It has now been almost 6 months since the latest Ofcom regulations came into force.
We asked the dialler vendors for their opinion on how well the Ofcom regulations are working. Their answers make for interesting reading.
In particular, we asked the following questions:
- What is your view on the latest Ofcom regulations?
- What have you done to ensure that your products stay on the right side of the Ofcom regulations?
- What are you recommending to your customers about Answer Machine Detection, and why?
The answers reflect a variety of different opinions.
Do we have to discuss this for another decade?
Since 1998, Infinity has worked with most dialler platforms and conducted dialler audits to test DMA and Ofcom compliance. We consider that this experience, together with our vendor-independence, puts us in an advantageous position to advise companies about Answer Machine Detection (AMD).
To date, none of our tests have shown that any dialler vendor’s AMD technology is accurate enough to regularly detect whether the sound on a line is a live person or an answer machine within 2 seconds of a call going live. And not a single vendor has provided proof (on or off the record) to any of our clients that AMD is accurate enough to guarantee compliance.
If effective, AMD could clearly have a positive impact on agent productivity – and cut costs. However, these benefits need to be carefully balanced against possible negatives, namely:
- ‘No assessments’ or ‘incorrect assessments’, i.e. where diallers reach people but think that they’ve reached answer machines (so called false positives) and hang up, resulting in silent calls and annoyed customers or prospects.
- Increased ‘data burn’, i.e. where outbound teams race through calling lists as more and more people opt out, resulting in the need for ever more fresh data.
- Possible fines, with the maximum fine for falling foul of Ofcom rules recently increasing to a whopping £2m!
Infinity always advocates ‘best practice’, and as things stand, we recommend that our dialler clients switch off AMD – even in countries with less stringent dialler regulations than in the UK. One only has to look at cases of companies that have been ‘named and shamed’ in the national media for flouting Ofcom rules to see that bad dialler management can create catastrophic brand, career and profit damage.
Personally, when I think about all the audits and articles published since 1998, I really do hope AMD is banned so we don’t have to discuss it for another decade!
Carl Adkins, Managing Director, Infinity CCS (www.infinityccs.com)
Ofcom must sort the wheat from the chaff
In the right hands, outbound dialling is a highly effective marketing and sales tool. In the wrong hands, however, it can be a persistent menace to consumers and businesses.
The Ofcom regulations are necessary to both ensure consistency in the market and combat rogue companies that are giving the outbound industry a bad name. It’s an ongoing battle and more regulation is required, especially when it comes to regulating offshore operators whose activities currently fall outside the regulator’s scope.
Ofcom is doing a good job in difficult circumstances. Technology vendors, operators, consumers and consultants are all putting across their views but they’re lobbying from different positions. There are technology vendors that can effectively support AMD and those that can’t. Ofcom must sort the wheat from the chaff – a particularly tricky task given that emotions are running high and the majority of responses it receives are negative.
However, rules are rules and it’s up to dialler manufacturers to ensure that their clients are fully Ofcom compliant. In this regard, Aspect believes it has done more than most.
We reacted quickly to the regulatory changes and had software updates available for clients within days of the revised regulation being published on 1st October 2010 (even though those changes didn’t come into force until 1st February 2011) allowing plenty of time to plan their roll-outs. Version 6.6 of the Aspect Unified IP platform product (and all later versions) provides support for outbound recording in multiple locations, improved outbound pacing, ‘false positive’ and ‘false negative’ accounting and reporting.
We’ve also put a great deal of time and development resource into fine-tuning our voice analysis techniques, enabling clients to tightly control Aspect telephony media server resources through software applications. The result is high Answer Machine Detection (AMD) accuracy. And we believe we’re one of very few companies (if not the only company) that can currently offer AMD whilst maintaining Ofcom compliance. The key to this has been working with our own telephony media server (the one bit of hardware we do still manufacture ourselves!) rather than relying on third-party products; and holding numerous patents on AMD.
For companies operating in a collections environment and using Aspect Unified IP v6.6 or later, we would definitely advocate the use of AMD. For agents (who may be commissioned on revenue collected or promises to pay) it can be very demoralising if all they get are answering machines passed through to them – and even with low AMD detection rates, agent morale as well as productivity can be increased hugely.
In Telesales/Marketing/Customer Service environments, the decision to switch on AMD is more complex – often coming down to what drives business decisions. If it is about contacting as many people as possible, then AMD could be beneficial. However, if it is mainly about the quality of customer experiences, then it may not be.
Tony Hesketh, Director, Solutions Consulting, Aspect (www.aspect.com)
The Ofcom regulations in a global context are pretty darned good
If you consider the Ofcom regulations in a global context, they are pretty darned good. For, even today, few national regulators have had both the nous or the courage to set compliance rules. Most regulators still leave compliance to be enforced on a ‘voluntary’ basis by national industry bodies – something that just doesn’t work!
Looking at the detail of the regulations – the 3% rule is great for consumers but still tough for most predictive vendors whose designs haven’t kept up. But great performance under 3% is achievable so this rule should stay. And the 15-second rule is also a very sensible one. Where Ofcom continues to go completely astray is on Answer Machine Detection.
We enforce compliance in our products. In the case of Answer Machine Detection, this feature is available for use in the UK but our advice is never to turn it on – or if you do, don’t blame us if you get prosecuted at some future point.
There seems to be a fond belief in the industry that one day there will be a magical breakthrough in technology and Answer Machine Detection will deliver no or quite minimal false positives within the two seconds allowed. It isn’t going to happen ever, repeat ever.
