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The Plusnet CSC Telephone System

The Plusnet CSC Telephone System

The Plusnet CSC Telephone System

We’ve talked recently about moving to a “Network IVR” and we’ve told Force9 and Free-Online customers about a change to our main telephone number. I’d like to spend a bit of time telling you what an IVR actually is, how ours works and the changes we’re going to make. Wikipedia defines an IVR as an “Interactive voice response, which is a technology that allows a computer to detect voice and keypad inputs. IVR systems can respond with pre-recorded or dynamically generated audio to further direct users on how to proceed. IVR systems can be used to control almost any function where the interface can be broken down into a series of simple menu choices. In telecommunications IVR systems generally scale well to handle large call volumes”. More simply put, it’s a system that we and many other companies use to queue incoming phone calls and to pass them through to a member of staff. For us, it allows us to pass a sales call through to a member of our Sales Team or a technical call to be passed to our Technical Support Team, for example. The IVR system that we use is called the InterTel Axxess v.9 PBX. This is essentially a digital switchboard. Currently, when you call us, your call is routed straight through to our PBX (switchboard). From there you’re asked to select an option depending on what your call is about, where it is then passed through to a “Huntgroup” where it is answered accordingly by a member of our call centre staff. All of our non geographic (0845) go through to our geographic (01142) number, which in turn terminates on one of our ISDN lines and is subsequently passed to the PBX. Having a geographic number means that our customers can call us at a cheap, or even free rate, depending on their telephone package. What we are planning to do is to make our system more flexible. When you call us on our 0845 number this call will then be passed through to a relevant PBX by Telewest’s Call Manager system. From there it is passed through to the Huntgroup and the call is answered. The obvious main difference is the addition of the Call Manager system. This gives us the ability to route a call through to a different PBX depending on what type of call it is (such as to send a Madasafish call through to our PBX in Durban or a Plusnet call through to our PBX in Sheffield). It also gives us the ability to break down the proportion of calls to one PBX and send the remainder to another (such as sending 40% of Sales calls to Durban and the remaining 60% to Sheffield). This gives us a fantastic advantage should something unpredictable happen, like in the not so distant past Sheffield Floods. Should something like that happen again, we could choose to send a percentage of calls through to Durban, so that any increase in the amount of time you would need to wait for your calls to be answered would be minimised. Another advantage that this will give us is additional resiliency. There are various Nodes that feed into the Call Manager platform. Should all but one of these Nodes fail, the platform will continue to run, meaning that our customers will still be able to call us, unaware of any such issues. Also, should either of our PBXs fail, the calls would automatically pass through to the other one, meaning that the calls would still be answered. (See the following diagram): Telewest Call Manager However, this does present one immediate disadvantage. The Call Manager platform will only allow non-geographic telephone numbers which would mean that we would be unable to keep our 01142 telephone numbers. We are however, looking at implementing non geographic 03xx telephone numbers, which cost the same as calling a geographic one. We will be running our existing system alongside the new one for a time, so that our telephone numbers aren’t just turned off without warning, but we will need to turn them off eventually – no point in paying to use two systems when one is perfectly adequate. We will of course make sure that we give enough notice to all of our customers before doing so. Now we move onto how our own (and current) IVR platform is designed and believe me, it looks a lot more complicated than you might think. (See attached diagram of our Residential IVR): Our IVR works on a system of “Applications” and “Huntgroups”. An application is basically a step in the IVR journey, which contains “messages” and “timeouts”. Whilst the messages are fairly self-explanatory, the timeout passes you through to the next step on the IVR. For example, the “Welcome Application” (the very first step when you phone us) will first play a welcome message (eg: 111 in the attached diagram) followed by a manually entered message (300) if the call wait times are high. Then the timeout happens and you’re passed to the “Menu Application” where you’re asked to select from a number of options. A “Huntgroup” is simply what the call centre agents log into to take the actual calls once they have been passed through to the Huntgroup. They can log into one or many of these depending on the job that they are doing. I’ll give you a couple of examples. The first being pretty simple and the second a little more complex. General Plusnet Customer Service Query - The Welcome application will play messages 111 and potentially 300 before the timeout. - The Menu Application then plays message 114, asking you to choose from a series of Options. - You select Option 5 for Customer Services and Billing and your call is passed through to the correct Extension Application. - You are then played message 310 and 81 at which point your call is transferred to Huntgroup 2005 where a member of our Customer Services Team will answer your call. Plusnet Sales Query (at a busy time) - The Welcome Application will play messages 111 and potentially 300 before the timeout. - The Menu Application then plays message 114, asking you to choose from a series of options. - You’ll then select Option 2 for Sales, where you’re played message 75, which gives you an option to transfer to the main menu, before your call is transferred to Huntgroup 2000. - You’re then passed through to a further Application if the call isn’t answered within 60 seconds, which gives you an option to either leave a message or to wait for your call to be answered. - If you choose the latter, you are then passed to Huntgroup 2017 (Sales Overflow) where your call can be answered by a member of our Customer Services Team. So, I hope that gives you an idea of how things work currently and some of the improvements we’re going to make. I don’t expect you to sit there thinking “Ah, I’m now in the Menu Application” when you’re calling us, but I do hope that this gives you a good understanding of what happens when you’re giving us a ring! James

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45 Comments
Seasoned Pro
An improvement? Can I have a non-premium rate number that takes me straight to CSR pleaseHuh? I hope "voice recognition" isn't part of the plan - have you watched fonejacker (E4)?
