Tag Archives: Software Articles

A Protocol Droid for Your Call Center

Startel contact center software that delivers happiness to your customers

A Guest Editorial

By Vince Vitale

Did you ever think about the implications if “goldenrod” hadn’t been programming binary load lifters and didn’t know a lick of Bocce? It probably would have been a deal breaker for Uncle Owen and those two droids would have never made it into the hands of the galaxy’s original favorite lightsaber-wielding protagonist.

You see, even long ago and far, far away, they understood the importance of having software interface with other software. Think about how convenient it is for the rebels when R2D2 simply interfaces with the Death Star and turns off “all the trash compactors on the detention level.” Nobody knows how he did it. Although I might venture to guess he just pasted some Java Script and boom… it just worked.

From long ago and far, far away, to right here and right now…

In today’s business environment, contact management software must be interactive to be successful. You and the software you use are expected to take your customers’ clients on a personalized journey to enhance their experience ultimately leading to more interactions and sales.

That interaction cannot be limited to one software company’s users; it must also extend to other platforms as well. So, the amount of data your contact center is required to record and process increases every day, and the need for APIs is becoming increasingly prevalent.

An API integration allows connection between two or more applications, via their APIs, and allows those systems to exchange data. The acronym stands for Application Programming Interface.  

Application refers to almost any software. Programming is the common language between applications. Interface can be considered a connection agreement between two applications which defines how the two communicate using requests and responses. 

It’s important to note however that an API isn’t the same as a user interface, or UI, which is the front-end interface layered on top of software that lets you give applications various commands to get it to do what you want. UIs are what humans use to interact with software; APIs are what machines use.

We know space odysseys aren’t everyone’s cup of adventure tea so let’s think of it in another way, maybe something food related will help. Let’s try imagining a waiter in a restaurant or, better yet, a barkeep in a Pirate Tavern.

The barkeep provides the menu with a description of each item that the sailors can order from. When the sailors specify what menu items they want, the barkeep relays the order to the tavern chef who prepares the items, and then the barkeep retrieves those items and delivers them to the sailors.

The sailors (of course) don’t know how to read or write, so they can’t prepare their own ticket. The barkeep doesn’t know how the chef prepares the food, and she doesn’t really need to because her job is to put the order in and bring it to the customers.

That’s how an API, like Startel CMC with RestAPI works. You basically tell it to interact with other applications, and it does the talking for you. All while keeping the scallywags and bad actors at bay.  

Just like the barkeep holding a menu at our pirate tavern, an API lists a bunch of functions that developers can use, along with a description of what they do. The developer doesn’t necessarily need to know how these functions work behind-the-scenes, because the API will figure that out for them. 

Check out this video a visual take on this comparison and a more detailed explanation.

You May Already Be Quite Familiar with APIs and Not Even Know It

In this way, APIs enable two software components to communicate with each other using a pre-defined set of definitions and protocols. For example, how does the sports app on your phone know the score of all the big games at the same time?

Well, that sports association’s software system contains data that can be shared directly with that app. The sports app on your phone is connected to hundreds of sports affiliations’ websites and software systems via APIs. Thus, you can see the scores in real-time on your phone.

Why Is an API an Important Feature

Eating out certainly makes dinner easier than sourcing ingredients, cooking them, and cleaning up after yourself. In the same way, it’s much easier for application developers to create apps to display sports scores when real-time data about the game is made available to them through an API.

The proper commands in an API will allow you to instruct any other program you use to view, pull, and update your data. APIs in effect, enable contact center owners to grow their businesses and be more efficient by automating processes to save time and money.

Here Is a Short List of Benefits to Your Call Center

1. Integration: APIs can allow your contact center to easily embed data from many connected websites, software, and application interfaces. API integration can automate and connect contact center processes so that data is constantly updated, and relationships are well maintained while interfaces are closely monitored. Interface integration helps save time accessing valuable organizational data, which can further increase your contact center’s overall productivity.

2. Personalization: Contact centers can use software with an API to personalize and customize their content and services. API tools can use pre-stored visitor data to import consumer details in custom applications and content automatically. 

Eighty percent of customers are more likely to purchase a product or service from a brand that offers personalized experiences. This is something a contact center owner can use when pitching the value of their call answering business. By using API interfaces to personalize your services and content, you can increase your contact center’s overall revenue.

3. Flexibility: As we mentioned, our modern business climate continues to evolve and the amount of data that contact centers are required to manage effectively is increasing exponentially. API network architecture can help consolidate systems to create an effective communication network in which data can easily be shared throughout the organization. API-focused platforms can import and export data so efficiently that it eliminates other software management systems’ need to maintain data records.

4. Automation: Application Programming Interfaces can perform certain repetitive, time-consuming agent processes that would’ve otherwise been performed manually. This reduces the chance of human error and frees up your agents’ valuable time. Eventually, this will consequently improve your contact center’s efficiency, productivity, and profit.

