Call Control using 3CX

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Ring groups

Ring groups are designed to direct calls to a group of extensions so that a person can answer the call. An incoming call will ring at several extensions at once, and the one who picks up the phone gets control of that call. At that point, he/she can transfer the call, send it to voicemail, or hang up.

Ring groups are my preferred call routing method. Does anyone really like those automated greetings? I don't. We will of course, set those up because they do have some great uses. However, if you like your customers to get a real live voice when they call, you have two choices—either direct the call to an extension or use a ring group and have a few phones ring at once. To create a ring group, we will use the 3CX web interface. There are several ways to do this.

From the top toolbar menu, click Add | Ring Group. In the following screenshot, I chose Add | Ring Group:

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The following screenshot shows another way of adding a ring group using the Ring Groups section in the navigation pane on the left-hand side. Then click on the Add Ring Group button on the toolbar:

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Once we click Add Ring Group, 3CX will automatically create a Virtual machine number for this ring group as shown in the next screenshot. This helps the system keep track of calls and where they are. This number can be changed to any unused number that you like. As a reseller, I like to keep them the same from client to client. This creates some standardization among all the systems.

Now it's time to give the ring group a Name. Here I use MainRingGroup as it lets me know that when a call comes in, it should go to the Main Ring Group. After you create the first one, you can make more such as SalesRingGroup, SupportRingGroup, and so on.

We now have three choices for the Ring Strategy:

  • Prioritized Hunt: Starts hunting for a member from the top of the Ring Group Members list and works down until someone picks up the phone or goes to the Destination if no answer section.
  • Ring All: If all the phones in the Ring Group Members section ring at the same time then the first person to pick up gets the call.
  • Paging: This is a paid feature that will open the speakerphone on Ring Group Members.

Now you will need to select your Ring Time (Seconds) to determine how long you want the phones to ring before giving up. The default ring time is 20 seconds, which all my clients agree is too long. I'd recommend 10-15 seconds, but remember, if no one picks up the phone, then the caller goes to the next step, such as a Digital Receptionist. If the next step also makes the caller wait another 10-20 seconds, he/she may just hang up. You also need to be sure that you do not exceed the phone company's timeout of diverting calls to their voicemail (which could be turned off) or returning a busy signal.

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Adding ring group members

Ring Group Members are the extensions that you would like the system to call or page in a ring group. If you select the Prioritized Hunt strategy, it will hunt from the top and go down the list. Ring All and Paging will get everyone at once. The listbox on the left will show you a list of available extensions. Select the ones you want and click the Add button. If you are using Prioritized Hunt, you can change the order of the hunt by using the Up and Down buttons.

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Destination if no answer

The last setting as shown in the next screenshot illustrates what to do when no one answers the call. The options are as follows:

  • End Call: Just drop the call, no chance for the caller to talk to someone.
  • Connect to Extension: Ring the extension of your choice.
  • Connect to Queue / Ring Group: This sends the caller to a call queue (discussed later in the Call queues section)) or to another ring group. A second ring group could be created for stage two that calls the same group plus additional extensions.
  • Connect to Digital Receptionist: As a person didn't pick up the call, we can now send it to an automated greeting/menu system.
  • Voicemail box for Extension: As the caller has already heard phones ringing, you may just want to put him/her straight to someone's voicemail.
  • Forward to Outside Number: If you have had all the phones in the building ringing and no one has picked up, then you might want to send the caller to a different phone outside of your PBX system. Just make sure that you enter the correct phone number and any area codes that may be required. This will use another simultaneous call license and another phone line. If you have one line only, then this is not the option you can use.

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Digital Receptionist setup

A Digital Receptionist (DR) is not a voicemail box; it's an automated greeting with a menu of choices to choose from. A DR will answer the phone for you if no one is available to answer the phone (directly to an extension or hunt group) or if it is after office hours.

You need to set up a DR unless you want all incoming calls to go to someone's voicemail. You will also need it if you want to present the caller with a menu of options. Let's see how to create a DR.