As soon as 03 numbers start to really take off the mobile operators will complain they are losing money and will be allowed to rip us off as they do with 0845 now and lets face it your going to be ringing support because your broadband or line is down so chances are you'll be ringing from a mobile. I do second axus' comment about voice recognition too. 1. its insecure 2. Half the time it doesn't work as you have to speak slowly even on systems that don't do voice pattern recognition (you try ringing Lloyds TSB)
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@ Axisofevil - We've currently no plans to implement voice recognition & there is a non premium rate number available (and on the bottom of every page on our website). @ Techguy - I don't see a massive takeup on 03xx numbers, but we'll wait and see. I wouldn't expect mobile operators to be totally up in arms. I'd expect the majority of their call charges to come from mobiles.
Dabbler
Struggling to see why PNT can't host their own pictures (see http://www.binarybob.plus.com/Jameseh/ivrmap2.jpg etc)?! Nice write up though James ;-)
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I think that's force of habit more than anything else Smiley
Grafter
"such as sending 40% of Sales calls to Durban and the remaining 60% to Sheffield" I thought this is what was *not* supposed to be happening, or so was mentioned at the open day... Whereas I see the benefits of the use for DR, day to day should not be operated in this way IMHO
Grafter
But all in all, good read (accidentally hit enter)- brings me back to the days of hunt groups (1.5 years ago!) although I didnt know you guys were TW for calls?
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@McGurka - I think you may have missed a previous announcement we made regarding that very topic. Feel free to have a read here: http://community.plus.net/blog/2008/09/29/customer-support-centre-update/
Interested
Thanks for info James - very well written. "The Call Manager platform will only allow non-geographic telephone numbers..." Really? How so? If that really is the case, then I will be most disappointed if PN don't introduce an 03 replacement.
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@4candles - The information that I've been given tells me that it's not possible to use Georgraphic numbers on the call manager platform. As I mentioned in the blog, we're currently looking into the possibility of using 03xx numbers and will keep all customers informed as to our decision. We'll make sure that whichever option we choose, there'll be plenty of notice.
Grafter
ahh yes! I stand corrected James! Smiley
Grafter
When you are looking at the possibility of 03xx numbers, you might also like to look at the possibility of getting the PlusNet VoIP system to connect them as well. At present 03xx numbers are not available! But why not be adventurous and have a VoIP presence directly? Why not something like sip:435763@sip.plus.net (== sip:helpme@sip.plus.net)?
Grafter
Pleae don't switch off the 01 number before you implement the 03 one. I've never had to call support in (I think) a year with Plus.net but it's always nice to know I can do so if I need to without being ripped off on an 084/087 number (esp. from mobiles).
Grafter
Er but we have to pay for for 0845 numbers on plusnet home phone. Simple solution, include 0845 and 0870 numbers just like er.... oh yes, BT plusnet's parent company. Tut tut PN, sounds like a ruse to make money.
you are part of BT.. BT now give free 084X and 087X numbers, surely PLUS can?
re Plus Net News February 2009,. The reason for the continuing (and apparently increasing) use of the the +net geographical number (0114) is that use of it is included in call packages on both landline and mobile services whereas 0845 is not. Please, please do not force us to use 0845 as these are unnecessarily costly. If your CSC telephone system is unable to handle geographical numbers it has been poorly specified and should not have been purchased by Plus Net. You will lose customer satisfaction by hiding access to the geographical number. Say NO to 0845.