Contact Centers Are Covered with Startel CMC RestAPI 

The Startel CMC RestAPI allows custom designed software to request information directly and in real time from your CMC database. Startel’s CMC RestAPI allows you or your customer to create custom applications to meet specialized needs.

Do your customers want to automate pulling information into their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software? Do you want to have your own reporting tools, designed by you and your staff? Do you have great ideas for a mobile app for your business? This tool is the first step toward all of that.

Use the CMC RestAPI to customize dashboards that suit your site’s specific needs, develop web-based applications for analyzing and monitoring staffing levels, and build your own tools for managing on-call calendars.

Improved Agent Efficiencies

Startel’s CMC RESTful APIs can improve your agent efficiencies by taking the data they collect and automatically synchronizing it into other applications for the client rather than training your agent on new software so they can manually re-enter that information. 

Agents no longer have to make a bunch of quick decisions in real-time to ensure individual messages end up where they should be, RESTful APIs allow system administrators and client account programmers to make deliberate, focused decisions to redirect the flow of data en masse according to the client’s request.

Powerful Integration

Startel’s API is integrated with Zapier. Zapier empowers you to automate your work across 5,000 plus apps so you can move forward, faster. Zapier allows you to create from one to one hundred step automated workflows. It’s a Do-It-Yourself solution that does not require expensive development with programmers.

Startel Contact Center Solutions That Bring Happiness to Your Customers

Startel Contact Center Solutions use smarter technology, stronger partners, and expert guidance to bring your contact center’s production and customer satisfaction to the next level.

Since its founding in 1980, Startel has established a loyal customer base from a variety of industries, including contact centers, education, government, healthcare, insurance, telephone answering service and utilities.

Today, Startel has customers in forty-three states across the United States as well as Canada, Central America, New Zealand, and Switzerland.

Vince Vitale is the director of marketing for Startel. Startel customers depend on Startel’s solutions and services to increase business efficiencies, identify performance opportunities, and deliver quick, secure, and accurate communication 24/7 x 365. For more information give them a call at 800-STARTEL or schedule a demo of the Startel CMC.

Top 5 Call Center Software Must-Have Features in 2021

Amtelco Cloud-Based Platform Solution

By April Forer

Call centers face a variety of challenges in today’s ever-changing environment. When it’s time to upgrade your call center software, the selection process can be overwhelming.

Just like buying a vehicle, there are a variety of features available. It’s imperative to consider what features will meet your business needs both now and in the future. The following five features keep your call center operating efficiently and create a better customer experience.

1. Virtual Multi-Channel Platform

Unify communications with a multi-channel ACD capable of processing inbound phone calls, SMS text messages, email messages, social media activity, and web and mobile applications to drive customer engagement. Forty-nine percent of consumers, on average, use three to five different communication channels to contact customer service. 

With the increase of hiring work from home employees—with the retention rate for at-home agents at 80 percent versus 25 percent for in-house—browser-based software is a convenient solution for work from home agents. Agents can connect from any desktop computer or laptop and work anywhere they have an internet connection. 

2. Reporting and Call Recording

If you are not monitoring reporting and analytics data, you are missing opportunities to optimize your call center’s performance. Monitor agents’ interactions with callers, traffic patterns, agent abandons, and system abandons. 

Charts and tables help identify possible performance issues. Historical and live data provides valuable information to set goals and improve efficiency. 

Call recordings help evaluate agent performance. And monitoring agents’ calls ensures they comply with standards. This helps with training and to improve customer interactions.

3. Call Scripting

A customizable and intuitive scripting feature will help decrease errors in agent call handling and reduce training time. With protocols integrated into navigation scripts, when agents fill in a caller’s response, the script proceeds to the next appropriate question. 

Set specific fields in the message script as required so that agents can’t skip them. Color-coding helps agents identify call types so they can handle calls more quickly.

4. Skills-Based Call Routing

Use skills-based call routing to ensure efficient call-handling and first call resolution. This can route calls to the agent most qualified to handle the call versus waiting for the next available agent. 

Configure priority levels so the system distributes each type of call to the most qualified agent.

5. Artificial Intelligence

As technology continues to evolve, the prevalence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in call center technology grows. AI enhances a caller’s experience by determining the best way to route calls based on prior call history. 

Using a call’s automatic number identification (ANI), AI can determine the best agent to receive that call based on several factors, such as which agent is the most qualified to handle the call. The ANI can match previous call interactions and provide call history.

Return on Investment

Your call center software plays a critical role in operating a successful business. When it comes to the bottom-line, choosing the right features will streamline operations and help your business with the challenges it faces now and into the future. 

Amtelco logo

April Forer is the marketing specialist for Amtelco. Amtelco is a leading provider of innovative software solutions designed for call centers, contact centers, and enterprise businesses of all sizes. 

