Silent and abandoned calls are a well known nuisance to consumers and Ofcom has outlined new rules to provide a consistent and enforceable framework for the responsible use of outbound dialling systems. One of the most important parts of the new regulation is that no more than 3 per cent of live campaign calls over any 24-hour period may be silent or abandoned – otherwise Ofcom can take action and impose heavy financial penalties for non-compliance.
Here are the key features to look for…
By Simon Gresswell, Director, ProtoCall One
With that in mind, outbound dialling software should include pacing algorithms to regulate the number of outbound calls made to ensure calls are not launched unless there are enough agents to deal with them.
Every call counts, so if agents don’t have the correct customer or product information to hand when the call is connected – the customer will get frustrated.
Having customisable screens with CRM and product data would help agents resolve issues faster with higher levels of consistency.
A customer using web call-back or email may have requested a call-back or further information on a product or service. So an outbound dialling solution needs to have the capability to integrate customer data from a number of sources.
Taking advantage of resource optimisation is extremely important. Blending is an example – when inbound call volumes suddenly spike and service levels start to drop, a dialling solution that can temporarily route inbound calls to outbound agents can significantly improve resources and service levels.
Balance alerts and other singular messages are more suited email or SMS. So a dialling solution that can integrate with automation of mundane outbound tasks not only provides a higher return on investment, but frees up the agent for more skilled interaction, making their job more interesting, and making them more likely to feel empowered to make decisions and less likely to feel the need to move on.
By Carl Adkins, Managing Director, Infinity CCS
Can we be honest with each other? First, let me confess my sins: my company supplies outbound dialling solutions and we have been independently auditing diallers for performance and compliance since 1998.
Now the sins of our industry: the industry has been using outbound dialling technology for many years now and too many organisations are still misusing this technology to make nuisance calls which results in unhappy prospects and ultimately worse results for all our businesses.
Here are just three areas that my experience has proven are vital to consider when buying a responsible outbound solution.
Productivity vs. responsibility
Productivity and responsible dialling do not have to be mutually exclusive. There are diallers that are able to dramatically increase productivity, without annoying your customers.
All diallers are not equal; some are most definitely better than others. It is therefore important that you ask questions about how the dialler works, what parameters can be set by you and how these parameters match your business. Questions to ask your current or prospective vendor: “Can I set a maximum abandon rate of x% that is automatically adapted without a dialler manager intervening?” “Do your parameters automatically comply with Ofcom/DMA regulations or do we need to control those ourselves?”
How often dial rates are recalculated is key. These need to be as close to real time as possible. The longer the period, the longer it takes for the dialler to re-adjust to changes in agent availability such as a shift change or break period.
The other important factor is Answer Machine Detection (AMD). With strong recommendations from regulators against the use of AMD due to its lack of accuracy, you need to make sure that this can be turned off.
As more customers request calls through email and the web, or front-line agents promise call-backs from back-office teams, having the ability to diarise a customer call and then ensure that this takes place when it is due is very important.
Your dialler needs to have the ability to work from campaign lists but also to blend in diarised call-backs that have been requested from potentially many different sources, e.g. other agents, your website, your email management system. Importantly, when the dialler is re-cycling an abandoned call, it must NOT do so within 72 hours.
Ask for proof
Finally (this really is my last piece of advice), don’t just take the vendor’s word, ask them for proof, not just a site visit. It has amazed me how even the largest vendors have never actually proved their technology in the local market. Why is this important to you? The regulators seem to be the most profitable businesses right now (about time too, in my opinion, having campaigned about responsible dialling since 1998) and it is you that will be fined not the vendor. As many of them say: “BMW don’t limit their cars to the national speed limit and it is up to the driver to comply with local traffic regulations.” Now, that’s another sin people don’t like admitting to at parties…
By Gareth Owen, Head of Service Delivery, OPEX Hosting (www.opexhosting.co.uk)
1. Smart algorithms
Responsible outbound dialling should ensure the abandoned call rate is capped at 3 per cent, which can often prove difficult for a dialler to achieve because they can’t physically predict when agents will cease working for the day. To address this users should look at dialler solutions which employ smart algorithms to keep within a sensible threshold. This ensures contact centres keep within legislation and leverage the technology to squeeze as many Decision Making Contacts (DMCs) out of that 3 per cent threshold as possible.
2. Smart automated call-back strategies
Many dialler solutions can now provide a wider view of campaigns, particularly those that are happening over longer time-frames such as a month or more. Intelligent systems can view patterns over this period and can automate call backs at times contacts are most likely to answer. These self-learning algorithms calculate when is the best time to contact a customer and re-schedule call-backs into appropriate time slots. This means that diallers are used in a less aggressive, smarter, more focused manner to increase the chances of a successful call.
3. Workforce management & training
The right level of training provided alongside a dialler investment can ensure smarter workforce deployment. Rather than having 50 agents sitting on the end of a dialler experiencing 50-70 per cent of failed calls, users can be trained to interpret patterns and call at the time of day a customer is most likely to answer. Staff can be re-deployed in other business areas during non-peak periods to assist with inbound service calls for example, making better, more efficient use of staff time.
Ultimately a holistic approach is needed to ensure responsible dialling today, the savvy consumer does not want to be constantly harassed with deals and offers which are irrelevant to them. They are open to contact if it’s relevant, timely and it matches their needs at that point in time.
