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Any Voice Application finally needs to get connected to telephone network or PSTN as we call them, so that it reaches real people. Now a days, it seems, PSTN is being replaced by Mobile Network as mobile phone users outnumber fixed-phone users. My own experience of looking at caller data of IVR systems installed in various industries, shows that at least 80% callers any any IVR System is from Mobile Phones.

IVR System Architecture

IVR System Architecture

Here are ways how an IVR System gets connected to real world telephone network irrespective of their wire-line or wireless nature.

1. Analog Lines
This is the Last mile solution to end connectivity to end user equipment. So, here instead of connecting this line to a Telephone Instrument, we connect those lines to Analog CTI Boards which in turn is installed inside a PC or a Server through a RJ1 connector. It uses the old protocol of connecting telephone which are basic as known/heard by anyone for signalling. It uses Ringing to indicate incoming call from telephone Exchange or switch to voice application, polarity reversal or battery reversal or even 16KHz tone for connection establishment connection. It has to detect all telephony related conditions by detecting audio pattern available in the channel, for example busy tone, engage tone, FAX Tone, DTMF etc which are exactly as we hear in telephone speaker.
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Once upon a time, Interactive Voice Response Systems and Dialogic was almost synonymous. If someone said CTI, it usually meant Dialogic. Dialogic D/4 PCI board was legendary, at least in India. People with remote connection with voice application development too knew/heard about D4 PCI board!

Dialogic PowerMedia XMS

Dialogic PowerMedia XMS

Well, that was many moons ago. With entry of low cost CTI boards in Voice Application world in the form of Chinese manufacturer, Entry of Asterisk, maturing of VOIP as technology and penetration of internet, things have changed for Dialogic as well for users. But Dialogic was always there and and I think now with Cloud Telephony picking up and people realising about convergence of technologies and its utility, one can hope, Dialogic with its PowerMedia XMS should become household name again, at least among cloud telephony service providers with vision for the future!
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I had some interaction with few mobile phone users whose work demands them to keep traveling across cities or inside cities as well as sit in office for some time and since I spoke them about benefits of cloud Telephony of hosted IVR, they came out with few situations which I thought, I should share here. Incidentally, any business people do, work in office most of the times and then visit others offices for meetings.

Cloud IVR As Call Management

Cloud IVR As Call Management

While there are cloud telephony services like hosted call center, virtual receptionist, do it yourself voice applications in the cloud, there is not just a proper product or cloud telephony service for vast individual who need just few simple features in their business phone system, which is easy to configure, manage and see reports occasionally. Or which can send them alerts regularly.
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What is IVR Usability ?

IVR Usability

What is IVR Usability ?
In a single line, IVR usability can be defined as ease of use to perform a task of either getting a desired information, lodge some message ( of complaint or anything) using an self service IVR system by a caller to the IVR System. The task performed could be different based on the purpose of the IVR. For example, in a Complaint management IVR, caller should be able to lodge a complaint with correct complaint category at the shortest time to have better IVR usability. The task could be different for different type of IVR System deployed.

IVR with poor usability will not only increase cost of the IVR, it will also frustrate caller ( who could be customer of the company owning the IVR System).

Why IVR Usability testing is important before its deployment?

IVR is intended to automate “routine tasks” in self service mode. It is supposed to perform certain tasks without human intervention. But when this tool becomes difficult to use by its callers, it fails to do desired task it is intended for, or deployed for.

It gives wrong message out the callers/customers about the company that it does not care. It installs an useless gadget which does not perform its intended task thereby wasting money.

It may result in loss of customers and reduce quality of customer service. Reduced customer satisfaction would send away them to competition.
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Toll Free Number has become popular, easy to get and affordable now a days after Cloud Telephony Service providers started selling it to even small businesses. Having a toll free number for customer support as well as other enquiries for a business or organisation is considered brand multiplier.

