Interactive Voice Response(Asterisk)

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Interactive Voice Response

 

In this topic, we will talk about IVR. The term IVR is often misused to refer to an automated attendant, but the two are very different things.

What Is IVR?

The purpose of an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system is to take input from a caller, perform an action based on that input (commonly, looking up data in an external system such as a database), and return a result to the caller. 2 Traditionally, IVR systems have been complex, expensive, and annoying to implement. Asterisk changes all that.

Components of an IVR

The most basic elements of an IVR are quite similar to those of an automated attendant, though the goal is different. We need at least one prompt to tell the caller what the IVR expects from him, a method of receiving input from the caller, logic to verify that the caller’s response is valid input, logic to determine what the next step of the IVR should be, and finally, a storage mechanism for the responses, if applicable. We might think of an IVR as a decision tree, although it need not have any branches. For example, a surveymay present exactly the same set of prompts to each caller, regardless of what choices the callers make, and the only routing logic involved is whether the responses given are valid for the questions.

From the caller’s perspective, every IVR needs to start with a prompt. This initial prompt will tell the caller what the IVR is for and ask the caller to provide the first input.

The second component of an IVR is a method for receiving input from the caller.we discussed the Background() and WaitExten() applications for receiving a new extension. While you could create an IVR using Background() and WaitExten() , it is generally easier and more practical to use the Read() application, which handles both the prompt and the capture of the response. The Read() application was designed specifically for use with IVR systems. Its syntax is as follows:

Read(variable[,filename[&filename2…]][,maxdigits][,option][,attempts][,timeout])

The Read() application

Screenshot from 2019-09-30 21-30-40

Screenshot from 2019-09-30 21-31-08


Once the input is received, it must be validated. If you do not validate the input, you are more likely to find your callers complaining of an unstable application. It is not enough to handle the inputs you are expecting; you also need to handle inputs you do not expect.
For example, callers may get frustrated and dial 0 when in your IVR; if you’ve done a good job, you will handle this gracefully and connect them to somebody who can help them, or provide a useful alternative. A well-designed IVR (just like any program) will
try to anticipate every possible input and provide mechanisms to gracefully handle that input.

Once the input is validated, you can submit it to an external resource for processing. This could be done via a database query, a submission to a URI, an AGI program, or many other things. This external application should produce a result, which you will
want to relay back to the caller. This could be a detailed result, such as “Your account balance is…” or a simple confirmation, such as “Your account has been updated.” We can’t think of any real-world case where some sort of result returned to the caller is not
required.

Sometimes the IVR may have multiple steps, and therefore a result might include a request for more information from the caller in order to move to the next step of the IVR application. It is possible to design very complex IVR systems, with dozens or even hundreds of possible paths. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: people don’t like talking to your phone system, regardless of how clever it is. Keep your IVR simple for your callers, and they are much more likely to get some benefit from it.


A Perfectly Tasty IVR

An excellent example of an IVR that people love to use is one that many pizza delivery outfits use: when you call to place your order, an IVR looks up your caller ID and says “If you would like the exact same order as last time, press 1.”

That’s all it does, and it’s perfect.
Obviously, these companies could design massively complex IVRs that would allow you to select each and every detail of your pie (“for seven-grain crust, press 7”), but how many inebriated, starving customers could successfully navigate something like that at
3 A.M.?
The best IVRs are the ones that require the least input from the caller. Mash that 1 button and your ’za is on its way! Woo hoo!

IVR Design Considerations

When designing your own IVR, there are some important things to keep in mind. We’ve put together this list of things to do and things not to do in your IVR.

Do

• Keep it simple.
• Have an option to dial 0 to reach a live person.
• Handle errors gracefully.

Don’t

• Think that an IVR can completely replace people.
• Use your IVR to show people how clever you are.
• Try to replicate your website with an IVR.
• Bother building an IVR if you can’t take numeric input. Nobody wants to have
to spell her name on the dialpad of her phone. 3
• Force your callers to listen to advertising. Remember that they can hang up at
any moment they wish.

Asterisk Modules for Building IVRs

The “front end” of the IVR (the parts that interact with the callers) can be handled in the dialplan. It is possible to build an IVR system using the dialplan alone (perhaps with the astdb to store and retrieve data); however, you will typically need to communicate
with something external to Asterisk (the “backend” of the IVR).

CURL

The CURL() dialplan function in Asterisk allows you to span entire web applications with a single line of dialplan code. We’ll use it in our sample IVR later in this topic. While you’ll find CURL() itself to be quite simple to use, the creation of the web application will require experience with web development.

func_odbc

Using func_odbc , it is possible to develop extremely complex applications in Asterisk using nothing more than dialplan code and database lookups. If you are not a strong programmer but are very adept with Asterisk dialplans and databases, you’ll love func_odbc just as much as we do.

AGI
The Asterisk Gateway Interface is such an important part of integrating external applications with Asterisk.

AMI
The Asterisk Manager Interface is a socket interface that you can use to get configuration and status information, request actions to be performed, and be notified about things happening to calls.

A Simple IVR Using CURL

The GNU/Linux program cURL is useful for retrieving data from a URI. In Asterisk, CURL() is a dialplan function. We’re going to use CURL() as an example of what an extremely simple IVR can look like. We’re going to request our external IP address from http://www.whatismyip.org.

Before you can use CURL() , you have to ensure it is installed.

