Ofcom has recently published its guidelines for Silent Calls. Essentially, Ofcom’s consultation document calls for the number of abandoned calls to be limited to 3% of all ‘live’ calls made by the predictive dialler and for a message to be played in the place of silence when a call is abandoned.
Silent calls occur when automated calling systems used by call centres for telemarketing, market research, debt collection and other purposes, generate more calls than the available call centre agents can deal with. When the person dialled answers the telephone, there is no agent available, resulting in silence on the line. These abandoned calls can cause significant anxiety and annoyance.
The Ofcom guidelines, which are out to consultation until January 2006, are expected to come into force soon after. Ofcom’s revised policy sets out a series of requirements for organisations using automated calling systems, including:
- Any abandoned calls must carry a recorded information message which identifies the source of the call and offers the person called an opportunity to decline further calls from that source;
- 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 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 be below three per cent of total calls for any 24 hour period for each campaign. This is a lower threshold than existing published industry codes which require a five per cent limit, and is intended to require operators to manage their systems more effectively; and
- Records must be kept to demonstrate compliance with these requirements.
The level of fines will rise from 5,000 to 50,000 for each breach of the rules.
Sections 128-131 of the Communications Act 2003 give Ofcom power to take action against persistent misuse of electronic networks or services, including silent and abandoned calls.
Ofcom will apply these policies to all UK companies commissioning services from any call centre, whether located in the UK or overseas.
Ofcom Chief Executive Stephen Carter said: “Excessive abandoned calls have become a real problem. We believe new fines and new rules, backed by firm enforcement action, are appropriate and necessary.”
Ofcom is seeking views on the revised policy by 9 January 2006.
“Ofcom’s action on silent and abandoned calls isn’t about making life difficult for well-run telemarketing or customer service organisations, it’s wholly focused on ending the persistent misuse of dialler systems. It’s important to recognise that abandoned calls can cause real anxiety and annoyance for consumers, so we support Ofcom’s determination to introduce new measures backed by firm enforcement for breaches of the rules, and meaningful fines,” said Sabio’s Director, Adam Faulkner. “It will be far harder for those companies who have used silent calls aggressively to prosper,” he added.
Rufus Grig offers a cautious welcome to the Ofcom Silent Call Proposals, describing them as “a good start”. “In effect the silent call will become illegal. These will be replaced with recorded messages. These messages must state the purpose of the call, who made it and give people the option to be removed from the list. They must also not have any telemarketing content. The proof of the pudding will, however, be in the effectiveness of the enforcement of this policy. Will we see those flouting good practice finally being punished for their misdemeanours?” he adds.
But it does look as through Ofcom is starting to find its teeth. Ofcom is now starting to track down and penalize rogue diallers. Ofcom has already issued notifications to six companies: Thomson Directories Ltd, Ant Marketing, Fax Information Services Ltd, Promote-IT Ltd, The Listening Company Ltd, MKD Holdings (Kitchens Direct) and Firestorm Marketing Ltd to comply with the rules. Toucan Telecom was investigated but not found not to be breaking the rules.
So far, no company has been fined.