Setting up for electronic retrieval of messages from your answering service

Most answering services today are already taking and storing their messages on computer.  Most also have the capacity to transmit that data electronically over a modem (their systems typically refer to this as "remote printing").  All that's needed, for ServiceDesk to feed this information into a Callsheet, is a common-language protocol by which we can distinguish from among the various items of information in the data stream.  With such a protocol, ServiceDesk can easily place each such data snippet into its correct Callsheet location. 

The protocol is simple.  As part of their own software system (StarTel is one of the more commonly used packages), your answering service must already configure a customized inquiry page for your company (this is the page that comes up on each operator's screen when she is taking a call on your line).  This page consists, basically, of a series of input lines, each preceded by a label which denotes the type of information that should be entered on it (see example in Exhibits). 

The keywords

Now here's the key.  All you must do is have your answering service label its lines—on the inquiry page it uses for your company's calls—with the particular words ServiceDesk is prepared to recognize.  These KeyWords are as follows:

  • In: Following this word, ServiceDesk will look for the date and time the message was taken, and will plug such values into the 'OriginInfo' section of the Callsheet.
  • Nm: ServiceDesk will look for the name of the caller.  If the data consists of two words, ServiceDesk will assume it's the first and last name of the caller, and will invert the two words, inserting a comma between, before plugging them into the Callsheet’s ‘CustomerName’ Line.
  • Telephone Number........: The expectation here is self-explanatory.  The ellipses are added because with their addition it leaves only enough space on a standard 38 character line (which is typical for answering service software) for entering a complete telephone number, and nothing more.  Without such limits operators sometimes put other data in such a line, which gets lost when ServiceDesk tries to stuff it all into a mere 12-character Callsheet telephone number box.
  • Adr: Self-explanatory.
  • Cty: Self-explanatory.
  • Prblm/Rqst: Ask your service to allow for two lines of input data under this heading.  This data is plugged into the Callsheet section similarly labeled, where there is obviously plenty of space for two lines of data from your answering service, and it's a place where that much data is often useful.
  • Items(s) Type.......: Self-explanatory, except we again add ellipses (making the entire label 21 characters) to limit the length of field remaining for operator input.
  • Item(s) Make........: Same as above.
  • Appointment Dt & Tm.: Same as above.
  • How will this person pay?: It's often useful to request that an answering service ask this question as a polite means of assuring the customer knows payment is expected when the service call is performed.  ServiceDesk inserts any info your answering service inputs on this line into the ‘LocationName’ line of the Callsheet.  The field is unessential if you prefer not to use it.

Once your answering service has set itself up to precede each of its message lines with these keywords, and has taken a few messages under the format, go ahead and try getting messages electronically.  In all likelihood your service will need to request "remote printing" from their software (if needing to help them out, you can tell them that on the StarTel system the appropriate command is Ctrl-R).  In response, their computer will dial yours (assuming it's been provided with the correct telephone number).  To answer and receive the messages, you'll need to bring up your ServiceDesk Communications form (Alt-R for 'R'eceive messages, or use the menu).  From that form you can set for "Auto-Answer" before the phone starts ringing, or set to "answer Now" after it's already ringing.  Once the connection is made, you should see the entire data stream fill rapidly into the form's receive box, while each item of information correctly pops at the same time into the appropriate position of its own Callsheet. 

Your service should set its modem, incidentally, to communicate at 1200 baud, E,7,2 (ServiceDesk will look for your modem, internally, at whichever CommPort you’ve specified via the SettingsForm).  If these settings won't work for your situation, let us know and we'll send you an updated version which allows you to change the settings.

A final note.  It is standard on the commonly used StarTel system (used by answering services around the country) for each message to be separated with a string of hyphens (see sample printout in Exhibits).  ServiceDesk looks for this string to determine that one message has ended and the next begun.  If your service uses a different means to indicate message separation, let us know and we'll adapt ServiceDesk to comply.