Tony Russell of Clarotech Consulting speaks about the future of Asterisk contact-center industry


Tony Russel Antony Russell was born in Bedford, UK and moved to South Africa when he was eleven. He graduated from the University of Cape Town with a B.Sc. (Hons) in Computer Science in 1987 and then worked at a number of Information Technology firms before founding Clarotech with Colin Fair and David Alexander in 2001. One of the early projects Clarotech took on was to implement a call center, using the then new Asterisk. Seeking mentorship, he formed a friendship with Stephen Davies, an active contributor to the Asterisk project. Since then he has become a recognised Asterisk guru and Asterisk champion in South Africa. He is the only person to hold two dCap certificates and presents official Digium training courses in South Africa. He spends his free time teaching people how to fly light aircraft.

Q: Could you summarize for our readers your company profile, your target customer and reference market?
Clarotech Consulting is an Information Technology company based in South Africa offering infrastructure support, consulting and telephony services to the mid-market, corporate and dedicated call centres throughout Southern Africa.
We are a leading provider of Asterisk PBX products, support and training. Our flagship PBX and Call Centre solution is shift*eight, an integrated PBX solution based on Asterisk open source and in-house customised software.
We also offer cloud-based services, including hosted call centre/PBX solutions, server hosting, Backup and Disaster Recovery and voice termination.

Q: What kind of benefits do you experience using and selling QueueMetrics?
QueueMetrics is a product that almost sells itself, so the immediate benefit to Clarotech is the ease of getting the customer excited in the product.
QueueMetrics does not need to gather data. I can implement it on an Asterisk server that has been live for a number of months and instantly get a history of what has been happening in the customer's call center. The clear and to the point reports and vivid graphical representations of the numbers allow us to open the customer's eyes to what is really going on.

Could you give me an example of how you have dealt with a customer's critical issue using QueueMetrics?
A few years ago, Clarotech implemented QueueMetrics at a 50 seat call center. The customer was so happy with the solution that they used QueueMetrics to improve productivity while staff numbers reduced. The wealth of metrics and the accuracy of the data available allowed them to reward and incentivise productive workers, and efficiently discipline and terminate poor workers.
So, although they did not know that they had a critical issue, QueueMetrics both exposed the inner workings of the call center and provided the hard data that allowed an internal reorganisation.

Q: What are the key factors which make a successful Asterisk based call-centre?
Cheaper is not better value.
Asterisk has, unfortunately, received a reputation for being a cheap solution to large problems, and many resellers implement large solutions on inadequate hardware - both server and infrastructure.
Clarotech do not compromise on the quality and performance of either the servers or the networks we implement Asterisk solutions on, as the success of the installation depends on both the Asterisk server and the Voice network.
Managing the customer's expectations is key in implementing a successful Asterisk based call-center. Many customers have incorrect expectations when a new and complex Asterisk system is being implemented. Making sure that clearly communicated realistic expectations are in place is a key factor.

Q: Mr. Russel, what's your view on the Asterisk call-center industry future in the next two years?
Clarotech are poised for the growth we expect to see in the Asterisk call center industry in the near future. The growth will not just come from the agility and attractive cost to entry of the Asterisk product, but more from the software that makes Asterisk more available to the user. Products like QueueMetrics and WombatDialer bring the power of Asterisk based call center systems to the team leaders and even the agents.
The focus of the call centre industry is moving from the telephony engine to the software layer on top of that engine. We believe that those who position themselves well within this software environment will have the advantage in the next two years.
Of course, QueueMetrics and Wombat Dialer are part of Clarotech's plan.

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