Toll Free Number India

Toll Free Number India

When Toll Free Number is provided by Cloud Telephony Companies, they always bundle it with many advanced IVR ( Interactive Voice Response) features like call hunting, voice mail system, SMS alert, intelligent call routing based on time of the day, etc.

But apart from Toll Free Numbers provided by them, many businesses have Toll Free Numbers which are forwarded to on-premise PBX, landline PRI number, or even a mobile number.
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In last few years, market of CTI ( Computer Telephony Integration) Board has been steadily declining, though I am not aware of any market survey except disclosure on casual discussions in the field. While low cost CTI boards were still being in use for many on-premise IVR systems, but I have not heard about any big sale or project involving high end CTI boards.

NO MORE CTI BOARD

NO MORE CTI BOARD

While the sale of CTI boards were already declining, introduction of PRI delivery using SIP link by some telephone service provider might hit the final nail in its coffin! So, suddenly, CTI hardware is no longer required to run a scalable enterprise level IVR Systems.

I am assuming, in future every large IVR systems will be based on host computer doing all telephony processing as well as processing any voice applications! Most probably, it will make life much easier for IVR developers by eliminating having to install any hardware in inside Server-PC or rack!
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Self Service IVR System Or Self Help IVR Systems are widely used in many enterprise level IVR Solutions around the world. This type of IVR seems to be simple during implementation but in practical usage, it requires many careful consideration because of large number of callers.

As these Serf Service Enterprise IVR Systems are mainly run on toll free numbers with option to transfer the call to human agents, the operating cost is also high in terms of telephony cost as well as human cost. So, in order to minimise operating cost, here are four essentials one should consider to manage:-

1. Reduce Call Holding time
2. Reduce Call transfer to Human Agents
3. Increase desired Task Completion
4. Reporting of Call dropping in menu levels

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In old days, people used to have visiting cards with a telephone number with PP written next to it, in India. While I am not sure what this PP actually stands for, but it meant that, the person may not pick up the phone, but can be reached if h/her name was told and asked to come to the phone.

And now days have when, when people carry a mobile phone with multiple SIM cards or multiple Mobile Numbers! With advent and penetration of Mobile phones, getting a personal phone number has become the easiest thing, where most of the time, the SIM card and number can be purchased with less than a dollar in India.

And with low cost Chinese phone with facility to put multiple SIM in single mobile phone, people started carrying multiple mobile number. And even high end Smatphones now a days have facility to put more than one phone, more reason to get multiple mobile numbers!
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Few years ago, IVVR ( Interactive Voice And Video Response) System was thought to be the next technology which may revolutionise the mobile entertainment industry! But, today, IVVR is not even heard anywhere in India and nobody talks about it anymore. Even IVR or CRBT ( Caller Ring back Tone) are not discussed anymore. Everybody seems to be discussing about Cloud Telephony as well as hosted IVR services. There are reports that even telecom operators are trying to provide hosted IVR services for corporates. Almost all major VAS ( Value Added Service) providers are moving towards cloud telephony to provide corporate IVR services.

So, what went wrong with IVVR in India ?

While IVVR sounds good on paper, in India there were many practical difficulties.

1. Mobile Network Speed
While it has been many years in India 3G has been launched, it was only in metro cities where it worked well and many smaller cities or towns were not covered with 3G networks.
Even areas where 3G were available, there was many complaints about its speed. So, even the enthusiasts were not satisfied with video calls, let alone use applications on IVVR!
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IVR For Small Business
IVR system in an office is considered for big businesses which get hundreds of calls that requires automation. This perception is changing with increasing competition among small businesses. While automating calls is one part, but answering call to every incoming calls to a business is important for the business.

So, IVR for small business is also an essential requirement now a days which should work 24 hours a day. It should at least receive a call even during non-office hours and store the information so that some one can respond to that call in next office hours.

How IVR for small business should work ?

IVR for small business should work just like any other IVR system. While it may have fewer menu options unlike IVR for big businesses, or self service IVR, it still should have few essential features as below :-
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