Restoring Trust in Calling Information Is Key for Maximizing Call and Text-Answer Rates

By Michael O’Brien

Americans were inundated with more than 58 billion illegal robocalls in 2019, plus 4.5 billion spam text messages. Consumers are so fed up that when they see a call from an unfamiliar or unidentified number, they let it drop into voicemail 76 percent of the time. 

Regulators and law enforcement are fighting back. For example, the FCC levied a record-setting 225 million dollars fine on Rising Eagle, a Texas-based telemarketer, for making over one billion spoofed robocalls in 2019. The same year, Iosif Florea received a thirty-two-month sentence in federal prison for an SMS phishing (“smishing”) scam that targeted nearly 500,000 people in Alabama. Florea’s messages appeared to come from the Alabama State Employees Credit Union (ASECU) and asked recipients to verify account information.

As voice service providers, regulators, analytics engines, vendors, and other members of the telecom ecosystem battle back against illegal robocallers and SMS fraudsters, legitimate contact centers find themselves caught in the crossfire. For example, many voice service providers use analytics engines, which look for high volumes of calls originating from one source, to provide guidance about call treatment. Another example is smartphone apps that screen calls. Sometimes these apps and engines mistakenly label calls from legitimate call centers as spam. Some industry stakeholders say that outbound call-answer rates plummeted 30 percent in 2019 because so many legitimate calls were mistakenly blocked.

Getting Legitimate Calls Through

There are times when getting the call is more critical than ever. Indiana is among a growing number of states and municipalities hiring call centers to assist with COVID-19 contact tracing. Many of those potentially life-saving outbound calls could wind up either blocked or automatically routed to voicemail, depending on the service provider’s policies. This is another reason why it’s essential to restore confidence so that intended recipients will answer their phones. 

Customers who have full mailboxes, never set up their voicemail, or don’t check messages won’t hear those critical messages. Even if they check voicemail, it’s still a game of phone tag. As a result, contact center agents have multiple interactions with each of those customers. This increases overhead costs and requires additional staff. Every day, the same fate awaits countless outbound calls from contact centers serving state and local governments, insurance companies, travel and hospitality providers, and other organizations.

COVID-19 contact tracing also is an example of how fraudsters find opportunities to use smishing. “Scammers, pretending to be contact tracers and taking advantage of how the process works, are also sending text messages,” the Federal Trade Commission recently warned. “Theirs are spam text messages that ask you to click a link. Clicking on the link will download software onto your device, giving scammers access to your personal and financial information.”

The smishing scourge conditions consumers to be highly skeptical about text messages from unfamiliar numbers. Now, just like with illegal robocalls, contact centers must spend more time sending follow-up text messages, again driving up costs.

Weeding Out Fraudsters and Spam

Voice service providers, analytics engines, and enterprises understand that anti-spam mechanisms must be intelligent enough to distinguish between legitimate, trustworthy calls and text messages from those sent by illegal robocallers and fraudsters. To achieve this goal, industry organizations such as the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and the GSM Association (GSMA) are collaborating to create frameworks that voice service providers, contact centers, messaging partners or aggregators, and service platforms such as communications platform as a service (CPaaS) and unified communications as a service (UCaaS) can quickly and widely implement, regardless of network type or technology.

For example, Validating INtegrity of End-to-End Signaling (VINES) is a new GSMA Working Group developing solutions to prevent internet work signaling fraud, which includes illegal robocalls, spoofing, toll bypass, and consumer fraud. Service providers and standards bodies worldwide can use VINES solutions to restore consumer trust in communications, combat billions of dollars annually in service provider fraud, and help protect their customers from fraud via spoofed numbers. The VINES working group will also help service providers ensure that legitimate international business calls aren’t mistakenly flagged as spam.

Another example is the GSMA’s RCS Verified Sender initiative, which is an industry effort to ensure that the new Rich Communication Service (RCS) avoids the spoofing and other fraud types that afflict SMS. A key component is an independent Verification Authority (VA) that would be responsible for authenticating the identity of businesses and their chatbots.

Google is also helping protect Android users. Verified SMS adds sender verification and business branding to text messages. Verified Calls displays the business’ name, logo, reason for calling, and “a verification symbol indicating the business has been authenticated by Google.” 

A Centralized Industry Database of Trusted Numbers

A centralized database would give voice service providers and analytics engines independently verified information about each phone number and the company using it. Additionally, a unified registration platform for brands will avoid fragmentation and confusion. The authenticated data would enable service providers and their vendor partners to treat each call and text message properly and present caller information their customers know they can trust. 

