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The Twilio cloud communications service available from example of one of the touchscreen NCR Point of Sale terminals being supported by this application.

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NCR POS Terminal Support IVR

This project was done while I was an RTA Coordinator with Student Affairs IT at the University of Montana, Missoula. Student Affairs IT (SAIT) is responsible for providing technology support services to the departments within the university's Division of Student Affairs and a selection of other client departments. One of these departments is the Griz Card Center (GCC) which is responsible for managing the student ID card system (Griz Card), its associated debit card system (UMoney), and providing first-tier support for the point of sale (POS) terminals located throughout the university. These POS terminals are responsible for handling payment processing including student meal plans, UMoney, cash transactions, debit cards, and credit cards. While it was generally agreed that GCC was responsible for handling the first tier of support requests from the POS operators, their staff was only available for a limited portion of the day and was only trained to handle certain common problems. It was not uncommon for operators to receive contact information for second- and third-tier support personal from our office, SAIT, while getting assistance with their problem. The operator would then often be unsure which person they should call for future assistance and would occasionally receive delayed support because they were unable to reach the individual they were trying to contact even though capable support personal were available in a different department or at a different contact number. After a larger scale service outage caused some trouble for University Dining Services (UDS) - the largest operation using these POS devices to receive payments for all on-campus dining operations - during a weekend when absolutely no support was available from either department it was decided that the support system for these operators needed a few changes. First, we needed the support system to become more formally structured so it was clear who was responsible for what support activities. Second, we needed to increase our support availability to include nights and weekends using a variety of on-call support staff. Finally, we needed to consolidate the contact points where operators could receive support so a single telephone support number could be physically attached to all POS terminals.

Having become familiar with the Twilio cloud communications service through previous personal projects I knew I could be of assistance to simplify the process for everyone involved. As an RTA Coordinator in the third tier of support staff and one of the few individuals responsible for being on-call during nights and weekends it was in my best interest to design a system that would simplify both the processes of receiving support and providing support. After working closely with the other parties who would be involved in order to generate requirements for the project I was able to build an interactive voice response (IVR) solution that allowed a POS operator to call for support 24/7 to a single telephone number and have their call properly routed to the appropriate individual(s) depending on a number of factors. Some of the features of the system include:

  • Call routing and flow was impacted by the current day and time to ensure that calls were sent to the most appropriate individual(s). This way calls could be routed to different departments during different sets of business hours, to groups of individuals assigned to be on call during specific times, and to a voicemail system during times when support has been deemed unnecessary.
  • Calls could be routed to groups of individuals at the same time allowing for maximum on-call coverage. In this case the phones of all of these individuals would ring simultaneously and the first person to answer would receive the call. This worked well in cases where many people could be on-call but could still engage in personal activities knowing that others would be able to take the call if they happened to be unavailable at that moment.
  • If a certain group did not answer the call a tiered list of groups to call was available to continue trying to reach various members of the support staff at increasingly advanced tiers. If for any reason none of the available groups were available at the time of the call the system would automatically detect this and reroute the call to a shared voicemail which would be delivered to all of the support staff via email.
  • The ability for our support staff to make use of personal phone numbers (e.g. their personal cell phone) while being on-call without the need to ever disclose this number to the operators calling for support. This eliminates the need for the support staff to carry a second "work phone" or for an on-call phone to be circulated between support staff members.
  • When appropriate, notifications of urgent calls or calls that required special attention were made to certain individuals using SMS messages.
  • When calls were received information about the call and caller is automatically collected. This information is sent to an email distribution group containing those involved to make it easier to identify common problems even if they are handled and resolved by many different people in separate departments.
  • Voicemail messages were delivered directly to the appropriate individuals' email inboxes as links to MP3 files.

Many of the SMS and email notification features worked particularly well for this group as almost all users of the system had smart phones that could interact with these systems in real-time, facilitating much improved communication.