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Streaming MOH For Asterisk: New Custom Streams Available

Asterisk VOIP

The move to VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) for business phones has increased the number of ways phone systems play music on hold (MOH). While currently most hosted VOIP providers play an uploaded audio file as the hold queue audio, new options are opening up for Asterisk-based hosted VOIP systems. Easy On Hold has developed a groundbreaking solution that will provide Asterisk users an opportunity for more robust marketing on hold programming.

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Programming Needs in The MOH Environment

For some companies, the presence of hold music is a mere placeholder; a way to indicate to the caller that they have not dropped the call. Others opt for information on hold as a way of better holding the attention and interest of the caller. Marketing-savvy businesses take the MOH concept a step further, using on hold messaging as a marketing tool to deliver timely call-to-action messages to a captive audience. Such marketing on hold messages have proven to be effective, often prompting a caller to inquire further about something they heard while waiting.

Challenges Of Off-Site VOIP

Producers of phone on-hold messages, such as Easy On Hold, have traditionally provided an audio player (external MOH device) that feeds a continuous sound signal into a PBX. VOIP phone systems that are hosted on-site still often provide a sound card input to allow the use of an external MOH player. Hosted VOIP phone systems, on the other hand, are “virtual” or entirely “in the cloud”. Since there is no entrance point for an external MOH player in a virtual environment, a single, self-contained audio file has been the norm for MOH playback. Often, these uploaded MOH files play from the start of the file each time the hold button is depressed. This architecture limits the variety of information businesses can convey during customer on-hold time. Further complicating the process is that a qualified administrator is often required to manage on hold audio files.

Hosted VOIP Market Growing

As of the date of this writing, Vonage had just completed its purchase of Vocalocity, one of the fastest-growing providers in the SMB-hosted VoIP market. A Vonage news release stated:

During the first half of 2013, Vocalocity had revenue of $28 million and growing, implying an annual run rate of greater than $56 million. First half 2013 revenues were 39% higher than the same period in the prior year.

Michael Storella, COO at snomTechnology Inc., the German manufacturer of IP phones, recently stated that the demand for hosted and cloud-based VoIP systems is also growing, especially among in the small to medium business (SMB) market sector.

One reason VOIP is growing may be that it requires less hardware, which means less energy use. It also offers workers the opportunity to telecommute easily, as noted in a recent Infonetics VoIP and UC Services and Subscribers report.

MOH Industry Response to Hosted VOIP

As an increasing number of businesses opt for off-site or virtual phone systems, the music on hold industry has been slow to respond. On hold equipment providers continue to offer devices that connect via on-site audio inputs, while production companies have been content to offer audio files for upload. The result: hosted VOIP end-users are missing out on the marketing potential of timely messages on hold. Easy On Hold clients using Asterisk-based systems, however, now have access to a full range of hold messaging features via a never-before offered solution.

Streaming MOH For Asterisk

The Asterisk phone system is an open-source software solution that is very popular among I.T. providers such as internet technology integrators. The Asterisk website says:

Asterisk is an open source framework for building communications applications. Asterisk turns an ordinary computer into a communications server. Asterisk powers IP PBX systems, VoIP gateways, conference servers and other custom solutions.

Many Asterisk phone systems are being set up to play a single audio file on hold, but all have vast programming capabilities, including the ability to use an http stream (streaming URL feed) for music on hold.

A New Solution: Custom MOH Streams

Easy On Hold V.P. Tim Brown says his technical team has developed a music and message on hold solution that automatically changes content based on a planned schedule, rotates content to provide a unique caller experience, and makes changing and updating content easy—without the aid of equipment or technicians.

We devised a unique programming technique that encodes playback instructions into each of a series of custom-scripted topical announcements. Then we set a sequence of rules to manage message repetition and customer preferences. A weighting system controls message frequency, so the most important announcements play more often.

Examples of the programming in action might be:

  • A restaurant has lunch specials that callers hear about in the morning, and dinner specials in the afternoon.
  • A credit union with a limited-time interest rate that gets more “ear time” than other announcements in the rotation.
  • An automobile dealer promotes weekend hours to callers on Friday.
  • A doctor’s office that uses “good morning” and “good afternoon” phrases to make patients feel welcome.

Modifications to the message rotation are easily and quickly made, with the results being heard immediately.

“Since it is a live stream, customers never have to wait for changes to kick in. There’s no media to handle, no file to transfer. Streams can be monitored live via the customer portal at easyonhold.com,” Brown said.

Techs Respond To Easy On Hold Streaming Option

A call center manager who switched to streaming MOH from Easy On Hold recently remarked at how simple the set up was. The 128k .mp3 stream is a light load on bandwidth, which is already busy streaming video, Pandora personal internet radio, overhead music or other content at many businesses.

IP telephony techs from New York to Honolulu participated in the streaming service rollout, quickly arriving at the same conclusion: The stream is a piece of cake.

Mack Hendricks, Asterisk Support Manager at opensource says,

I like the way the streaming solution is solving the MOH problem.  This year we are focused on partnering with companies that provide complimentary services and Easy On Hold looks like it fits the bill.  80% of our business consists of supporting Asterisk based systems.  So, we can definitely promote the product to our customers.

Specifics About How Streaming Music On Hold Works

Here are some specifics about how Streaming MOH improves the on hold experience for callers on hosted VOIP systems such as Asterisk:

  • Audio content is organized into specific topics businesses want callers to hear. Each topic is treated as an individual “spot”. Typically, a company will have between 6 and 10 topics or paragraphs playing at any time.
  • A variety of music backgrounds (30 seconds and 60 seconds) are used. It’s a welcome departure from the old “voice-over-4-minute-music-track” approach.
  • A topic can be quickly deleted, paused or added to the rotation without disturbing other content.
  • Since the stream is live, all changes are noticed immediately.
  • The frequency, days of the week and times of the day can all be programmed into each 30 to 60-second announcement. Callers are likely to have a fresh, unique listening experience with each call.
  • Each spot can be assigned a priority rating, allowing select messages to play with greater frequency than others in the live group.
  • All content is legal and licensed through our agreement with BMG Music, a publisher in the music business for 178 years.
  • Additional custom streams can be added in a matter of minutes, for extra locations, various company departments or extensions, etc.

Easy On Hold, http://www.easyonhold.com, created in 1997, provides professional telephone recordings, music and on hold message productions, auto attendant, IVR, voice mail greetings, and web audio to companies around the world.

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