Here’s how a verifiable database could work:

  • Call centers—internal and third-party providers—register their telephone numbers, along with information about their company or their clients.
  • Once verified, this information is shared with all participating service providers, analytics engines, and robocall-mitigation companies. This centralized architecture saves contact centers significant amounts of time and money because they don’t have to provide their information to different voice service providers that are managing each telephone number. 
  • Service providers could combine this trusted data with their existing call analytics and other tools to further ensure that only legitimate calls, text messages, and chatbots are reaching their customers.
  • Application programming interfaces (API) would make it fast and easy for contact centers to upload their information and subsequent updates in high volumes.

This database also could be used to authenticate text messages and RCS data. For example, legitimate contact centers would register their SMS short codes and RCS chatbots in a centralized, omni-channel database.

Another key business benefit for contact centers is more efficient staffing. Higher contact rates mean that agents spend less time repeatedly calling or texting people who don’t answer or text back when they see an unfamiliar phone number.

This efficiency is particularly valuable for outsourced contact centers with tight margins. Third-party contact centers can add value to their clients and create a differentiator by registering their clients’ telephone numbers, chatbots, and SMS messages in the centralized database and potentially help increase their clients’ answer rates.

Maximize Trust to Maximize Consumer Responsiveness

Voice calls and text messages are the most effective ways for enterprises, government agencies, and other organizations to reach consumers with essential information such as appointment reminders, financial transaction alerts, school closures, and public safety alerts. A centralized database is critical for maintaining and maximizing that effectiveness.

This gives service providers and contact centers a streamlined, authoritative way to exchange verified information that gives consumers confidence in the information when they receive a call or text or interact with a chatbot. In the process, contact centers—both internal and outsourced—enterprises and consumers benefit. This is a future where everyone comes out ahead. 

Michael O’Brien is chief product officer at iconectiv. He is responsible for executing on the company’s strategy and driving new pathways of sustainable growth for the company. An experienced industry veteran, O’Brien has more than thirty years of experience in the mobile communications industry.

Interaction Recording Using Microsoft Teams: Ten Factors for Success

By Michael Levy

According to Gartner, one in four contact center seats is now communicating using Microsoft Teams. Therefore, you likely have agents handling customer inquiries and complaints using this platform across one or more of your contact centers. That means expanding the value of your Microsoft Teams solution to turn recorded interactions into valuable business assets.

To ensure quality of service and protect your business, it’s time to start capturing those interactions to monitor agent performance, maintain compliance (GDPR, PCI, HIPAA, and so forth), and protect your organization in cases of he-said/she-said disputes. With limited built-in recording capabilities for Microsoft Teams, consider an add-on recorder. Here are ten key factors to consider when making your selection:

1. Record All Interaction Types

Your recorder must be able to handle your interactions (voice, video chat, and screens) regardless of their type. This includes:

  • internal
  • federated
  • remote
  • mobile
  • conference
  • PSTN

2. Support Multiple Integration Points

Your recorder needs to support multiple integration points, including:

  • direct routing via SBC
  • compliance recording APIs

3. Offer Omni-Channel Recording Capabilities

What’s more, your recording solution must be able to capture voice, video, chat, and screen so you can have full interaction recordings to replay when necessary to prove compliance, resolve a dispute, and gain valuable insights. 

Integrated playback in a single window also enables your managers, supervisors, and team leaders to precisely assess agent performance based on live interactions as they occur. Most recorders do not offer omni-channel playback.

4. Provide Versatility

Your Teams recorder ought to be able to offer various regional storage, data sovereignty, and geo-zone storage options to support your unique requirements. 

5. Uphold Regulatory Compliance

Record on demand, pause or resume, and sensitive-information masking are critical features that allow your agents to comply with relevant industry and governmental regulations such as GDPR, PCI, HIPAA, TCPA, and MiFID II. Your recorder must be able to support these capabilities to enable agents with the tools they require to comply. It’s also important to deploy a recorder that can accommodate regional storage and recording to support local privacy and data transfer laws.

6. Present Accessible Storage Options

You need secure access to your recordings. Therefore, you also require versatility in where your interactions are stored. You need a Microsoft Teams recorder that enables you to keep your recordings safely stored in various cloud locations, such as AWS and Azure.

7. Control and Restrict Access

Recorded interactions can contain sensitive information, such as patient details, credit card information, passwords, and PINs. Therefore, you must be able to restrict access to your stored interactions. Unauthorized access can leave your company and your customers vulnerable to misuse, compliance violations, and potential lawsuits. You need the ability to control playback permission levels by restricting access to authorized agents, team leaders, and managers. Also look for the ability to restrict and allow access to third parties without the need for exporting unencrypted audio files.

8. Allow Customization of KPIs and Intelligence Data

The performance data from your customer interactions can provide value to the members of your contact center team: managers, team leaders, agents, quality assurance supervisors, and analysts. Therefore, you want each person to be able to customize the KPIs and intelligence they see. 

