Call Center in the Philippines

bittermike

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#1
Hello,

I have been an IT guy in San Francisco California for more then 20 years and 18 months ago I began a plan to open a call center in the Philippines. At that time I had heard about asterisk and VOIP but had no experience with Asterisk and very little experience with VOIP which consisted of a test with a very early cisco voip switch.

18 months ago I calculated that I would need at least $250,000.00 USD in the first year to get started. In fact I received one proposal for a toshiba phone system for the call center alone that was $225,000.00 USD. The lowest proposal was $75,000.00 for a IPItomy/Asterisk system. Add to that Private lines between San Francisco and manila, Rack space, engineers, installers, phone system for the office in San Francisco and on and on and on, and you see how one could easily spend a few hundred thousand dollars very quickly.

If one is to go that route it is very hard to start small and ramp up, you need buy in anticipation for worst case in 2 to five years because you can not buy a new toshiba system every time you reach another growth spurt. You can not engineer and add private lines quickly. So you almost buy the whole pig in the beginning or pay even more later to make up for what you should have bought at the start.

Coincidentally at this same time the economy in the US was tanking and along with it my funding. Most of the seed money was coming from investors. By this time I am a year into this plan and have invested my own time and money traveling to the Philippines and working on the technology and network along with sales and marketing.

So it was either walk away call it a learning experience or find another way to reach my goal. As I said above I have been an IT guy for about 20 years. I have always been an independent and a few of my customer have been with me all that time. I had sold many of my customers my call center and outsourced back office services already and many of them were anxious to start saving money using my services. One of my customers is a company that has been manufacturing Point of Sales systems specifically for pizza stores for over 20 years and we had a tentative deal to bring 20 to 100 Domino's pizza stores to my call center in the Philippines.

Sometimes the stars align and you get lucky, Just about this time I met a person who had a small BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) company in the Philippines mostly used for his own California Real Estate company. During the housing sales boom here he had about 150 realtors working for him and lots of the work for them was being done in the Philippines. So I need a cheap way to get up and running and he has this mostly empty BPO.

He has been running this business a few years. When he started he was using magic jack in the Philippines. As you can imagine it was difficult at best and eventually he sent a bunch of vonage adapters over and they ran that way for a long time.

As some point I began to do serious research into Asterisk and one night my research landed me in an online Philippines Asterisk group. I went through many many postings and found the few people who seemed to know the most and I send 5 of them emails asking them to contact me to answer some questions for me. Only one answered me. We chatted for a time in Yahoo Instant Messenger and I met him in Manila a short time after that.

The stars align again and he supports a call center in Manila for a Canadian VOIP provider and had actually built that call centers network and technology. His participation at that company had diminished to a support roll so he was very interested in a new project.

We started using Trixbox because that was what he was familiar with. Trixbox was working well for us but I was worried about the fact that they had just gone commercial and while it is a very good project as an IT guy it seemed pretty Kludgy to me. There were many things I wanted from Trixbox and I did not see the new commercial company putting much into the open project.

Then I found Elastix. While Elastix is not the end all be all of phone systems I believe it is well on it's way to becoming a contender to that title.

We have a customer that has 6 pizza stores in the San Francisco area. They had agreed to send us all their over flow. Once their agents are all busy the next calls over flow to us. They had a Nortel system with call center packages that they paid $65,000.00 USD for several years prior. They also have a PRI/T1 from ATT that carries all their inbound 800 traffic.

I spent very long time thinking about how we were going get all their over flow from their call center to mine. The plan was to call ATT and have them busy call forward the PRI. That means that if the ATT switch cannot fine an open trunk it send the call to another number. Well, the PRI has 24 channels and the the number of agents in San Francisco varies. So in order for this to work someone needs to busy out lines to match the number of agents. This scenario got worse the longer we talked about it...

The best way to do this is to install an elastix box in the San Francisco call center and connect to Manila via IAX2 trunks. Then the phones in manila just seem like local extensions. I have never done this but I have read that there are many people who have and the theory seems grounded in fact. This means that I need to convince the customer that they need to toss their tried and true Nortel phone system for a system that might or might not work and there are a hundred ways this can go bad.

I don't know how to build a PBX with a PRI or how to configure it and I need a solution fast. I go to google and it doesn't seem easy to get this done. Then, the stars align again and somehow, I can't remember how, but I end up on the phone with Adam H. at ( Bullseye Networks.) He was like.. don't worry just send me 300.00 and plug it in and turn it on... No worries, Echo what?? we got no echos... True to his word I build a new box with an OpenVOX PRI card and turn it on and just like that I have 24 pretty pink lights in my hardware panel.

The Call Center in San Francisco is only closed for a few hours each day, they close at 5:00 AM and open again at 9:00 AM. So my time to swap out the systems is very limited. Although the PRI looks like it is working I have no way to test it without the PRI at the call center. In order to test and configure it I need to bring the nortel system down.

So installation day is here. I have triple checked everything I can and feel pretty sure that the things I can configure have been configured properly. 6:00 AM and I have three hours to get the call center up and running. That means the phone system, the network which I need to change dramatically to connect to Manila, All of the extensions, and the PRI.

I pull the PRI from the Nortel, plug it into the Elastix box and power it up. Waiting... waiting... the system comes up and my 24 pink lights have become 24 green lights!! meaning that the PRI card in elastix sees the PRI YEA!!! pick up my cell phone call the 800 number and.... busy signal. Not good. There are about 12 layers of technology between the caller and a phone in the call center. Could be a hundred things. I poke around awhile trying to make sure the signaling between elastix and the telephone company is correct. I even call ATT to make sure they can see my equipment. Everything between elastix and the telephone company seems to be ok so it is a configuration problem or a bad PRI card.