Aspiring Pro
So calls to your 0114 number have increased. So shall we find out why and see if there is something to learn. NO, lets just put a stop to it. Is this customer service - I think not. I notice that James says in an earlier answer that the 0114 number is on the bottom of every page. That was true but now its to be only on the index page. How long will it stay there I wonder? I hate queuing systems and I hate premium rate numbers. Put together they are a rip off.
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NO NO NO! I will NOT use 0845 to call you unless you provide free 0845 calls like BT, and if you remove the 0114 number I'll hunt for an ISP who does not rip me off like this! And NO! I don't want to talk to a machine so don't even THINK about forcing me to use voice repetition. I will either remain silent till a human appears, or switch ISP. Been very happy with Plusnet so far but this IS NOT ON!!!
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Hmmm. Are you really sure that CM can't be done using a normal 01 number? I think someone at BT is feeding you a little porky. All CM systems will work from ANY type of number. After all, a number is just a number, and with translation any number can be used. I do hope this has nothing to do with your new boss running ideas up the flagpole and seeing if they get off the back burner to exceed our expectations!!! Keith
Hi James. I have had to use support and always use 0114 number as I have a 24/7 free call package with Plusnet. I avoid ringing ANY 084** numbers because of this. I make extensive use of the website '|Say no to 08' with great effect. As a previous reply says Dont switch off the 0114 until there is a free alternative.
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"there is a non premium rate number available (and on the bottom of every page on our website)." From the latest newsletter: "to encourage use of the 0845 number for general enquiries we are removing the 0114 number from the main page footer and also the 'how to contact us' section of the website." The encouragement ... is because the 0114 number can't go through the IVR and thus "can lead to longer wait times"; some of us are willing to accept that to avoid having to pay for an 0845 number. As to david drage's question about free 084x numbers, I saw a recent PN answer saying they weren't going to: surely they can make an exception in the case of their own support line?!?
Just browsing
Any mention of an 0845 number always gets people's backs up as we all know that it's just another form of income generator! If we've no option but to use it then in order to keep our call costs down why not have a "call back facility" where the person we've contacted calls us back straight away?
Ok I get free landline calls with my phone package but to discuss failures with this I must pay for the call!!!!!! Aren,t you making enough profit?
Browser
I recently changed to PN to get away from an ISP with a rip-off practices, including their non-geographic help-line number. I also changed because the PN call centre was UK based. I regard these two items as essential measures of customer service quality. If PN go ahead by changing either or both of these items, I can see no reason to continue to be a customer, and will seek once again a non-rip-off ISP.
Arc
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Whilst many companies will use such a service to make extra money, this is not always true. Introducing a non-geographic number is actually in your own interests as it allows many features to be built-in to enable re-routing of calls via alternative circuits and locations, avoiding an engaged tone or fault message. I'm certain that many of the people complaining about the suggested removal of the geographic number (0114) would also be very quick to complain if they called the number and a fault existed that prevented their call from being connected - the very type of problem, in fact, that would be entirely transparent if they had called the non-geographic number with all it's intelligence. 03xx is the best move at the moment, and their existence is based on an Ofcom ruling that they MUST be charged at the same rate as 01xx and 02xx numbers, making them very flexible (using the non-geograhic and intelligent network elements), whilst also making them 'safe' for consumers. It's not always an easy choice for a business to make, when selecting the best method for delivering their calls to suite both the business and the customer. Q>Plusnet could go freefone / 0800 that would solve it all wouldn't it? A>No it wouldn't. It would cost them more, but who cares?? That's their problem isn't it? Well yes and no. It would cost them more, so in turn, it would cost YOU more. Do you want it right or do you want it cheap? In addition however, whilst the majority of callers would be able to call free, most mobiles charge for freefone calls - an absolute disgrace in itself! There are some Intelligent Network Operators who do or can provide a non-geographic, geographic number however, so you could potentially have an 0114 number deliver directly to the IN rather than your own PBX. This means the charging issue disappears (although perhaps not for plusnet) and the benefits of the network intelligence are still provided. So, about these menus then. "I don't want to speak / choose from a machine, I just want to speak to someone". Again, do you want it right, or do you want it quick? Personally I prefer to choose options than be transferred by an operator as long as the menu is adequately designed. I know I'll get the right department if I choose myself and you can't always say that about being manually transferred. Separate direct numbers are not the answer either, as inevitably people don't choose the right number to call and often need to be transferred from one team to another. The consumer is very demanding, and is not always right. Fair play to James for even sharing this with you.