Look for dashboards you can tailor to each user, enabling authorized staff to view the specific metrics and information that helps them perform their tasks more successfully. You also want the ability to integrate with and access other reporting solutions, such as Microsoft PowerBI.

9. Function in Hybrid Environments

Some organizations, especially those that have undergone a merger or acquisition, have hybrid contact centers featuring multiple communications and PBX platforms. These complex environments can cause problems for many recording solutions. You need a recorder that can support hybrid environments with the same recorder. 

For instance, look for a solution that can capture and store interactions across both a Cisco VoIP PBX and Microsoft Teams using the same recorder. This eliminates integration and playback compatibility concerns. The recorder should also support multiple integrations and hybrid environments to reduce risks and enable smooth technology migrations.

10. Work with a Variety of Communication Devices

You likely have a mix of mobile and office-based devices. You need a recorder that can capture interactions from these devices simultaneously.


Some interaction recorders only capture certain types of communications, while others lack flexibility for the types of deployments and storage options required. When selecting an interaction recording solution to support your Microsoft Teams interactions, consider these ten factors so you can select a recorder that supports your business requirements.

Michael Levy is the president, CEO, and co-founder of Numonix, an innovator in the development of interaction recording and quality management solutions.

Vendor Profile: Szeto Technologies

Szeto Technologies has been a leading vendor of answering equipment and communication systems since 1986. As the industry has evolved extensively over the last thirty-two years, Szeto has continued to remain on the leading edge of technology in providing solutions in voice-plus data processing and telephone switching. Technology has certainly changed over time, but Szeto’s greatest strength has not changed—they continue to provide their customers with turnkey, customized communication systems to meet their client’s needs.

Call Linx & SSS-100

Powered by Linux, Szeto’s Call Linx TAS system is built to be reliable, flexible, and user-friendly. Through the years, Call Linx has expanded add-on features to complement its traditional telephone answering service applications. In 2013 Szeto Technologies modified the generic Asterisk software and tailored it to be their Call Linx telephony switch, the SSS-100. This approach replaced their proprietary hardware strategy in their telephone switch and allows them to provide redundancy and reliability using virtual servers. Another advantage of adopting Asterisk is the freedom of having multiple technology suppliers.

The company’s latest wireless features secure text messaging for HIPAA compliance and employee safety monitoring for remote or isolated workers. The popularity of webchat has grown in the past years, and Szeto Technologies makes it easy to provide businesses with this feature, which was once available only to large corporations.

The story of Call Linx, SSS-100, and Linux is still evolving. The TAS service industry is striding into the future in full force. So is Szeto Technologies.

Secured Text Messaging App

Szeto’s secured mobile app ensures that messages transported via wireless mobile devices are secured for HIPAA compliance. This protects medical patient privacy and personal health information.

In conjunction with the Szeto-designed mobile app, the company also has special APIs (application program interfaces) designed to interface with third-party vendors such as TigerText, OnPage, eVigil, Qlig, Doc Halo, Secured Bridge, and Med Tunnel.

Employee Safety Monitoring

Employee safety is a concern for most employers. All employers are expected to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety and the well-being of their employees. Workers in remote areas, unsupervised, working with dangerous equipment, or in hostile environments need assurance of their safety and well-being. Business owners must offer the workers additional means of security, by routinely monitoring their safety in the field.

Szeto’s employee safety monitoring provides preventive monitoring of employees working in potentially dangerous environments. In the event of an employee found in danger or requiring emergency help, the system will trigger a rescue procedure to alert the appropriate personnel for human intervention. Those who can benefit from such monitoring are organizations with workers in remote locations or dangerous environments, handlers of dangerous and hazardous materials (such as oil and gas field workers), maintenance crews in remote areas (electricity, telephone, antenna sites), employees vulnerable to possible hostilities (visiting nurses, social workers), and security guards.

Features include:

  • Automatic identification of current or next work location by satellite or mobile apps
  • Automatic detection of a worker-down situation
  • Check-in devices (telephone, SMS text, and mobile APP)
  • Alert methods (telephone, SMS text, email, and pager)
  • Time-stamped logs of transactions and activities
  • Web access to work team status

Szeto Technologies recently added the capability of automatically handling the check-in and check-out procedures using satellite SPOT (satellite positioning and tracking) devices. This monitoring equipment is a stand-alone system but can also be tailored to integrate with existing data equipment.

Web Chat

Web chat enables your operators to offer online help via text chat for people visiting your clients’ websites. Szeto has recently enhanced its web chat to be friendlier, including the option of displaying the agent’s picture. While large companies can have their own agents for web chat support, this may be too expensive for small- and medium-sized businesses. Szeto’s web chat gives call centers the opportunity to supply this feature to clients who can benefit from this opportunity.

