will also be scanned more efficiently for large systems (over 1M records).
    • The third important item is that the dialer will now start up immediately as the web application is loaded, unless you just performed an update. This means that you will not have to log in to restart the dialer after a system reboot.
    • The fourth important item is that from the Reports page you can now export to CSV the details of all the calls that were placed in a set of runs. This was a popular demand.
    • Last but not least, the dialer view is way more clear when tracking queues - you can now see who is logged on, how many calls are being placed, and how many channels are used by that queue.

    The downside is that the upgrade may take a while to run - as logs have to be converted, the updater processes about 30,000 calls per minute - so if you have a log database of one million calls, the upgrade may take about 45 minutes to complete. We suggest making a complete backup of the database beforehand, just in case.

    What remains to be done for 0.8? a public regression test. We are working on a suite of tests that will let you run a stress test of WombatDialer on your own systems, to assess system capacity and gettiong familiar with the different dialing modes Wombat offers. This will be a simplified and cleaned-up version of the one we use internally to test the capacities of a release. We are also working on a tutorial of how to run a blended inbound/outbound call-center using WombatDialer and QueueMetrics.

    So - it’s time to update WombatDialer to 0.7.5 now.

    We welcome your feedback about what you would like to see in new releases - we have a public suggestion jar at http://wombatdialer.userecho.com/

    Happy dialing!

     
  3. Introducing QueueWiz

    For the Astricon 2013, we created a little tool that lets you easily model Asterisk-based call centres.

    QueueWiz is the first free web app for interactive, quick and accurate call center sizing, cost and revenue simulation. Insert your data with the intuitive interface, measure traffic intensity, expected wait times, agents’ engagement, revenue per call and per agent and even hourly margins. Save your simulation and share it via email or social media.

    Completely free of charge at http://queuewiz.queuemetrics.com.

     
  4. WombatDialer 0.7.3: Black lists, CSV uploads and more

    After a few months of work, we are proud to release WombatDialer 0.7.3. This is a major release that adds a number of features that have been on the wish list for quite a bit of time.

    Namely:

    • Black lists. It is now possible to filter call lists dynamically when dialing out using one or more Black Lists. Black Lists are lists like any other in WombatDialer that can be used to collect numbers that are not to be called anymore. They can be updated through the HTTP API, so you can control this feature externally and while a campaign is running.
    • CSV import / export of lists. You can now prepare lists of numbers to be dialed (with all their attributes) using your favourite spreadsheet and upload them to the dialer through and easy-to-use drag and drop interface. You can also export lists of numbers with attributes as CSV files.
    • Separate Agent CLID. A number of times, you want your agents to receive a call which caller-id contains information on the call being made (e.g. the name of the person called, or their CRM id - you choose). You can now have separate caller-ids for the external versus the internal side of a call.
    • Attributes substitution. You can now use call attributes in caller-id’s, caller presentation and logging code.
    • Sortable campaign runs. In the Live page, you can now decide the sort order of campaigns and runs
    • Number generator. The number generator can now create correctly set of numbers to be dialed whatever their prefixes
    • Better security. On all user-created records, you can now see who created them and who modified them last
    • Live dialer status. The dialer box on the main page can be set to refresh automatically

    Plus a large number of fixes, usability tweaks and minor redesigns meant to make the experience smoother and better.

    You can try the latest version with the free license included or you can upgrade an existing systems through the yum installer. Get started from our Dialer Installation page. We are sure you will like the new release.

    PS. We’ll be exhibiting WombatDialer and QueueMetrics at the Astricon in Atlanta, booth 33 - come and say hi.

     
  5. WombatDialer @ Astricon 2013

    We’ll be exhibiting at Astricon 2013 in Atlanta - we’ll be demoing QueueMetrics and WombatDialer. If you plan to attend, make sure you pass by and say hi. We have an Astricon page at http://queuemetrics.com/astricon.jsp

    We are also organizing an (informal) meeting of QueueMetrics users and Asterisk call-center people to discuss and share ideas and experience. If you’d like to join us, we have a Facebook group set up to organize the meeting - see http://www.facebook.com/groups/507826572618269/ (you’ll need a Facebook account to log in).

    Looking forward to meeting you in Atlanta!

