About Call Accounting

The term call accounting is used to describe applications that record and report on information about telephone calls.

The actual conversation itself is not recorded but metadata such as the time of date, the duration of the call and the phone number dialed are usually recorded. These call records are known as SMDR or CDR and stored in a database as they occur.

There are three main areas of interest when analyzing the call traffic: inbound calls, outbound calls and abandoned calls.

Inbound calls are calls that are answered when someone phones you. The time it takes to answer a phone can tell a company what level of customer service they are offering, the duration of the call can indicate how much time is spent on the phone and whether more staff are required.

Outbound calls are those calls that were made from your phone to other phone numbers. The phone number dialed can be used to determine if a local or long distance or international number was dialed with the duration of the call an estimated cost of the call can be calculated. This sort of information can then be used to bill a customer or a different department in a business.

Abandoned calls are those calls that were not answered or ended unexpectedly. Do customers phone you before or after business hours? Do callers hang up while on hold or in a queue? Analyzing this information you may find that you are missing out on sales by opening late or closing early. Calls lost on hold or in a queue may indicate customer dissatisfaction.

The sections below use terminology for call accounting systems running in a Microsoft Windows environment. Programs running under other environments can be described in a similar manner.

Call accounting applications

Older and simpler call accounting programs run as a simple program that can be automatically launched when your computer is started. Running as a standard program these applications a user to login to their account before the program will start.

Typical problems:

  • Computer not running - application not started, no calls are recorded
  • No user logged in - application not started, no calls are recorded
  • Failure to record phone calls generally not reported

Call accounting services

More advanced call accounting programs run as a service, that is an invisible program that runs in the background and is always running if the computer is running.

Typical problems:

  • Computer not running - application not started, no calls are recorded
  • Failure to record phone calls may be reported

Managing a call accounting system

Call accounting systems typically store call records in a database. Smaller systems might use a Microsoft Access database; larger systems might use a Microsoft SQL or MSDE database. All databases require maintenance.

Like you backup your sensitive work documents (you do don't you?) your call accounting system requires backup too. Losing data due to one of any number of problems may prevent you from recharging your customers or chasing up a report of telephone abuse.

Smaller call accounting applications might require you to archive or delete older call records to free up disk space and to improve performance. Larger systems might use a more robust database but it will still require maintenance at some stage.

Instructions in user manuals may give you some information about when and how to perform database maintenance. Alternatively database maintenance may be part of your maintenance contract or you can pay a third-party to perform the maintenance for you.

Multiple site call accounting

Older and simpler call accounting systems are designed to record calls from one computer that is usually situated near the telephone system from which calls are recorded.

Recording calls from multiple telephone systems at multiple offices is possible with multiple call accounting software installations. But each installation is a totally independent program that typically cannot integrate with the other installations.

Some newer call accounting systems get around this problem by having each individual call accounting installation making a connection to a 'master' call accounting system one or more times a day to combine calls from individual installations into a single record.

Accessing call accounting inside the office

Older and simpler call accounting systems require all call accounting features such as administrative tasks and reports to be run from the call accounting computer. Some installations get around this by setting up remote desktop connections to run reports on the call accounting machine from their offices.

Some call accounting systems may allow you to create multiple user accounts that can access all or only part of the call accounting system, for example only one department.

Accessing call accounting outside the office

Simple call accounting systems are designed to be used at a single computer. Like accessing call accounting from a different computer in the office there may be a work-around to access the call accounting machine outside the office. More advanced call accounting programs may provide optional add-on modules that permit access from outside the office. 

Access from outside the office requires more configuration and management: firewalls, security, user accounts all have to be managed. Special software might have to be installed on your computer to access the system or use a secure connection.

Hosted call accounting

A hosted call accounting system is one that has the majority of the system such as database servers, backup devices, report modules, user control, multiple-site access, multiple-user access, automatic emailed reports, automatic system alerts all hosted at a data center instead of at your office. Only a small call accounting buffer box or small computer program resides at your office.

The consequence of this is that all the parts call accounting systems that typically break are somebody else's problem. Database maintenance is performed on a daily and weekly basis, off-site backups are performed daily and the systems are designed from day one to accept connections from multiple telephone systems and users.

Being off-site a hosted call accounting system receives call records from your computer via the internet and to make reporting really easy you can access call reports anywhere at any time using a simple web browser without having to install any special software on your computer.