SIP Service

Szeto Technologies has partnered with Pulsar 360 to offer SIP services to its customers. The company also recently developed software to directly interface with SIP services without relying on any third-party middle piece of conversion equipment. This eliminates a potential source of hardware failure and the necessity of providing spare parts, not to mention saving having to rent the equipment. If a customer already has the setup with gateway arrangements, they can continue with that approach.

For additional information please contact Szeto at info@szeto.ca or 877-697-9386.

Best Practices for Surviving a Ransomware Attack

Startel contact center software that delivers happiness to your customers

By Jim Graham

In 1989 the first known ransomware attack occurred when twenty thousand floppy disks containing malware were distributed to researchers across more than ninety countries. In 2017 Symantec recorded an average of 1,242 ransomware complaints per day, not including the infamous WannaCry and NotPetya attacks. According to a survey conducted by Malwarebytes, one in six organizations impacted by a ransomware attack were down for twenty-five hours or more.

A recent attack on one of our clients was a painful reminder that ransomware continues to be a genuine threat to individuals and businesses worldwide. Our client received the virus upon clicking on a bad link in a “spear phishing” email. Their business was down for twenty-four hours before they were able to process calls.

The longer a business is down, the harder—and costlier—it is to recover. The financial impact can be just as staggering, with one hour of inactivity costing small businesses as much as $8,500. That doesn’t include lost business opportunities or the personnel cost associated with downtime.

Common Best Practices

There are many best practices, tips, and recommendations to mitigate a ransomware attack. The options can be overwhelming. However, you can lessen the likelihood you’ll become another statistic and decrease the impact of an attack by implementing these best practices.

1. Be Educated: Staff training is the first and best line of defense against ransomware. In most cases, systems are infected by user-initiated behavior such as clicking a malicious link in an email, opening an executable email attachment, or unknowingly giving a password to a potential hacker.

Educate staff about recognizing suspicious links and attachments. Phishing expeditions have become more sophisticated and targeted. These “spear phishing” attempts typically include client-specific information you’d assume no one else knows, making them much more believable. Never click on email links unless you’re absolutely certain of the identity of the sender.

2. Be Prepared: No matter how well-trained your staff is, be prepared for the possibility of a ransomware infection. This is where robust system and data backup strategies become essential. It’s critical to backup your data, software, and configuration settings frequently. Without a backup, you could permanently lose data. Create three copies, on two different media, and keep one copy stored securely off-site. Then test all backups to ensure you can successfully recover data.

A detailed incident response plan can make these instances a little less daunting. Take the time to put together an incident response plan, and test it each year. Also, consider investing in a business continuity and disaster recovery solution. These solutions minimize downtime and help ensure customer data remains secure and accessible 24/7.

Finally, in the unfortunate event you’re impacted by ransomware, consider enlisting the assistance of qualified IT professionals skilled at recovering from an attack. They’ll be able to get your company up and running and help minimize the impact on operations.

3. Stay Proactive: Once staff is well-trained and you have a strategy in place, continually monitor other areas of your business that may be vulnerable to ransomware. Implement these approaches to stay proactive:

  • Update operating system patches and antivirus software. On average, Microsoft releases several “critical or security”-related updates each month.
  • Limit administrative rights to only those that need to have them.
  • Deploy strong spam filters that block executable files.
  • Consider using a secure email gateway (SEG) in addition to your email client filter.
  • Set firewalls to block known malicious IP addresses.
  • Lock down your firewall from inside out to prevent data from being extracted.

HIPAA and Other Compliance Implications

A breach caused by a ransomware infection can have significant HIPAA and other compliance-related implications. Whether or not data has been taken, a successful attack is still considered a breach by HIPAA standards. Be sure you’re maintaining backups and log files for all systems that touch electronic protected health information (ePHI), because your company security policies will be subject to review by auditors. Proper HIPAA training is also essential in protecting ePHI.


No matter how well prepared your business is, you can still be a victim of ransomware. However, following these recommendations will lessen the likelihood and impact of an attack.


Jim Graham co-founded Professional Teledata (PTD) in 1993 and served as vice president until the merger with Startel in September 2015. As the CTO of PTD, Jim draws upon his thirty years of computer and software development experience and twenty-three years of call center experience. Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom provide unified communications, business process automation, and performance management solutions and services. They leverage their solutions and industry knowledge to empower organizations to improve agent productivity, reduce operating costs, and increase revenues. For more information, call 949-863-8776 or visit www.startel.com.

AnswerNet Acquires Synergy Solutions

AnswerNet acquired Synergy Solutions in an asset transaction. Synergy Solutions specializes in high-touch consultative customer service and sales support programs for many of the nation’s leading brands.

Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Synergy Solutions was established in 1999 and focuses on innovative customer interaction solutions. This allows Synergy Solutions to provide superior results for its clients in fast-growth retail and e-commerce, as well as traditional verticals such as healthcare, insurance, and financial services.