So I call Adam H at Bullseye Networks and he says... "I am sorry I am on my way out the door to go hunting there is nothing I can do to help you now. Call this guy, Scott Holtzman, He knows this stuff. Scott could have raped me at this point. He knew I was under the gun and need him at that point. He logged into my PBX and 10 minutes later he called me on the 800 number. I had made a mistake on my inbound routes. The system was up and running with time to spare.

One of the problems that comes with running a pizza call center is that the customers are always calling to say "... You got my order wrong". Before it was always a he said she said fight. Now we record all the calls and can listen to them immediately. In the past this was just a dream.

I have several other elastix success stories but I'll only share one more with you.

Customer is a small package delivery company, like fedex only smaller. The three owners do dispatch and are open 24/7. That means that the owners essentially live at the dispatch center. They have been forwarding calls to their cell phones at night so they can go home but they have so many calls that this untenable at best. Additionally they are growing at a tremendous rate and want to use my call center in Manila to do dispatch.

Easy enough. Remove their analog PBX and install elastix box. Configure IP based phones for them to take home. These phones connect to the office over the internet and just seem like local extensions. The PBX connects to manila just like the pizza pbx and we would be able to take over dispatch and customer service. Everything is installed and works like a charm. The remote extensions in the owner's homes work flawlessly and they were really amazed that they could just plug it in and it worked, just like that.

Ok, one more. My business partner is in manila for a week. He has a very busy business in San Francisco and he is getting about a million calls a day on his California Verizon cell phone at about $2.00 USD per minute. He happens to have an Apple ITouch with him. NOT an IPhone, an ITouch MP3 player. The ITouch can connect to the internet via WIFI anywhere in the like Starbucks in Manila. So I install some FREE software in the ITouch to make it a SIP phone and all the call to his office phone in San Francisco ring his ITouch in Manila. FOR FREE.

Thank you elastix development team!!

Thank you elastix community (especially Dicko)!!!
 

jessie

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#2
Hi Bittermike,

Interesting story. Currently I am using Elastix as Corporate telephone system. Our main office is in New Zealand and satellite office here in Philippines. Most of the time I played around Elastix for some interesting features like voicemail to text and elastix to skype interconnection (this are my successful stories). But to use Elastix for full featured call center is what I always want to try. Things that frustrate me is the call center feature that until now I can't make it work. So, I was wondering how'd you used the Elastix for your call center. The features I am trying to achieve is: an agent have a login ID. this login ID is his/her extension number. Thus if this agent logs in to any extension with his/her ID he still can receive a call. For instance, my login ID is 1000 and I was in different booth, when i login and somebody call 1000, I get the call.

I hope to hear from you. Please add my yahoo messenger. jessie_mabanglo@yahoo.com

Regards,
Jessie
 

bittermike

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#3
Thank you for your response...

As i said in my post, I am not an Elastix expert. I poked around a little and I think you can do this with roaming profiles but I cannot fond any instructions on how to do it.

The actual call center service in in elastix is only working at about 50% of prime. We can not find a way to log agents in over an IAX2 trunk, so we have 2 separate sets of reports each day, one for California and one for Manila. I hope this gets resolved soon.

added ka na sa ym ko..

Thanks! and Happy New Years!
 

vmiro

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#4
Very nice experience.
Can you tell me what server did you use with that Openvox PRI card?

Thanks ;)
mIRO
 

bittermike

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#5
Hi,

Thanks for your response.

It is a Dell Optiplex Server. A very low cost dell server.
 

hdplanco

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#6
Hi Sir Im a newbie in Elastix PBX sir what is the brand|Type of card that you use in order to have your PBX up and running?

im using a system x3400 IBM server for my installation but i am still looking for a card that will work with Elastix. can you give me an idea what to buy? and also where to buy that card?

Thanks in advance =)

btw here is my YM: jinxserver
 

moss_z06

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#7
To the original poster. I am interested to know what kind of connectivity you utilized to connect California to the Philippines PBX and if you are experiencing any sort of latency/call quality problems.
 

bittermike

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#8
OpenVOX cards.
 

mikedmr

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#9
Hello bittermike. I have some questions regarding this successful venture of yours. Specially the way you solved the connection between sites. Can i contact you sir? If ok, can you add my YM, mikedmr@yahoo.com. Thank you very much.

Mike
 

bittermike

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#10
thank you for your reply. i prefer to exchange ideas here in the forums. You never know what will help someone else.

feel free to ask any questions here. If i don't know the answer someone else will.
 

fmvillares

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#11
excellent but remember one thing...elastix is only the packager and the guys could make the nice integration tools and added value ones...but under the hood the real horse power is asterisk PBX from digium and the config is done by freepbx from philippe lindheimer...we thank elastix a lot but dont forget the ones that make elastix exists at all..
 

haamed

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#12
nice experience,
 

tsinelas30

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#13
Any update on this?
 

bittermike

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#14
yes, everything is going fine. I have opened my second call center in Quezon City.
 

tsinelas30

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#15
Wow thats great.. How many ITs do you have?
 

sarwar@zamirtelecom.com

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#16
Hi everyone, I need to know whether a 4 port PRI card can be used with Elastix or not, i.e., OpenVox D430E 4 Port PCI Express ISDN PRI Card would work with Elastix? What is the maximum SIP concurrent call capacity for Elastix server? or is it Hardware dependent?

Kind regards,

Sarwar.
 

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