     
  6. WombatDialer 0.7.0 available today

    WombatDialer started to be used for production services about two years ago. Its first adoption scenario was telecasting - delivering voice messages to a large set of recipients in a way that was fully automated, scalable, monitorable and integrated with external processes. We put a lot of effort into making sure that this worked to the point of being 100% reliable. Now our baby wombat is growing up.

    A lot of users are demanding multi-tenancy and better control of how calls ending up to human agents are to be placed. Version 0.7.0 is available now, and it adds a number of interesting new features:

    • Reverse dialing lets you have outbound agents immediately connected when the callee picks up, without the minimal delay of waiting on a queue for dispatching. On top of this we implemented preview dialing, where agents can check the number to dial and approve or skip it - we have a tutorial for this, showing the integration of the default preview panel into the QueueMetrics agent’s page at http://blog.wombatdialer.com/post/52639475437/preview . As with most things in WombatDialer, we included all-powerful APIs to roll your own.
    • A complete security model that closely mimics the one used in QueueMetrics will let you define multiple, separate “tenants” having their own campaigns while sharing the physical Asterisk infrastructure
    • Dynamic Campaigns: runs can now have lists of numbers added (or paused) while they are running. Working fine with “idle” campaigns as well.
    • The Live page was improved to display the dialer status and - when using queue end-points - who is the agent currently connected to a call. Also a number of usability tweaks were implemented to make the experience smoother.
    • The dialer controls now show extensive queue and agent details to make monitoring easier. Also the dialer supports better syncing to live queues when restarted.
    • A number of performance changes will make processing larger campaigns a breeze.

    A complete description of all the changes is available in the updated User Manual, available in HTML and PDF from http://www.wombatdialer.com/manuals.jsp

    You can test drive the latest version now, by running "yum upgrade wombat" on an existing installation. Or see http://wombatdialer.com/installation.jsp

    We look forward to your feedback and suggestions - we have a special forum for feedback located at http://wombatdialer.userecho.com . Let us know what you think of the new version and what you would like to see in the next version of WombatDialer.

     
  7. Tutorial: Reverse preview dialing made easy

    Preview dialing is a type of reverse dialing available since WombatDialer 0.7.0 where the agent has a chance to “preview” the number that is to be called before actually having a call placed.

    The way it works is:

    • The agent logs on to a queue. WombatDialer uses the queue (as it usually does in Reverse dialing modes) to know which agents are available. This makes integration with QueueMetrics very easy.
    • The agent asks WombatDialer for a number to call. WombatDialer gets the next number out - considering all its dialing and reschedule rules - and reserves it for the agent.
    • The agent uses a GUI where they can see the number to be dialed and typically embeds, or links to, an external CRM app so that they can review the call
    • When the agent is ready, they ask for the call to be either placed or skipped.
    • If the call is to be placed, the agent is connected immediatately and listens to Music on Hold until the callee is on line
    • If the call is not to be placed, it is maked with a special code
    • Reschedule rules apply - so error states are handled correctly

    Step 1: Installing Elastix

    In order to run this tutorial, we install a brand-new Elastix 2.4 system. On it we create:

    • Three SIP extensions: 300, 301 and 302. We will use 302 as the agent extension while 301 and 300 will be used as sample end-points
    • One queue, called “400”, to hold our agent. Note that calls will NOT be processed through the queue but we will use the queue to keep track of which agents are available. When defining it, we make sure that we set: “Ring Strategy: rrmemory” - “Event when called: yes” - “Member status: yes” so that WombatDialer can fully observe it.

    Step 2: Installing WombatDialer

    We install WombatDialer on the Elastix system using yum. When we log in, we create:

    • An Asterisk server that can talk to Elastix. We can use the AMI user “admin” with the default password you gave during the system installation.
    • A trunk named named “Trunk”, which dial string will be Local/${num}@from-internal
    • An end-point of type QUEUE, which name is “400” (so that it observes queue 400), located at extension “400” context “from-internal” (this is not really needed if you run only reverse campaigns), setting both “Reverse dialing: yes” and “Manual preview: yes”
    • We create a list called “Numbers” and leave it blank for now
    • We create a campaign called “Reverse”, which has logging set as “QM_COMPATIBLE” and which logging code is “400”. We add to it the trunk, the EP and the list we just created.

    Now we go to the list manager and upload the following list:

    300,NAME:John
    301,NAME:Mike
    

    This tells WD to dial numbers 300 and 301, and sets a NAME attribute for each call (that will be useful when previewing).