Gary Pudles, president and CEO of AnswerNet stated, “Synergy Solutions furthers AnswerNet’s continued growth in high-touch customer engagement space for well-known companies and brands. AnswerNet’s customer care business has been growing exponentially over the last three years, and adding the incredible Synergy team further deepens our strength in providing solutions that help our clients continually stand out in providing support to their customers.”

Synergy’s president and co-founder Lori Fentem is staying with AnswerNet and will work closely with Pudles on building and executing AnswerNet’s growth strategy. Fentem is a well-regarded leader in the contact center industry. “We are thrilled by the opportunity to become part of the AnswerNet family,” says Fentem. “This acquisition allows Synergy the ability to continue to offer high-touch customer experience solutions. I believe that integrating with AnswerNet will present the ideal environment for Synergy employees and clients.”

New All-in-One Spectrum / Prism II Server

Amtelco Cloud-Based Platform Solution

Amtelco hardware and software engineers designed the new Prism II server to run Spectrum, Prism II, and other applications from this one server. Some of the key features or the Amtelco/Telescan designed server are:

  • Redundant power supplies
  • Redundant long life solid state disk drives—480GB disk drives mounted in easily removable/replaceable hot swappable carriers, making for easy maintenance if maintenance is ever required.
  • Rack mountable 2U chassis
  • Windows Server 2016 with up to two virtual machines
  • 2GHz Intel Xeon quad-core processor
  • 32GB of RAM
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • Additional 1TB hard drive for storage
  • Redundant 500 watt hot-swappable power supplies
  • Front USB panel and DVD drive
  • Intel RST (rapid storage technology) RAID management console allowing easy drive and RAID array management

In other Amtelco news, the Genesis Just Say It feature enhances the IS Navigation Menu feature by enabling callers to speak responses in addition to pressing telephone keypad digits. The Just Say It Navigation Menu features give callers the ability to access information and conduct transactions using either speech recognition and/or live operator involvement.

Genesis Just Say It automatic speech recognition applications simplify and speed telephone calls. The Genesis Just Say It applications listen to what a caller says to interact with the caller and understand the caller’s meaning based on pre-defined parameters. The Genesis Just Say It applications make it possible to increase call handling capabilities and call traffic volumes while decreasing labor costs and other operating expenses.

For more information, contact Amtelco at 800-356-9148, or info@amtelco.com.

How Secure Is Your Contact Center?

Why Your Agents May Be Putting Customer Data at Risk

By Tim Critchley

Despite the rise in automated, self-servicing technologies in contact centers, many customers still prefer to pay bills and receive support by speaking with a live agent or customer service representative (CSR). Live agents continue to play a significant role in the customer experience, as they provide more personalized service and help streamline payment transactions. However, agents can also pose threats to contact center security, especially when they handle and process sensitive customer data.

To determine how personally identifiable information (PII) such as payment card numbers are captured, Semafone surveyed five hundred global contact center agents across a multitude of industries. The survey confirmed that contact centers still rely on outdated data collection practices, making organizations vulnerable to security threats and putting customer PII at risk for brand-damaging data breaches. Here are the most common ways callers share their PII with agents, along with the security challenges that accompany them.

Reading PII Aloud

According to the survey, 72 percent of agents who collect credit and debit card information or social security numbers (SSNs) require customers to read their information out loud over the phone. This creates several risks, as the information is exposed to the agent on the line, call recordings, and even nearby eavesdroppers.

While most agents are honest, hardworking people, it is possible that a rogue agent could copy down a customer’s credit card number for fraudulent use. Or numbers may be stored on a call recording system that could be breached. Some contact centers rely on “pause and resume” or “stop/start” systems to pause recordings while PII is read aloud, but these systems are prone to failure—especially since an agent must manually stop and start the recording at the right point in time. If an agent forgets to pause the recording, PII may inadvertently be logged and thus vulnerable to a breach.

Using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Systems

Used by 11 percent of agents surveyed, these automated telephony systems interact with callers to shield PII from agents and recordings. However, without an agent on the line, customers often don’t know how to correct miskeyed information, which can result in ended calls before the transaction is complete (perhaps meaning a lost sale). Plus, a poor customer experience can impact contact center metrics such as first contact resolution (FCR) and average handling time (AHT).

However, the data still touches various IT systems, so it is still susceptible to a breach by either rogue employees (30 percent of agents have access to customer PII when they aren’t on the phone with them) or an outside hacker.

Sharing Data Through an Online Chat Window

Ten percent of agents said they capture customer information through an online chat window. Although data is not verbalized, basic chat functionality is merely a glorified “instant messenger,” not designed with encryption capabilities. Also, the agent is still exposed to PII, unless the contact center implements an appropriate method of encrypting the payment session within the chat engagement.

