Do you make outbound calls from your call centre? If so, you might fall under the cosh of the latest Ofcom Regulations.
Sian Ciabattoni takes us through them.
Outbound automated diallers were first introduced into the UK in the early 1990s. As a result of initial ‘over-enthusiasm’ by contact centres, the Telephone Preference Service was set up in 1999 and today has over 15 million phone numbers registered. The DMA Code of Practice was published in 2001, closely followed by the Communications Act which was set up in 2003 to regulate outbound dialling operations.
The regulations are key to regulating silent or abandoned calls, which can be annoying and irritating and for some people can cause worry and anxiety. Silent calls occur when automated outbound diallers dial telephone numbers automatically and connect the customer to an agent as soon as the phone is answered. Problems sometimes occur when these systems generate more calls than can be answered by call centre staff.
All contact centre solutions providers should be vigilant to ensure their clients remain compliant and operate within the silent call regulations. We have spoken to many people who are either not aware of the regulations or do not understand the implications of non-compliance.
Following the Ofcom Revised Statement in September last year, we have summarised the key points as follows:
Ofcom Revised Statement:
- Whilst Ofcom has not specifically banned Answer Machine Detect (AMD), they are aware that even the most accurate AMD will, unavoidably, generate some false positives and therefore abandoned calls.
- The consultation suggested that companies using AMD need to factor AMD “false positives” into their abandoned call rate by subtracting AMD calls from the number of calls categorised as being passed to a live operator. AMD ‘calls’ are calls answered by an answer machine and correctly identified as such; these should not be included in the abandoned call rate calculation.
- With regard to AMD, Ofcom has not stated a specific false positive rate. However, in the course of an investigation, the onus will be placed on the user to demonstrate the basis and evidence on which an estimate has been made and would likely require practical testing.
- Any abandoned calls must carry a brief recorded information message which identifies the source of the call and offers the person called an opportunity to decline further calls from that source. The message must be played ‘within 2 seconds of the telephone being picked up’, rather than the earlier ‘within 2 seconds of the call being answered’.
- Calling Line Identification (CLI) must be presented on all outbound calls from call centres using automated calling systems. CLI allows people to dial 1471 and access the telephone number of the person or organisation calling them.
- Telephone numbers dialled and then abandoned should not be called again by that organisation’s automated calling system for at least 72 hours, unless a dedicated operator is available to take the call.
- Abandoned call rates must not exceed 3% of live calls for any 24-hour period for each campaign. Unanswered calls must ring for a minimum of 15 seconds.
- Records must be kept to demonstrate compliance with these requirements.
The initial penalty for silent calls enforced by Ofcom was £5,000; this was increased to £50,000 in March 2006. Recent press coverage has shown that the new Chairperson of Ofcom, Colette Bowe would like to raise this fine even further.
To date, Ofcom has prosecuted ten companies between £10,000 and £50,000. The fines are mainly because of the following misuse:
- Abandoned call rate higher than 3% within a number of 24-hour periods
- Campaigns did not allow calls to ring for a minimum of 15 seconds
- No information message played when calls connected to customers were abandoned
- No presentation of Calling Line Identification
So if you are a contact centre, what are your options? If you have already turned off Answer Machine Detect (AMD) you are likely to be compliant.
Contact centres still using AMD will need to make sure that their systems are set to comply with the guidelines outlined above. This is likely to reduce agent productivity, so it is likely that they will have to recruit more contact centre staff to ensure that the same number of calls/connects are being made.
Contact centres also have the option to implement new technology, such as Intelligent Voice Messaging (IVM) or SMS Text Messaging.
Intelligent Voice Messaging (IVM) allows contact centres to push messages out to customers, (e.g. informational messages, such as “your account is close to going overdrawn,” “your payment is due,” or “your tickets have been issued”). If IVM is utilised, contact centres should ensure regulatory compliance by gaining prior consent for these types of message contacts from their customers.
SMS Text Messaging can be used both for inbound and outbound campaigns. Similar to IVM, SMS Text Messaging allows contact centres to push and receive messages. Web Chat enables immediate customer contact, with the benefits of increased website leads and conversions, reduced website abandonment, access to detailed reporting, and the ability to gain greater intelligence about your website traffic. The results of Web Chat have been proven to be 30% more productive than handling phone calls, and recent US studies have proven that Web Chat can reduce shopping cart abandonment by up to 20%.
It is an ideal opportunity for contact centres to review their dialling strategies and techniques. This could relate to a number of areas, including pacing, telephony strategies, filtering, ‘no contact’ recycling, scripting, skill-set routing, and call-back management, to name but a few. Best practice strategies can increase agent productivity by up to 30% and also increase contact and list penetration rates.
Sian Ciabattoni is Marketing Director EMEA for Noble Systems.
Noble Systems are holding a series of Compliance Seminars which will cover details of the new regulations and advice on maintaining a compliant yet efficient system. If you are interested in these please contact Sian through the Noble Systems website.
True Intelligent Voice Messaging systems don’t just ‘push messages out to customers’, they interact with the customer. They use ‘real voice’ prompts and recognise voice responses, creating a dialogue with the customer. This provides the opportunity for the automated call ,for example, to confirm that the right party is on the phone or ask if the right party can be brought to the phone whilst the call is held; once the right party is available the call is transferred to a live agent. This can provide a huge increase in call centre productivity and agent motivation.
If an answering machine is detected, a message can be left detailing who has called and asking the customer to ring back, solving the problem of AMDs creating silent calls.
Two points from a semi-retired campaigner on this issue.
There is no escape for AMD users.
Apart from the very low natural “no agent available” rate that is necessary to meet the overall 3% limit, if positive AMD is used to trigger the call being abandoned then the requirement to present an Informative Message applies. As this must be done within 2 seconds of the telephone being picked up, then the sound sample used by the AMD must be short to the point of uselessness.
As any SILENT call is unacceptable, only methods of AMD that are guaranteed to be 100% effective may be used. It is for the call centre industry to work with telecomms providers to develop and implement such methods if they are deemed to be worthwhile.
Secondly, the point about “consent” for use of recorded messages on outbound calls needs to be clarified. This must be explicit consent. A failure to register with the TPS, or general consent to being called is not sufficient.
This is matter of statutory regulation (the PECR 2003 #19), enforced by the ICO.
This is quite different from Ofcom’s powers under ss128-130 of the Communications Act, which do not include the ability to impose general regulation. Only the powers under s129 include the ability to impose specific requirements in particular cases.
Section 131 bears only on Ofcom, which is thereby required to have regard to its Statement of Policy. Ofcom is not however bound to adhere rigidly to the content of this Statement, as it has demonstrated on many occasions.
Beginners, and those who should know better, must note that there are no statutory “Silent Call regulations”.
What are he legal hours outbound calls can be made according to ofcom?