Recording a menu prompt

The first thing you need to do in order to create a DR is record a greeting. There are a couple of ways to do this. However, first let's create the greeting script. In this greeting, you will be defining your phone menu; that is, you will be directing calls to extensions, hunts, agent groups, and the dial by name directory. Following is an example:

Thank you for calling. If you know your party's extension, you may dial it at any time. Or else, please listen to the following options:

For Rob, dial 1

For the sales group, dial 2

For Zachary, dial 4

Solicitors, please dial 8

For a dial by name directory, dial 9

I suggest having it written down. This makes it easier to record and also gives the person setting up the DR in 3CX a copy of the menu map.

Now that you know what you want your callers to hear when they call, it's time to get it recorded so that we can import it into 3CX. You have a couple of options for recording the greeting script. It doesn't matter which option you use or how you obtain this greeting file, as long as the end format is correct. You can hire a professional announcer, put it to music, and obtain the file from him/her. You can record it using any audio software you like such as Windows Sound Recorder, or any audio recording software. The file needs to be a .wav or an .mp3 file saved in PCM, 8KHz, 16 bit, Mono format.

If you have Windows Sound Recorder only, I'd suggest that you try out Audacity. Audacity is an open source audio file program available at Audacity gives you a lot more power such as controlling volume, combining several audio tracks (a music track to go with the announcer), using special effects, and many other cool audio tools. I'm not an expert in it but the basics are easy to do. First, hit the Audacity website and download it, then install it using the defaults. Now let's launch Audacity and set it up to use the correct file format, which will save us any issues later. Start by clicking Edit | Preferences. On the Quality tab, select the Default Sample Rate as 8000 Hz. Then change the Default Sample Format to 16-bit as shown in the following screenshot:

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Now, on the File Formats tab, select WAV (Microsoft 16 bit PCM) from the drop-down list and click OK:

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Now that those settings are saved, you can record your greeting without having to change any formats. Now it's time to record your greeting.

Click on the red Record button as shown in the following screenshot. It will now use your PC's microphone to record the announcer's voice and when the recording is done, click on the Stop button. Press Play to hear it, and if you don't like it, start over again:

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If you like the way your greeting sounds, then you will need to save it. Click File | Export As WAV... or Export As MP3.... Save it to a location that you remember (for example, c:3CX prompts is a good place) with a descriptive filename. While you are recording this greeting, you might as well record a few more if you have plans for creating multiple DRs:

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Creating the Digital Receptionist

With your greeting script in hand, it's time to create your first DR. In the navigation pane on the left side, click Digital Receptionist, then click Add Digital Receptionist as shown in the following screenshot:

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Or on the top menu toolbar, click Add | Digital Receptionist:

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Just like your ring group, the DR gets a Virtual extension number by default, Feel free to change it or stick with it. Give it a Name, (I like to use the same name as the audio greeting filename.) Now, click Browse... and then Add. Browse to your c:3CX prompts directory and select your .wav or .mp3 file as shown in the following screenshot:

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Next, we need to create the menu system as shown in the following screenshot. We have lots of options available. You can connect to an extension or ring group, transfer directly to someone's voicemail, end the call (my solicitors' option), or start the call by name feature (discussed in the Call by name setup section). At any time during playback, callers can dial the extension number; they don't have to hear all the options. I usually explain this in the DR recorded greeting.

It's a good idea to set the timeout to connect to an extension or transfer it to voicemail, just in case they do not have a touch-tone Dual-tone Multi-frequency (DTMF) phone.

Click OK at the bottom to save the menu, and you're done:

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Previously, when we made a ring group, we didn't have the DR done. At that time, we weren't able to choose this option if no one was available to pick up the phone.

Now, you can go back to the Ring Group and, in the Destination if no answer section, select the Connect to Digital Receptionist option that you just created. It gives callers a chance to talk to a human first, and then if it goes unanswered, they will get the automated greeting. This is my preferred method which works very well for a home or a small business where there still might be a receptionist.

Call by name setup

This is a great option to have if you have lots of people in your company and you don't want to list them all in your DR. If your greeting script doesn't have room for every extension to be listed in it and the caller knows the person's name, this will let him/her look it up by dialing the name. There are three requirements that need to be met in order for the call by name function to work:

  • Users must have a self-identification message. Without this message, they will not be available for the feature.
  • The user's last name must be a-z or 2-9.
  • The call by name feature must be enabled in the Digital Receptionist menu, as shown in the previous screenshot, by having the caller select option 9 (for example).