    Step 3: Installing and configuring QueueMetrics

    Install QueueMetrics on the same machine as the Elastix system by typing:

    yum install queuemetrics-espresso
    

    Now log in into QM and configure:

    • An agent called agent/302
    • A user for agent 302 called “agent/302” password “999” class “AGENTS”
    • A general monitoring queue called “400”. Set agent/302 in the MAIN level of that queue.

    Now edit the “System parameters” and edit the section realtime.agent_button_1 as follows:

    realtime.agent_button_1.enabled=true
    realtime.agent_button_1.caption=Wombat
    realtime.agent_button_1.url=http://10.10.5.30:8080/wombat/agents/rd_pop.jsp? agent=SIP/[a]&url=http://10.10.5.31/sugar/index.php%3faction=UnifiedSearch%26module=Home%26query_string=<NUMBER>%26name=<NAME>&inset=1
    

    Edit the public IP of your Elastix server and replace the “10.10.5.30” address above.

    This code links to an instance of SugarCRM on 10.10.5.31. On it, create a contact named “John” which telephone number is “300” and one contact named “Mike” which telephone number is “301”. You can link to any other CRM software that has a web-based interface just the same way.

    Making it all work together

    • Log “agent/302” into QueueMetrics and have him join queue 400 on extension “302”. Note that we are using Hotdesking - the agent logs into Asterisk with their SIP extension.
    • Start the dialer. From the Live page, start the campaign “Reverse”. No calls will be placed.
    • Check the dialer status. You should see WombatDialer observing queue 400 and finding “SIP/302” logged on. Try pausing and unpausing the agent and refreshing the dialer: the status of SIP/302 should change accordingly.

    Now click on the button called “Wombat” from the Agent’s page. You should see a preview panel like the one in the picure:

    As you can see the SugarCRM panel is displaying the right record.

    TIP: the first time you call the page, SugarCRM might ask you to log in. Do it and refresh the page.

    If you look at the Live page on WombatDialer, the call should appear as “Reserved”. When the agent clicks on Dial, the call should start. Once the agent answers, your dialer will try and connect the other extension.

    When dialing, the Live page will show what is going on:

    And the same thing will happen on the Agent’s page:

    Nice work, isnt’t it? :)

    Improving the solution

    • You can add PSTN numbers to your lists and the will be dialed as if the had been entered on a local extension.
    • If you want WombatDialer to dial without waiting for an agent decision, just remove the “Manual preview” check and restart the dialer.
    • If you want a customized preview panel, you can create one by using the WombatDialer API.
     
  8. A WombatDialer roadmap - reverse dialing, AMD/fax detection and more

    We have been quite busy working on a number of themes that will make WombatDialer better and more useful, so we thought we’d better share them with you.

    Busy Wombat

    The first theme we have addressed is improved flexibility in dialing to agents. A number of users asked for ways for agents to be already connected when the callee is rung. This led to the developement of Reverse Dialing and Reverse Stepwise Dialing. With Reverse Dialing, the agent is rung first and then the call is attempted. This makes sure that when the callee answers, the agent is already on-line and ready to talk. The agent must be a member of an Asterisk queue, so that we get presence information (log in, log out, pauses and current status) right out of Asterisk. This also lets you share an agent on multiple queues with different dialing policies.

    With Reverse Stepwise Dialing, we go a bit further - we use an API so that an agent can reserve a call, preview it and decide whether to actually dial it or to mark it as processed without dialing. If the agent does not want the call processed, you can reschedule it or mark it as not to be processed. If the agent does not make a decision within 10 minutes from reserving, the call is put back into the dialing pool. All call variables are passed to the agent, so you can display them or link to an external CRM.

    The second theme is security - we are adding a security model that matches the one used by QueueMetrics, so that you can make different trunks, end-points, campaigns and list visible to some users only. This also affects Live viewing and campaign reporting and will make WombatDialer completely multi-tenant (like QueueMetrics is).

    After this, we plan to address two major themes - AMD/Fax detection and Black lists / Robinson lists. For AMD/Fax, we plan to use the facilities Asterisk offers in order to detect whether the call is answered by an Answering Machine or by a fax machine. This has the major advantage of not tying you to a specific solution, but lets you use a plethora of third party modules that are available for Asterisk in case you should find the default ones not good enough for you. WombatDialer will run the channel detection scripts and will react by sending either a pre-recorded message (for AMD) or a fax page in case no human caller is detected.

