About Automating Outgoing Phone Calls

You can’t just load up a bunch of phone numbers into a database and start calling them. There are laws. Don’t break them.

Our automated outbound calls fall into three categories which I’ll cover in follow up posts. For now, I wanted to touch on some information anyone should know about before hooking up an application to make phone calls. Particularly when it comes to telemarketing and autodialed calls.

Federal Regulations

Back in 1991, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act was passed. It restricts phone solicitations and the use of automated dialing. It covers SMS messaging and faxing in addition to normal voice calls.

Here are some of the primary restrictions. There are more, so don’t take this as a complete list.

  • Don’t call anyone before 8am or after 9pm. If you do business across time zones, you need to deal with that.
  • You need to maintain you’re own do not call list. If someone asks to be put on it, add their number. You have to honor it for at least five years.
  • Honor the National Do Not Call Registry. See section below
  • Tell people who you are and your phone number or address.
  • Don’t call emergency lines or anyone who’d be charged for your phone call.
  • Don’t call cell phones without prior written consent. That’s right, you’re not allowed to make unsolicited calls to cell phones. Period.
  • As I said above, there are a lot of other rules.

If you break any of the above rules, you can get taken to court.

National Do Not Call Registry

The Do Not Call Registry allows anyone to register their phone number. Telemarketers are never supposed to call any registered number unless the person has given you permission.

You can register to access this database, either via an API or as a downloadable list at the Do Not Call Registry Telemarketer site.

Common Courtesy

Not all calls are unsolicited calls. You may just being trying to confirm a scheduled appointment. Regardless, you want to be courteous to the people you call.

  • Don’t make excessive calls.
  • If you get voicemail, and leave a message, give the person some time to respond. Don’t call back every five minutes until you reach someone.
  • If you talk to someone who requests a call back in three months, you should respect their request. Leave them alone for those three months.

More information

What is a Robocall?

Robocalls include automated phone calls made using autodialers. This includes calls that only contain pre-recorded messages and those where you speak to a live person.

What is an Autodialer?

Any type of equipment or computer software that dials phone numbers without human intervention.

How can you determine if a phone number is a landline or a cell phone?

A variety of sources exist to assist businesses and telemarketers to tell if a number is a mobile number. For example, NeuStar, as the North American Numbering Plan Administrator, the National Pooling Administrator, and the LNP Administrator, makes information available for the purpose of identifying phone numbers assigned to wireless carriers.

Adhearsion: Click to Call

One of the most basic things you can do when you tie an application in with your phone system is implement click-to-call. You click a phone number on your web page, or within your application. It connects you to that phone number.

What the user experiences

From the user’s perspective within our application it goes down like this:

  1. Click a phone number link in the web page.
  2. In a few seconds your phone extension will ring.
  3. You pick it up and you’ll hear your phone number being dialed.

From that point on it’s just a normal phone conversation. You just didn’t have to dial the phone yourself.

What happens behind-the-scenes

You’re logged in, so the application (Nitro for us) knows who you are and you’re phone extension. This is what happens from the application’s point of view:

  1. It shoots an API call with the user info and phone number to our Talkbox (i.e. Adhearsion) server.
  2. The phone call is initated with Asterisk.
  3. The user’s phone extension is rung.
  4. As soon as the user picks it up, the outgoing phone call is initated.

That’s about it. All this assumes is that we have the user’s extension number stored properly in the database. This obviously isn’t much of a benefit if you’re away from your desk. It does alleviate issues with mis-dialed numbers and makes it a little less of a hassle for dialing when it’s an option.

Our Adhearsion Environment

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been working mostly for Power Home Remodeling Group for a while. Primarily on the app that runs their business. We call it Nitro.

Initially, I plan to focus on our integration with Adhearsion. I’ll keep things to a functional level rather than getting too in-depth technically.

If you’d like more technical details about a topic leave a comment. I can get into specifics if there’s enough interest. The simple reason is that it takes longer to write a post with code examples. I think there’s sufficient value in describing what’s possible at a business level.

Environment

Our production environment lives on a number of virtual servers hosted in our corporate hosting center. Our current setup includes five web servers, five transaction servers and a single server which runs Asterisk and Adhearsion.

The transaction servers run cron jobs, background processes and our call loop which feeds our phone system with numbers to be called. More on that in a future post.