Here is how the system works:

When you set up the extensions, you will need to tell all the users to record their self-identification number. This is done by accessing their voicemail (999 by default). Now go to the Options Menu by dialing 9. Then, dial 5. If you do not have one already recorded, it will prompt you to do so. If you've already recorded it and would like to change it, dial 0. If you want to delete it to remove them from this feature, dial 1.

Callers will now have to press the appropriate numbers for the last name. They must dial a minimum of three digits. To search for "Lloyd,", they would dial 556. If the person's last name is only two characters, they can dial 0 to fill in the third digit.

Once three digits are dialed, the system will search for a match. If it can't find a match, callers will hear Extension not found. If there is a match, they will hear Please hold while I'm calling to Rob Lloyd (my self-identification message).

If there is more than one match, the system will wait two seconds for an additional digit to help separate the matches. It will repeat this process until there is no longer a match, and then the caller will hear Extension not found.

If callers let the two-second timeout elapse or they press #, they will hear a menu of matches such as To call Ed Jones press 0, to call Sam Jonson press 1, or to exit press pound.

Call queues

Another paid feature of 3CX is call queues. A call queue is a holding area for callers to wait until someone in the queue group is available to get the next caller. I'm sure everyone has been stuck in a queue for support.

Here's how it works. Callers have a support issue they need help with. They call your company and get connected to the Digital Receptionist. They dial 3 for support. If you have two people doing all the support calls for this product, then when callers dial 3, they get put in the queue. They will hear some music until one of the available support staff is off the phone. When the staff hangs up, callers will be transferred to their extension.

Let's create a queue! We can create a queue by using the usual method: Click Add | Call Queue on the menu toolbar as shown in the following screenshot:

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Or, in the navigation pane on the left-hand side, click Call Queues, then on the right-hand side, click Add Queue as shown in the next screenshot:

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Just like the DR and ring groups, we have a queue Virtual Extension Number, too. Leave the default or change it to an unused number. Give it a descriptive Name, as shown in the following screenshot. I called mine SupportQueue.

Now you have the option for the Ring timeout(seconds) which will ring the support agent's phone for 30 seconds before being placed back in the queue.

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In the next section, select your Call Queue Agents just like you did with the ring group, as shown in the following screenshot. Use the Up and Down buttons to change the priority of the extensions. The priority is used to determine who will get the call if there is more than one agent available at the same time.

The queue agents must log in to the call queue by using the 3CX VoIP Client or by using dial codes on the phone.

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The next section is Destination if no answer. Here, we can see the various options available if no one picks up the phone, no one is logged into the queue, or the caller presses the * button. You should always provide some kind of fallback for the caller to reach someone or to get out of the queue:

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The next set of Other Options as shown in the next screenshot are the customization options for this particular call queue. They are as follows:

  • Enable intro prompt: This option gives the caller an introduction prompt—Thank you for calling. You are now in the queue. Please enjoy the music. The audio file needs to follow the same format as our Digital Receptionist.
  • Announce Queue position to caller: It's nice to know how deep into the queue you are. If I get into a queue with 20 people in front of me, I would probably hang up and try again later. If I hear I'm second in line, I'll gladly wait.
  • Announcement Interval (seconds): This timer is used to update callers on their queue status. It's nice to hear that I'm getting closer to a support person.
  • Music on hold: If this is a sales queue, I might just record some advertisement material such as Thank you for waiting. This month we have our new product on sale. Ask your sales representative for details.
  • Maximum Queue Wait Time (seconds): This timer gives the caller a maximum time before we get to the Destination if no answer mode.

Click OK when you are done to save your changes:

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Controlling calls is an essential part of any phone system. Without call control, every incoming phone call would be sent directly to someone's extension. In this article, we looked at various ways to control and handle calls in the 3CX Phone System. We learned how to set up a ring group, DR, and one of those dreaded call queues.

We also learned how to set up the call by name option in the DR and learned how it works. Don't forget that this needs to be turned on in the Digital Receptionist menu, and the individual extensions need to be set up. In the Digital Receptionist greeting, give the caller some instructions on how it works.

Go set them up and test them out. When testing, make sure every option works. You do not want a caller to be stuck somewhere unable to do anything except hang up.

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