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Old 07-25-2012, 03:27 AM
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Default Started My Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System

I've been using Google Voice since I turned my company into an LLC. It's been going well for a free service but I wanted something that offered more than just ringing a set of numbers and forwarding text messages.

I've heard of an online service called Twilio (http://www.twilio.com) a while back. It was an interesting concept, but never went into it more. Recently rediscovered it and finally got around to reading into it more and playing with a trial account. I do a lot of programming in PHP so their services appeal to me having fine control over a call.

I played around with it and built a pretty stable IVR system (IVRs are those automated voice systems with the phone menus). What sets this apart from most IVRs, though, is that I am able to integrate it with some of my online systems already.

So far it has the ability to check a repair status and their notes (using the same data as my online status tool). It also allows payment of an invoice by looking it up, grabbing its remaining balance, taking credit card/check information over the phone, then applying that information directly to an invoice as a recorded payment on that invoice in my ERM system. It even gives the caller a confirmation number (same as the one added to the invoice).

There's also the option to request a call back without leaving a phone number that sends a text message to me. Beyond that, I just made some simple menus and added a we-no-speaky-spanish line at the end. Two of the menu options make calls out for talking to real people. One option does voicemail which gets transcribed and emailed to my ticketing system with the audio link.

Eventually I'd like to add some more features such as receiving text/email payment confirmation, a ringdown list of multiple techs in a predefined order, web-integrated call logs/dialing/sms, etc. Also eventually want to do a call me option... Visitor visits my web site, types in their number and clicks send, their phone rings and they answer, then it calls me and we're both connected as if they called me to begin with.

Does anyone else use Twilio or another IVR system? I'd be interested in what your experiences are or what you'd be interested in doing with it if you could build one.

Thanks guys!
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Old 07-25-2012, 01:26 PM
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I'm very familiar with IVR systems. In the late 90's, I worked for 6 years as a software engineer for a company that produced an IVR system (best company I ever worked for). Twilio is interesting in that it has a different pricing model which appears to charge on a per call basis, the IVR abilities are included in that cost. The product I helped develop was something that you purchased outright ($50K) and installed into your own phone system.

The Twilio system looks like a good fit for small business.

Last edited by strollin; 07-25-2012 at 01:28 PM.
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Old 07-25-2012, 05:48 PM
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Well last night I did a quick-and-dirty MySQL database to log all the info for the calls so at least they're recorded somewhere. Finally got it to work correctly and will definitely need to change it later, but at least I have something to record thing in the meantime.

I did notice, however, that there's a small difference between the documentation and the actual data being POSTed. At the end of a call, it's supposed to do a POST to the script with the same session ID and the outcome of the call (e.g. completed, missed, etc.). It does that, but one of the variables never come through. One of them was duration of the call in seconds.

I already record the date/time at the start of the call and the last time it was updated including the last POST so it's easier in PHP for me to deal with than seconds only. So, that's OK. Just a few differences I noticed.

Very interested in what Twilio has to offer and definitely going forward with it. Already got a long-lasting number and started forwarding everything through it so we'll see what happens. I really, really like the ability to do all of this in a language I'm very familiar with so the possibilities are endless. There's a very narrow learning curve for their XML variant TwiML so that's not a problem. =O)
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Old 07-25-2012, 10:15 PM
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There's nothing more annoying, and gets a hang-up quicker, than an IVR system. The only people that like them are the people that make them. It's almost certain death for a small business. You're not that big. Get a live person on the phone.
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Old 07-26-2012, 04:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by npinc View Post
There's nothing more annoying, and gets a hang-up quicker, than an IVR system. The only people that like them are the people that make them. It's almost certain death for a small business. You're not that big. Get a live person on the phone.
Really? I have one, and don't get that many calls, but I see the logs, so I know what calls are from people or telemarketers, or whatever. It's a GODSEND for eliminating those telemarketer calls!

There's a few small businesses around here that have them, and they're still around. I can see your side, however. Although I have the logs to see the calls which do or do not come through, I may try turning it off for a week or so to see the difference.

As for the original post - I have a simple menu system which is an option to play information audio files, with the first option being to get right through to a technician (me). I figured setting it up this way would be less irritating to callers, keep those automated calls away, and finally provide additional information that would be always available (such as directions).
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Old 07-26-2012, 04:06 AM
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It's personally been my experience that the people that complain the most abouts IVRs are three-fold. Either a) they have so many tree menus on it that they could build a forest, b) the features of the menu are placed to eliminate something a person should be speaking with you about, or c) the person calling always demands a person no matter what.