    As per black lists, we plan to offer both a way to check numbers against a set of internal lists or against an external server using an API. A number will be checked against all lists for a campaign and will be processed only if all call lists allow it.

    We plan to release the first two features - Reverse and Reverse Stepwise - in about one week. Work is already ongoing for security, so this should be available in 0.7.0 by the end of June. AMD/Fax and black lists will be implemented by the end of the summer - as they in the planning stage, we would like to hear from you about what you would need. We have a Sugegstions forum on UserEcho at http://wombatdialer.userecho.com where you can propose new improvements and vote on what other people proposed, so make sure your voice is heard.

    (Source: wombatdialer.com)

     
  9. Version 0.6.13 - A taste of things to come

    We have a new version of WombatDialer available on the public repo. This version adds a few interesting things to WombatDialer and should make your life easier when running it in production.

    First, WombatDialer has a better status view of queues: it now prints out the agents present on a queue and their current state, plus the calls (if any) currently queued.

    New dialer status

    This way it is easier to understand what is going on in real-time. Also, when a call is connected to an agent, the agent being used is shown on the Live page. WombatDialer also tries to sync the queue as soon as it is brought up, so you always see all queues for your running campaigns even if you restart the dialer.

    The second major change is that call lists are now dynamic. You can pause and add lists on running campaigns, and WombatDialer will immediately respond to the changes you make.

    List manager

    You can even add lists to idle campaigns, and they will start dialing immediately. For each list, the current high-water mark is displayed. The Live page also includes a check so that you cannot send commands to the dialer if the dialer is currently down.

    One last important change is that the infamous DTSC bug was fixed, so you do not need to restart the dialer multiple times. This will make installation of the system easier.

    We look forward to your comments - we have a feedback system available at http://wombatdialer.userecho.com so the community can propose new features and discuss them before we implement them. And do not forget to follow us on Twitter or Facebook so you can be updated when we have something new for you!

     
  10. Tutorial: WombatDialer and PIAF

    It is quite easy to install WombatDialer on PBX-in-a-Flash in order to give it autodialer, voice broadcasting and progressive dialing capabilities. This was tested on PIAF 1.7.5.6.1

    Before we start, it is important to notice that there is no need to run WD on the same box your PBX is running. As WombatDialer relies exclusively on AMI, you would be likely better off (at least when experimenting) to set up a virtual box based on CentOS 6, install WombatDialer there and connect remotely to PIAF (or any other PBX). You will just need to create a special AMI user on your PBX allowing remote connection (see below).

    If you want to install it on the PIAF system, here is what you would do:

    • Add the Loway repos

      wget -P /etc/yum.repos.d http://yum.loway.ch/loway.repo

    • Install WombatDialer automatically using yum

      yum install wombat

    • For the moment, stop iptables, or you won’t be able to connect remotely

      /etc/init.d/iptables stop

    Of course you would not want to run a production system with iptables off, so just add a rule allowing access to port 8080 from your workstations.

    • Finish the installation using your browser

    Now open your browser and go to:

    http://server:8080/wombat/

    It will get you to a page that will prompt for database creation. This will create a db called “wombat” and will fill it in with initial data.

    When asked, remember that the default MySQL root password for PIAF is “passw0rd”.

    After this, it may need to update the database. Will take only a few seconds (this step might not be necessary - depends on the version of WD you are installing).

    Then, you will be shown the license agreement. Approve it (but read it first!)

    Now you can log in as “demoadmin” password “demo”.

    As a first thing, you’ll have to tell WombatDialer to which server to connect to. If you connect via AMI to the local system, you can use default AMI user “admin” password “amp111”. If you installed WD on a different system, you need to create a AMI user that will allow remote connection - edit /etc/asterisk/manager_custom.conf to add it. At this point you should really have a look at the Getting Started Guide.

    Now that WombatDialer is installed, you should look around on this blog to see many different things you can do with it. If you’d like to try automated queue call-backs, see http://blog.wombatdialer.com/post/41774590472/autorecall - the source script can be found at https://github.com/Loway/WombatDialerExamples.

    Happy hacking!