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I think the least PN should do is ensure that WHATEVER number they provide it's FREE ( not charged at the same rate as a national call) for all their telephone package customers including Madasafish.
Grafter
So last November PN were 'looking at implementing non geographic 03xx telephone numbers'. Have you found them yet PN? James also states in his original blog: 'This gives us a fantastic advantage'. As far as I can see one advantage is that PN makes a profit from this rip off. Nothing annoys me more than 08xx rip off codes, especially when it is to ring a company who may well be at fault and therefore responsible for the call having to be made. I think this is an outrageous step and would encourage as many as possible to join in and complain. If this gives PN a 'fantastic advantage' then they should at least be willing to continue providing 'free' access.
Plusnet Staff
Thanks everyone for your feedback. I know that this is an important issue for many of you and it's one that we've wanted to get right. We're taking a measured approach in not simply removing the number from service and we are looking at our options about how we provide our telephone support. Let me assure you that the reason we want our customers to use 0845 is NOT about revenue generation (we make little on our support calls); rather it's about making sure our call centre is efficiently processing the volumes of calls we experience.
Arc
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It must be remembered that whichever way it's implemented, someone loses out. There is no absolute win/win here, so it's about minimising adverse affect. Whilst the cost of the calls can be influenced to a degree by going one way or another, they cannot set the prices of the many telcos used to contact them - the freefone example above being a prime example. In our country at least, that's a failing on the part of Ofcom, and exploitation on the part of the telcos.
Last year I had problems with my phone line which required me to make many phone calls to PN support via my mobile, if these were at the 0845 rate it would have cost me a small fortune. You can use all the excuses in the world and make all the claims about not making money, but this costs your customers money and causes aggrivation. Removing the geographic telephone number is a step back in customer service and I would urge you to seriously reconsider.
I tell my friends about what I feel are the advantages of Plusnet i.e. I can phone free on a geographic number and the call is answered in Sheffield not India or anywhere else where neither caller can properly understand the other. If this does not continue to be the case then I will find somewhere that does - and I don't want to as have had really good service whenever I have had call to phone in. I have rarely had to wait long to be answered - and if there is a larger volume of calls coming in then analysis should be made of WHY that is so and can that be solved.
It would be very good if we could use Skype to contact you. This is a very popular system and works vey well.
Newbie
I've only ever had to call the helpdesk when my broadband is DOWN. In this case, my VOiP won't be working either and there is a more than minimal chance the the whole phone line is having problems. So I will VERY LIKELY be using my mobile phone with it's x,000 "free" minutes. Free that is if I'm using 01/02 or 07 (mobile) numbers. Please make sure that any replacement number does not result in unnecessary mobile charges please. Regards, Julian.
Newbie
Support the comments about NGNs, just do not call them from here unless I am unable to find a geographic alternative. Please sort the 03xx number before pushing towards the NGN.
Grafter
Bit by bit, PlusNet have been whittling away at the advantages they had over other ISPs, and here goes another. The ticket system is laborious, and open to misunderstanding that can be instantly detected in the course of a phone conversation. So phone has VERY important place in the armoury of a responsive, customer focussed ISP. Unless telephone calls are to be a profit centre in their own right (such as the system adopted by Freeserve and its heirs and successors) the PlusNet should be adopting techniques that do not impose excessive and avoidable charges on the caller. Surely the first choice should be a VoIP provision. After all, PlusNet do offer a VoIP service! Where is the VoIP number for Customer Service? Then numbers that are available on "included minutes" tariffs, such as 03xx numbers if there is a genuine technical need for a number translation service, then numbers that do not involve revenue shares, then numbers that involve revenue share but for which alternatives are shown on www.saynoto0870.com, then the genuine revenue share rip-offs. PlusNet appear to have chosen the last option, for not everyone uses the BT options that give access to a restricted range of 0845 calls as included minutes. IF this PlusNet proposal goes through, then they should climb down from any high moral ground they think that they currently occupy!