On our Asterisk/Adhearsion server we also have a separate application running on it we call Talkbox. This is a custom Adhearsion app with PowerHRG’s business logic. It runs as a service and communicates back and forth with our main Nitro application via API calls.

So what does Power Home Remodeling Group do?

PowerHRG sells windows, siding, doors, roofing and a few other products. We make a lot of phone calls to do that.

The majority are appointment confirmations and marketing calls. Around 48,000 outgoing calls every day. Yes. All with a single Asterisk/Adhearsion server.

Adhearsion

Adhearsion is described as an

open-source voice application development framework.

It actually does a bit more. We’ve tied it into our LDAP server so our phone systems and applications use the same info and security. Adhearsion can even integrate over XMPP (Jabber) to support stuff like instant messaging.

In my next post, I’ll start talking about some of our specific uses of Adhearsion. Stay tuned.

Happy New Year 2015

Now that 2015 is here I’m feeling more and more like a bad parent to my site. My new resolution is to change that.

Actually, my full resolution is to get into a daily practice of writing. Writing creatively was something I really loved doing at one point and I want to start that again. While writing somewhat technical blog posts for this site isn’t out of my imagination, writing is writing. So I plan to mix it up.

A long time ago…

Where did this come from? I’ve always loved reading. I’ve always loved comic books and would go to local conventions. One artist who worked for a company called Comico in the late 80’s frequented those local conventions. His name was Reggie Byers. For Comico, he was doing the art for some of their line of Macross comics. He started his own company and comic around a character named Shuriken.

For the hell of it, I ended up writing scripts for a three issue story arc for Shuriken and just sent it to him. He liked it and wanted me to write more. In fact, Reggie was starting up a second series entitled The Blade of Shuriken and he wanted me to the be writer. Images are hard to find, but here’s one that has my name in the credits!

Unfortunately, the series was short lived. One of the victims of an economic bubble bursting within the comics industry. I ended up writing about twelve scripts. Only four were published (Blade of Shuriken #2-#5). Regardless, I had a lot of fun writing them. I thank Reggie for giving me the opportunity. It was a very exciting experience for me.

This year for this site…

Getting back to this technical site, I still am primarily a Ruby on Rails coder. A couple of side projects with PHP, but primarily Ruby.

Back in 2007, I started working with a company in the northeast, Power Home Remodeling Group. At the time, they ran their business off a mixture of Excel spreadsheets and a Microsoft Access-based application that would have problems if more than one person was in it at the same time. I’m involved in writing the software that has taken them from that system, already having growing pains, to what is now a web-based application servicing over 1,300 employees company-wide. While I started alone, we’ve grown a small team of developers, but it’s still hard to keep up with the demand for what they want and need.

PowerHRG doesn’t sound like an exciting company since they sell windows, roofing, siding and a couple of other products. But the complexity of the business and the technology required to support it can be quite interesting. I’m going to write about some of that over this year.

What I’ll be focusing on in my first series of articles will be on something I don’t recall reading a lot of blog posts about in the recent past: telephony. Power’s app has strong ties to their phone system. The interface for this is Adhearsion. We are lucky enough to work closely together with the awesome team at Mojolingo, who are the current maintainers of the Adhearsion codebase.

Stay tuned…

What I’ve been working on

For the past few years I’ve been working with Stephen P. Anderson on a few things.

The Mental Notes card deck is a brainstorming tool. “Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to the design of Web sites, Web apps, and software applications.”

In addition to those, we’ve launched a few sites for a client.

After The Meeting is a site that helps you focus on what typically happens not during a meeting, but after. It helps attendees keep track of what action items they were assigned and pokes you at times to get them done if you’re running late. It’s particularly helpful to project managers who can, at a glance, get status updates. And after a few weeks, you get a report card report telling you how successful everyone’s been on what they committed to.

Part of After the Meeting is a way to make a formal agreement with someone. This is a bit stronger than a simple to-do item as there are stakes for the success or failure of the task.

Promise Play takes those formal agreements out of meetings so it’s just you and one of your Facebook friends. We’re still polishing it up, but it’s free to use.

Other than that, I’m slowly working on a redesign of this site and looking forward to a project that’s been on the back-burner for a little while.

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