Installing the cURL Module

Installing cURL is easy. If it was not on your system when you last compiled Asterisk, after installing it you’ll need to recompile Asterisk so that it can locate the cURL dependencies and compile the func_curl.so module.

On RHEL:
              $ sudo yum -y install libcurl-devel
On Ubuntu:
             $ sudo apt-get install libcurl4-openssl-dev

The Dialplan

The dialplan for our example IVR is very simple. The CURL() function will retrieve our IP address from http://www.whatismyip.org, and then SayAlpha() will speak the results to the caller:

exten =>  *764,1,Verbose(2, Run CURL to get IP address from whatismyip.org)

same => n,Answer()

same => n,Set(MyIPAddressIs=${CURL(http://www.whatismyip.org/)})

same => n,SayAlpha(${MyIPAddressIs})

same => n,Hangup()

The simplicity of this is impossibly cool. In a traditional IVR system, this sort of thing could take days to program.

A Prompt-Recording Application

In the automated attendent, we created a simple bit of dialplan to record prompts. It was fairly limited in that it only recorded one filename, and thus for each prompt the file needed to be copied before a new prompt could be recorded. Here, we expand upon that to create a complete menu for recording prompts:

[prompts]
exten => s,1,Answer
exten => s,n,Set(step1count=0) ; Initialize counters

; if we got no response after 3 times, we stop asking

same => n(beginning),GotoIf($[${step1count} > 2]?end)

same => n,Read(which,prompt-instructions,3)

same =>  n,Set(step1count=$[${step1count} + 1])

; All prompts must be 3 digits in length

same => n,GotoIf($[${LEN(${which})} != 3]?beginning)
same => n,Set(step1count=0) ; Successful response; reset counters
same => n,Set(step2count=0)

same => n(step2),Set(step2count=$[${step2count} + 1])
same => n,GotoIf($[${step2count} > 2]?beginning) ; No response after 3 tries

; If the file doesn’t exist, then don’t ask whether to play it
same => n,GotoIf($[${STAT(f,${which}.wav)} = 0]?recordonly)
same => n,Background(prompt-tolisten)

same => n(recordonly),Background(prompt-torecord)
same => n,WaitExten(10) ; Wait 10 seconds for a response
same => n,Goto(step2)

exten => 1,1,Set(step2count=0)
same => n,Background(${which})
same => n,Goto(s,step2)

exten => 2,1,Set(step2count=0)
same => n,Playback(prompt-waitforbeep)
same => n,Record(${CHANNEL(uniqueid)}.wav)

same => n(listen),Playback(${CHANNEL(uniqueid)})
same => n,Set(step3count=0)
same => n,Read(saveornot,prompt-1tolisten-2tosave-3todiscard,1)
same =>n,GotoIf($[“${saveornot}” = “1”]?listen)
same => n,GotoIf($[“${saveornot}” = “2”]?saveit)
same => n,System(rm -f /var/lib/asterisk/sounds/${CHANNEL(uniqueid)}.wav)
same => n,Goto(s,beginning)

same => n(saveit),System(mv -f ${CHANNEL(uniqueid)}.wav ${which}.wav)
same => n,Playback(prompt-saved)
same => n,Goto(s,beginning)

In this system, the name of the prompt is no longer descriptive; instead, it is a number. This means that you can record a far greater variety of prompts using the same mechanism, but the trade-off is that your prompts will no longer have descriptive names.

Speech Recognition and Text-to-Speech

Although in most cases an IVR system presents prerecorded prompts to the caller and accepts input by way of the dialpad, it is also possible to: a) generate prompts artificially, popularly known as text-to-speech; and b) accept verbal inputs through a speech recognition engine.

While the concept of being able to have an intelligent conversation with a machine is something sci-fi authors have been promising us for many long years, the actual science of this remains complex and error-prone. Despite their amazing capabilities, computers
are ill-suited to the task of appreciating the subtle nuances of human speech.

Having said that, it should be noted that over the last 50 years or so amazing advances have been made in both text-to-speech and speech recognition. A well-designed system created for a very specific purpose can work very well indeed.

Despite what the marketing people will say, your computer still can’t talk to you, and you need to bear this in mind if you are contemplating any sort of system that combines your telephone system with these technologies.

Text-to-Speech

Text-to-speech (also known as speech synthesis) requires that a system be able to artificially construct speech from stored data. While it would be nice if we could simply assign a sound to a letter and have the computer produce each sound as it reads the
letters, the written English language is not totally phonetic. 4 While on the surface, the idea of a speaking computer is very attractive, in reality it has limited usefulness.

Speech Recognition

As soon as we’ve convinced computers to talk to us, we will naturally want to be able to talk to them. 5 Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language can begin to recognize the complexity of teaching a computer to understand words; however, speech recognition also has to take into account the fact that before a computer can attempt the task of understanding the words, it must first convert the audio into a digital format. This challenge is larger than one might at first think. For example, as humans we are naturally able to recognize speech as distinct from, say, the sound of a barking dog or a car horn. For a computer, this is a very complicated thing. Additionally, for a telephone-based speech recognition system, the audio that is received is always going to be of very lowfidelity, and thus the computer will have that much less information to work with. Asterisk does not have speech recognition built in, but there are many third-party speech recognition packages that integrate with Asterisk. Much of that is outside of the scope of this book, as those applications are external to Asterisk.

For any query or issue, feel free to discuss on http://discuss.eduguru.in
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