Problem to Solve — My Call Center staff and customers are complaining about the quality of their VoIP communications. Where should I start when my customers complain about their VoIP service?
- Bad review on YELP for a local food establishment because a customer’s food was not prepared to their liking
- Last time you were driving and saw the person in the lane next to you “honk excessively” or curse angrily because of their unhappiness with another driver’s actions
- Your teenage kids complain about the slowness of downloading an app or uploading a picture on their smart phone
Well, guess what? Your internal or external customers will show the same lack of tolerance, especially when it comes to Voice Communications. Think about your own cell phone experience and the last time you were talking to your friend … on a bad connection. What do most people do? They hang up and try another call. Get some choppiness in the call, or one person saying, “you are breaking up,” or low volume (as if you are talking on a connection that routes through Mars and back), and you will have yourself a bonafide moment of dissatisfaction with voice service. Here is the kicker — Ever have this type of voice communications situation occur at your main call center? If your customers hang up, hopefully they will call you back and establish another call. But what if they do not call back? Not good obviously, and that becomes a situation where your company potentially will lose revenue.
So obviously, if Voice or Video Communications are important to your business, then you are going to need to prepare for situations like this where users complain about the service. Often times, I have found customers are really just looking for some guidance on where to start.
- Monitor your Devices Health – this can include your call gateways, session border controllers, call managers, call registration servers, etc., which are all dependent on your VoIP platform. The idea here is to poll the actual devices in your VoIP infrastructure for performance related statistics. Simple things to start monitoring would be CPU, Memory, card failures, call stats, device type errors usually pulled from device MIB.
Why is this Valuable? – if your VoIP devices were to fail or go into a degraded state, you need some way of retrieving, viewing, alarming, reporting on this data.
- Monitor your VoIP Traffic – ideally, this would include your actual voice protocols for signaling (example, SIP) and media performance (example, RTP). Most VoIP related solutions have some view into Mean Opinion Score (MOS), packet loss, and jitter.
Why is this Valuable? – If the VoIP signaling portion of the process does not complete, there will not be a phone call. Monitoring this signaling portion will help facilitate troubleshooting call setup issues. Your customers will complain about poor phone calls when there is jitter or packet loss on the link. Measuring and monitoring jitter and packet loss will give you a place to locate and troubleshoot these performance issues. MOS can also be leveraged for troubleshooting performance issues. It brings the added value of a calculated number to table. Rather than dealing with a “user’s perception” about voice quality, MOS provides a number that is quantifiable. (i.e. no emotion involved)
- Monitor your Application Traffic – Many times, internal customers don’t realize that their company’s VoIP solution is connected and running on the same network as their PC and applications. They fail to realize the impact of their YouTube stream or Video Chat session on the rest of the network. You will need a view into your enterprise applications (ERP system, Web traffic, File Shares, etc), to see these types of situations.
Why is this Valuable? The volume bandwidth consumption of the other applications being used on the network can dramatically impact the VoIP performance. They share the same infrastructure, so you need VoIP and Application performance metrics and utilization to get the full picture.
- Monitor your QoS performance – Because VoIP protocols are UDP based, most companies deploy Quality of Service (QoS) mechanisms to try and avoid VoIP service issues. QoS will allocate and prioritize the network bandwidth to make sure the latency sensitive VoIP communications get priority over other things running on the network. The good news is that when properly configured, QoS is very effective in prioritizing VoIP communications through the network so that your users are happy. The bad news is that when QoS is misconfigured (by mistake usually), it is common for the VoIP services to suffer and your users are then “not happy”.
Why is this Valuable? Having a view into the QoS configuration based on how the traffic is actually flowing across the network will help you assure and verify the configurations. A common mistake is putting the VoIP signaling queue (usually gets set to DSCP 46) into the default queue (DSCP 0). When this happens, the VoIP traffic does not get the priority queueing that it needs to perform optimally. Having this type of visibility will help avoid frustrating situations where you cannot fix what you cannot see.
As I mentioned earlier, this article is geared for a “place to start” for troubleshooting VoIP services. For business critical VoIP or Video services, I would recommend a “Deep Dive Solution” with Advanced troubleshooting and measurement capabilities. These types of solutions will provide in-depth information on end user performance issues such as echo, noise, dB loss, codec and waveform analysis among others.
Points to Ponder
- What is your troubleshooting methodology for VoIP / Video Services?
- What toolsets do you have in place? … and Why?
- What protocols, devices, QoS are in use?
- Have a real world example of a situation where your company “lost” a customer or revenue?
Until next time …..