In cases of A and B, I'm not replacing the person and the menus are small and simple. The menu options give the person things they may want or need that can be accessed faster than a person can.

As far as C, it's been my personal experience that these are the clients that are more demanding in the first place, the ones that complain about everything and get irate if things don't go exactly as they want 24/7. These would be the problem clients that want to haggle on prices, nit pick what you are doing/not doing, breathe down your neck while you're working on their computer and call you as soon as you left because you "missed" something even if you confirmed all their needs before you left.

These types of clients, they can hang up on me. I'm good with that. These types of clients cost me more air time, more drive time and want everything for free and right now-right now. Those clients I usually drop after the first job is completed because they cost you more in every area in the long run.

My IVR will be just extending the capabilities of the online services to phone and SMS in a simple manner. The client will always be able to get a person from choosing any of a few options on the first menu. If they're that impatient with a 4-8 second delay on talking to a person, they're going to go ballistic if I'm backed up or can't drop everything I'm doing and instantaneously teleport to their front door.
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Old 07-26-2012, 04:54 AM
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Actually, you're wrong on all counts.

You forgot the key factor. Human beings are that. Human beings. They don't want to be treated like sheep or herded like cattle. They don't want impersonal service. They get that from the big companies. People want, crave, to speak to other people. They're not interested in your machine and frequently, if they can't press 0 right away and get a live person, hang up.

One of the things that we know led to our success was that there were always live people to answer the phones. There are phones in every office, two in the shop and one in reception with several lines, often ringing two or three at a time. There's someone there to answer them. Even after hours there's an emergency number if they need it. I actually watched several computer shops close down... And one of our services spiked through the roof...the number one complaint from customers? "They never answered their phone".

Your mileage, of course, may vary.
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Old 07-26-2012, 05:30 AM
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First, there's no reason to start a pissing match. I said from my personal experience, which is an opinion. Just because in your situation, in your area and with your clientele you had a different outcome doesn't mean that it doesn't work or wouldn't be benificial given different circumstances. Your personal experience -- and by definition, an opinion -- isn't fact and therefore I'm not being proven anything, especially proving me outright wrong.

My clients like how I do business and my years in business reflect that after almost 14 years. And I'm barely 30, so let's not try to bring up that I'm out of touch with technology due to age. I evaluate and adapt quickly and use technology to my advantage at a very small footprint financially which minimizes my overhead dramatically. My clients always know they can reach someone and when I've approached some of my clients about the idea they've said they like it.

And actually, this feedback provided the reason for the existence of the first two options for the IVR. My clients wanted quick, 24/7 access to their repair status and payments without using a computer. They also didn't want to talk to a person to "burden" them with a quick thing they could normally do online. I'm don't normally do things simply because it's "cool". I do them because they have a purpose, saves money, or makes me more of it.

As far as being "herded" or being impersonal, if it makes the "big" companies less money, they wouldn't be doing it either. Their accountants would be pissed at the sum of the revenue loss.
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Old 07-26-2012, 12:24 PM
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And that's fair. This isn't a pissing match. Like I said, your mileage may vary.

Now that you have a look at a different side, if you're noticing a drop or an increase in hangups, this conversation might help give some guidance on that. If not, well....Awesome!
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Old 07-26-2012, 01:53 PM
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My two cents - I think IVRs are REALLY cool.. I try to put one in for everything, and I have some cool twilio stuff hooked up too.. we have sms approvals and such for tickets

One fun thing I did was turn our CRM into a caller ID lookup source for our asterisk PBX, so when a customer calls our phones show their name - and it came from whatever we entered in the ticketing system..

BUT - I also agree that a live answer wins, we have our phones ring about 45 seconds before rolling over to an IVR, and for the repair shop we keep it super simple - "Ring us again if it's during business hours, or leave us a message"

I found people will pick up the phone and start dialing, the first live answer that says they are available will get more of the jobs - when you have direct competition coming at you from every side.

However - our MSP department relies on IVR heavily to slow down inbound phone calls - we don't want thousands of clients calling us and getting a live answer for every little thing. For them we have queues with 45 minute timeouts and breakout menus to let them hang up - it talks them through making a ticket online and such while they wait for us to free up

Keep up the good work on the IVR -
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