The sooner Ofcom stops shamelessly giving into vendors and vested industry interests who think that Answer Machine Detection is their right, the better off we all will be.
Outbound campaigns will be better received and consumers will get a much better deal. And then Ofcom may have a code of practice that they can genuinely boast about.
Michael McKinlay, CEO, Sytel Limited (www.sytel.com)
Don’t use AMD
At Callmedia we’ve always taken a strong lead on responsible and compliant outbound – in fact we encapsulated the Ofcom rules before they were even the Ofcom rules!
We’ve also always taken the view that Answer Machine Detection (AMD) is not an appropriate technology for a number of reasons:
Firstly, it generates silent calls – there’s no getting away from that. All the research from Ofcom, the DMA and others shows the level of distress that silent calls generate in the population – particularly the repeat silent calls that are a natural bi-product from the use of AMD – imposing a level of citizen and consumer nuisance that is unacceptable.
Secondly, the silence and delay in connection at the beginning of a call where AMD is used tend to diminish the quality of the call and has on several occasions been shown to reduce the number of positive outcomes. The telephone is quite a “narrow pipe” as far as communications is concerned – missing the first “hello” places the outbound agent at a disadvantage from the outset, and puts the recipient of the call on their guard.
Thirdly, the use of AMD severely limits the dialler’s other weapons in terms of productivity – in two ways. Firstly, factoring the number of “false positives” in to the abandoned call count means that in order to use AMD you have to reduce the amount of “overdialling” your dialler can do – reducing productivity. In the second instance, the new “24-hour rule” means that if you don’t want to wait 24 hours to speak to somebody (not practical in many situations) then quite a bit of your dialling has to be done with dedicated agents, further reducing your contact centre’s productivity.
So, the advice is as it has always been regarding AMD: for the sake of the quality of your call outcomes, the productivity of your outbound operation and the experience of consumers – DON’T USE AMD!
The final major change in the Ofcom rules was clarification of the method of calculating the abandoned call rate: this shows both how AMD false positives need to be treated and also covers the situation where, with AMD not in use, some of the calls that the dialler “abandons” will actually have been answered by answering machines. Ofcom endorses a paper produced by the DMA detailing the required calculations – Callmedia co-authored this document and our outbound systems already embody this as the calculation methodology.
Rufus Grig, Managing Director, Callmedia (www.callmedia.co.uk)
The Ofcom regulations could be simplified further
Noble Systems welcomes the further clarification provided by the most recent Ofcom regulations, although we still feel that the document could be simplified further. Many of our clients continue to contact our ‘Compliance Action Team’ to clarify specific queries they may have and that are not clearly stated in the Ofcom documentation.
We believe that when used appropriately and responsibly, AMD is a valuable tool for driving productivity in a compliant contact centre. We are committed to ensuring that all our platforms can be managed in full compliance with all regulations for customer contacts. Our systems provide users with a number of configurable features that enable full compliance in line with the current Ofcom regulations.
The system allows users to control the pacing of their outbound dialling campaigns to ensure full system compliance at all times.
We recommend to our clients that they are aware of the Ofcom regulations and are able to demonstrate this knowledge. It’s important that companies understand the risks of non-compliance and that they know how to use their technology to enable them to stay compliant. We believe that in the future, Ofcom will tighten their restrictions, so we encourage our clients to look at other ways to enhance productivity of their contact centre, such as customised messages to answer machines that permit connection to an agent in the event of a ‘live contact’.
We also suggest that all of our clients subscribe to Ofcom updates (on their website), attend TPS forums, join the CBI, email any queries to our Compliance Action Team and attend seminars to stay abreast of any changes.
Sian Ciabattoni, Marketing Director EMEA, Noble Systems (www.noblesystems.com)
The abandoned call rate is the cornerstone of the Ofcom rules
The latest Ofcom refinements to their policy on the persistent misuse of dialling equipment concentrates mainly on the thorny and hotly debated issue of Answer Machine Detection (AMD) false positives. False positives are calls to real live people that the dialling equipment mistakenly identifies as an answering machine.
The latest Ofcom statement introduces two new measures which, in my opinion, provide a clear incentive to abandon the use of AMD technology altogether:
- The 24-hour rule: any number which was automatically identified as an answer machine cannot be dialled again, unless in preview mode, for a minimum period of 24 hours.
- The new non-AMD abandoned call rate formula: users of diallers which choose not to deploy AMD technology are now allowed to dial more aggressively.
The first measure acts as a stick while the second forms the carrot in this two-pronged strategic move against the use of AMD technology. In my opinion, the benefits that flow from the “carrot” far outweigh the few productivity gains that AMD technology may still offer in its regulated form.
Let me explain. The abandoned call rate is the cornerstone of the Ofcom rules. The main Ofcom regulation states that abandoned calls (as a percentage of all live calls) needs to stay under 3%. The new formula introduces a relaxation of this rule if AMD is switched off.
The new rule states that the number of abandoned calls can now be reduced to take into account the proportion of calls to answering machines as identified by the agents. This means that if half the calls delivered to agents are identified as answering machines, a predictive dialler would now be allowed to be twice as aggressive as it may have been prior to this new rule being introduced.
This is good news for dialler users who decided to turn AMD off. Their productivity will rise as diallers conforming to the new rules will dial much more aggressively while still keeping within the bounds of the Ofcom regulations.
Danny Singer, Managing Director, Noetica Limited (www.noetica.com)
What is your view of the Ofcom regulations? Do you have Answer Machine Detection turned on or off? We would be interested to hear your opinions