Grafter
Further to my comment immediately above, it seems that PlusNet is adopting the British Rail solution to too many people using a service: Jack the prices up so that people choose not to use it. Short term it might seem advantageous to reduce the calls to Customer Service like this, but as customer start to bottle up matters that previously were resolved by an included minutes call to Sheffield, then there will be an adverse mindset developing that will surprise PlusNet when it surfaces and that will be nigh on impossible to counteract. Surely you cannot have thought this one through in the slightest, let alone properly!
Hmm. just a thought, but have you carried out any mystery shopper phone calls yourselves recently? I phoned the 0845 number today and selected the option for technical support and a russian-sounding staff member gave me a 0114 number to call where, he assured me, "a fully trained agent" would be waiting to answer my query. (I tried - there wasn't_ Maybe your internal procedures need firming-up, especially given your explanation of the Call Management system which indicates that he should have been able to patch me through to a different member of staff.
Grafter
Ah, now we can see why this is happening! BT profits crash An obvious call for increased contribution from the subsidiaries.
Grafter
@__chris__ - we have recently introduced mystery shopping within our 2 CSCs to further build on the existing quality checks that we already do on a daily basis, namely call recording and ticket response QOS. However Im sorry that your experiences yesterday werent to the standard we would strive for and you would rightly hope for. In dialling the 0845 number your presented with the same IVR options as dialling the geographical number. In selecting the right options through the IVR you will then be directed to agents who should have the skills to help you. If for some reason that didnt happen sorry, but they should have certainly been able to transfer you to the right people if that hadnt happened. Is your problem resolved now?
Grafter
On February 11th, 2009 at 4:30 pm, Peter Jackson said: "... We're taking a measured approach in not simply removing the number from service and we are looking at our options about how we provide our telephone support. Let me assure you that the reason we want our customers to use 0845 is NOT about revenue generation (we make little on our support calls); rather it's about making sure our call centre is efficiently processing the volumes of calls we experience." Just in case you were not aware, there are two 03xxx phone numbers specifically reserved for PlusNet that may not be issued to anyone else. they correspond to the existing 0845x numbers. Accordingly Customer Support becomes 0345 140 0200 and the Broadband Faults Helpline becomes 0345 140 0080. What could be simpler? You get all the advantages of the number translation system (if that is what you really want) and a guarantee that there is no revenue share (so no one can accuse you of it). At present, it seems to me that revenue share is a prime motivator in your decisions, despite your denials, because there are technical solutions to your problems that do not involve revenue share, and you will not take them.
First, thanks for a full and detailed explanation of what is happening. Second, One of the reasons for (me) staying with Plusnet has been 'local' geographic calls - and the fact that I speak to a person in the UK about whatever problem - or request- that I have in the UK ! Clearly Plusnet can choose to change this - especially if you are pressurised / owned by BT... ... however I have a choice too, and I can choose to find another ISP ! Please keep your identity as a customer focussed ISP, and do implement 03xx numbers before removing the 0114xx.
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The use of 0845 is barred on my networks as they are not available on my free tariffs. I note that you do not publish the costs of calling 0845 codes which I argue is theft by deception. I urge all users to boycott companies who use the 0844, 0845, 0870 and 0875 dialing codes.
I would like to add my comments to those above. 0845 numbers generate money for the company to which you are calling and the background number will still be a normal 01/02 number, we just won't see it. This is just another way to make money out of us. I agree with the people who say that we have the choice to leave Plus and I will be making inquiries to discover which ones offer the best service. I have been with Plus since they were a tiny little outlet and I wanted to support them for that very reason. They don't care about us anymore and are only interested in getting money from us. In some respects I would rather go to someone like TalkTalk, at least they admit they are only in it for the money. David
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PN have said they won't be offering "free" 0845/0870 numbers unlike BT: fair enough, that's a corporate decision, though unwelcome. However, there is already some concession (to PN 'phone customers) when calling another PN customer - I forget the details; surely, if an 0845 number is technically necessary, they could make their charging system exclude that particular number (or range of numbers) from those for which it charges. (I still don't _believe_ that there is any technical reason for an 0845 being necessary - as another has said, other companies supply an 01 number that works via translation, routing, and so on systems.)
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