Phone Keypad Entry (DTMF)

A fourth method of capturing data, mentioned by only 8 percent of agents in the survey, is customers entering their data by their phone keypad. This approach may involve dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) masking technologies, which shields data from agents and keep it out of business IT infrastructures. As customers enter PII, such as payment card numbers, DTMF (keypad) tones are masked with flat ones so agents and eavesdroppers cannot decipher the numbers. In addition, numbers are not stored on call recordings that could be breached. PII is sent directly to the appropriate third party (such as a payment processor) so it never touches the contact center’s environment. Unlike IVR systems, DTMF masking solutions allow agents to remain in full voice communication with the customer, assisting with any issues, completing wrap-up tasks, and providing a better overall customer experience.

With these survey results in mind, think about how your agents collect customer PII, as well as how your contact center stores this sensitive information. In a time when a single data breach can cost more than $3.6 million and jeopardize your reputation and customers’ trust, there is no room for taking risks. The bottom line is to explore technologies that replace outdated data capture practices and remove as much PII as possible from your infrastructures.

No one can hack the data you don’t hold.

Tim Critchley has been the CEO of Semafone since 2009 and has led the company from a UK start-up to an international business spanning five continents. Under his leadership the company has secured global partnerships and won clients across a range of industry sectors, including major brands such as AXA, BT, Capita, Harley-Davidson, Next, Rogers Communications, Santander, and Sky. Prior to joining Semafone, Tim was COO at Knowledgepool Group

5 Questions to Ask When Switching Contact Center Software

By Melanie Valenzuela

Is it time to update your contact center software? You may have had the same software for a while and feel you need an upgrade. Perhaps you’ve heard of some new features you’d like to try or are looking for better support from your supplier. Or it could be that your current system no longer fits your needs. Maybe you’re trying to improve your customer service, which has suffered due to a poor system.

No matter what prompted you to think of switching, your contact center software is an integral part of your operation. You need to choose carefully. Here are some questions you’ll want to ask to ensure that you’re making the best decision possible and getting the call center solutions you need.

1. What Will Your Contact Analytics Look Like?

You want to make sure that you can gather enough data to analyze and see patterns and trends. Can you get speech analytics, text analytics, and other customer feedback from every type of interaction? What about web, email, and social media contacts? You need to be able to gather information from every source so that you are getting the whole picture and not just hearing from one demographic that uses one particular way to contact you.

2. How Compatible Is the New Software to Your Other Systems?

Your call center supervisors spend a lot of time on performance management, workforce management, training, coaching, and other oversight activities. Does the new software integrate those systems? All these items, along with any analytics, should be compatible so your supervisors can spend more time working with agents and less time trying to get the information they need.

You want your call center management to gain productivity, along with the agents. As an organization, your ultimate goal is to understand customer interactions, improve workforce performance, and optimize your service processes.

3. How Flexible Is the Software Company in Working with You?

Every software company wants your business, but how willing are they to work with you to create a system to address your specific needs? Yes, they all say they are flexible, but ask questions about exceptions or special needs to see if they actually follow through on processing your requests.

Keep in mind, if they aren’t flexible now, they won’t be getting any more flexible in the future, so beware of any obstacles at the beginning of the relationship. Are you seeing or hearing any red flags that remind you why you’re going through this process again? You don’t want to have to repeat this search anytime soon.

4. How Much Customer Support Will You Be Getting?

You want your new vendor to be flexible in setting up a system for you, but you need great customer service to make the system work. What does their contract say? What do you know you absolutely need? As you talk to the company, make sure the level of service matches your needs and you feel good about it. Because this will be a long-lasting relationship, you need to feel comfortable with the company you choose.

Support in the beginning is standard. Ongoing support will differentiate a company serious about servicing you as a client. Are you getting clear and definitive answers to your questions? Are they asking relevant questions about your needs, or do they seem more interested in finalizing the sale?

5. Can the Software Handle Your Future Needs?

There’s no way to tell exactly how the industry may change in the future, but based on what you know now, you need to feel that this system can handle your needs, both now and in the future. Changing software is no small task, so you don’t want to be making a change again because you didn’t fully anticipate your future needs.

Are there other systems or features the company offers that don’t fit your needs today but you may need as you grow? That’s a good sign that, even if you need to upgrade the system later, you will be able to continue to use the software you have now, and it will be fully compatible with the additions you make in the future.

Switching contact center software is never easy or fun. But once you’ve decided it’s necessary, make sure to take your time and really vet the companies you are considering. Besides reputation and cost, consider the compatibility and flexibility of both the new software and the company supplying it. You will be working partners for quite some time, so you want to be sure the relationship will be a good fit, both now and in the future. Once you find the contact center solutions you’re looking for, the only question remaining is, “How soon can we switch?”

Melanie Valenzuela has been writing about business topics for several years and currently writes for the contact center vendor KOVA Corporation.