Friday, April 22, 2011

The birth of an Auto Dialer

In most businesses, there is a need to contact customers on a periodic basis for anything from appointment verification to account or billing problems. Sans technology, the best thing has historically been to put a couple people on the telephones and have them make the calls. Back in time, 1st Guard followed this proven [lack-of] technology.

More recently we saw the emergence of Software-as-a-Service vendors that would provide that automation for a price. They become your hired-hand in the outbound calling world by letting you upload a recording or two that might say “Your account is overdue, please call 800-xxx-xxxx”. Add in a spreadsheet of numbers to call and the service makes those calls on whatever schedule you’d like. Pretty cool, right? 1st Guard used a service by that worked very well for quite a while.

The downside of a service like this is that there is still quite a bit of hand-holding and the inherent cost of using an outside service. The true mechanics that only the geek in the computer room knows about goes something like this: query the database; export to an excel spreadsheet; upload to the service; create the schedule; execute the schedule; download the results; import into the database; write some t-sql to update the original customer records that a call was made with the results. Arghhhh. Doesn’t sound like true “automation” to me.

The 1st Guard technology field is mostly comprised of Microsoft and Apple tools. So the technology staff writes either in or Objective-c land and communicates in-band to a SQL back end thru various methods. Enter Digium Switchvox and their SDK.

On a Friday in January the concept of building our own AutoDialer (it’s new name) using the SwitchVox platform as the engine was born. One week later, it was in production. It’s great to brag about the technology genius at 1st Guard, but the most important factor here is the ease of use of the SDK. Bad SDK = long development time. The bulk of our time was spent tweaking the scheduling loop – call times; time between calls; retry times; etc.. The phone call function was fairly easy once you were ready to make the call. In our case, we just connected the call to an IVR that announces the reason for the call and presents a few IVR options: connect me to an agent; the checks in the mail; etc..

So consider that geek in the computer room with his integrated AutoDialer. Here’s his new process: pull up the page that shows the customers to call; verify the schedule; click [execute]…that’s it. Since its integrated the results of each call are instantly added to the customer’s account. No spreadsheets. No uploading or downloading. An in the 1st Guard case, it’s also easy to add the job metrics (attempted calls; completed calls; estimated time of completion, etc) to any dashboard.

Beyond the AutoDialer itself, the ability to add a call request is enhanced. Say an agent is on a customer screen and sees a soon-to-be expired credit card. Easy, click [add reminder call] and the call is added to the AutoDialer. Very cool.

The projections of “Digium Switchvox value add” continue to reveal themselves....

Dan Ribar

Monday, April 11, 2011

God gave you a cloud.....


Just a short story that will make you smile.

My wife Julija and I like to do what we call "The Gladiator Run" on the weekends. Where we live in Florida the sun and humidity usually push runners indoors during the middle of the day. For us it's a chance to push our bodies a bit and get some much needed sunshine.

Yesterday it was pushing 90 with a high humidity and we were out in it. She was on bike and I was running through our piece of wilderness. I was sweating hard... and the sun was pounding. Then just when I thought it was too much a big huge dense cloud covered the sun and she yelled "God just gave you some shade!!!"

How cool that HE is always watching out for us and knows exactly what we need.

Ha - made you smile didn't it....


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Digium Switchvox - Ease of Integration Drives Sales

After a two+ year search for a new phone system, Digium Switchvox emerged as the number one contender for 1st Guard Corporation. I tell my boss [and wife] that everything I do has a selfish undertone, and picking a new phone system doesn’t deviate from that path. The beauty of technology from my perspective is when it is so well integrated that it could almost be considered assimilated.

The first sign of this characteristic with the Switchvox was the URL Manager function. Day one, out of the box we had integration to our existing systems. In 1st Guard’s case that meant that the telephones were instantly talking to the underwriting, accounting and claims business systems. These systems are primarily developed with an front end / MS SQL back end.

My borderline narcissistic approach would never allow a new technology that didn’t make my life easier. Digium simply fits in well…easily. Beyond the URL manager and barely 30 days into full production in the 1st Guard Call Center, we dove into exposing the benefits of the SDK/API and wrote our own Auto Dialer that calls customers with account problems and connects them to an IVR. Outstanding!

In support of this environment, and another “ease of integration” trait is Switchvox Developer Central. This support mechanism is key to the integration effort and teamed up with the Asterisk Forums provide a greased skid for the integration to happen.

Digium also brought to the table an integrator that actually added value to the equation. My experience was a Friday afternoon website request for information from Digium, followed by a personalized response email within 3 minutes and a phone call from Tim Halleran at Secure Datacom five minutes later. Shoot – I was on the way home after a long week and all of a sudden we’re talking phone systems. Amazing.

Bottom line for 1st Guard is simple – you make a technology that we can use to help our customers, and keep the integration cost low and you’ve got a winning product. Digium Switchvox fits that requirement.

Dan Ribar