By Jenny Thornton, Marketing Programs Manager, Northern Europe & South Africa for Aspect (www.aspect.com)
Upgrade to a .NET platform
Unfortunately, not all contact centres are using the right technology for strategically important initiatives – with many still relying on diallers purchased years ago. If you are one of those centres you may be missing out on systems that provide easier-to-use, expanded outbound capabilities in conjunction with complementary contact centre capabilities, via a web services Microsoft .Net platform. Since this type of product is standards based, there would be few integration issues across diallers, databases, or other contact centre systems, like the automatic call distributor or voice portal.
Connection to disparate host data sources
By switching to unified products running on a .Net platform, you could more easily build campaigns from disparate host data sources, customer interaction histories and complex business rules, which would enable you to take advantage of real-time business intelligence.
You could schedule the system to do more things automatically: complete downloads and uploads, manage records in an automated fashion throughout the day, and predict the best phone number and hour of day to place calls, and subsequently feed the information into your calling strategy.
By Dave Vernon, Senior Contact Centre Planning Specialist, Professional Planning Forum
Talk to anyone who is thinking about purchasing an outbound solution and the first question they will ask will be “Is your product compliant with OFCOM guidelines” and the answer will always be “Yes, of course it is.” The supplier will be giving an honest answer because all solutions carry the capability to stay within the current OFCOM guidelines.
However, the key to actually being compliant is not the technology but the processes and structure you put in place to monitor and control. Research conducted by the Professional Planning Forum shows that there is no one-size-fits-all structure when it comes to monitoring and managing your dialler so careful consideration is needed around this to ensure compliance and good performance is delivered. You only have to read the OFCOM investigations to see that this is the reason why many companies have breached the compliance guidelines and have been fined.
Don’t get caught out by your size. Gone are the days when this technology was only for the big companies. With the advent of software, network and hosted diallers, even the smallest operation now has access to this technology. If you have a phone line and a link to the internet, technologically, you are ready to go – but don’t forget that, big or small, you are using electronic equipment for outbound calling so compliance to OFCOM regulations needs to be delivered.
Another item to consider is that in future years your company may want to start using, SMS texts, automated IVR calling and emails. Will the technology you buy now be capable of delivering these possible future strategies, giving your organisation the flexibility to develop and change?
Finally, before you take the plunge don’t forget to consider how well the system can integrate with your current technology, as many companies are considering “blending” models as the outbound function matures and grows. Ensure that the technology fits within your company’s IT architecture, especially around your telephony, reporting and workforce management systems.
Some interesting comments here especially about the process and people elements being more important than the technology. From my experience with diallers since 1990, I agree that these are very important areas. However, given the recent Ofcom clarification in answer to my question at “The Sustainable Future of Telemarketing” event of 31/03/09, that it expects all organisations to be compliant regarding the revised statement of policy (10/09/08) NOW, there is an important area of technology consideration regarding Predictive diallers.
This is whether it is indeed possible to use Answer Machine Detect (AMD) and, if so, when. There is a developing view that Ofcom has effectively banned large scale AMD with the multiple whammy of false positives definition and 2 second measurement starting from off hook: hence using the equations in the Ofcom Statement (and if they and the assumptions are correct/reasonable – my experience indicates that the are), you need a 99% AMD success rate to get below the 3% disconnect rate (2.97, so only just below, and, believe me, it isn’t as simple as this as you consider the interaction of AMD and false positives). This is due to the interaction of the requirements that:
• ‘…the abandoned call formula shall include a reasoned estimate of Answer Machine Detection (AMD) false positives (when the dialler identifies a person as an answer machine)’.
• ‘…calls connected to live agent within 2 seconds/a very brief recorded information message is played no later than two seconds after the telephone has been picked up’.
Consequently, “Ofcom recognises that at present, and until accuracy rates improve, it will be very difficult to use AMD technology without breaching the three per cent guideline”.
The reason that this is important is due to the potential productivity impact of turning AMD off (although I do know of organisations that have had a positive experience).
Regarding “asking for proof” of compliance from dialler vendors, it should be noted that it is reported that “…Ofcom’s current view is that it is unlikely to accept a dialler manufacturer’s view about the accuracy of AMD equipment, rather the user should have come to its own, informed view, based on its testing”. Defining what form this testing comprises and actually performing it, is not trivial. So, when selecting a responsible outbound dialling solution (especially predictive) the purchasers should be sure of the resources available to them to provide any necessary assistance in the collection of materials to satisfy any Ofcom compliance audit.
This advice is appropriate to existing dialler users, not just new purchasers. Any existing dialler user needs to be able to prove its’ compliance now.
On AMD, this is not an issue of whose technology is better, best etc. It’s to do with issues such as network noise and how people answer the phone. Maybe one day we will get answering machine services that all generate a distinct hertz signal when they are contacted, but that day is not any time soon.
Until such day, AMD is a non-starter in the UK and we are now waiting for Ofcom to make that very clear. You cannot dial predictively at 3%, account for false positives and generate meaningful predictive performance, under compliance.
Some clarification on what makes for a really world class responsible dialer:
It must be able to respond immediately to any change in dialling conditions, in real time, not simply close to it (that’s what you get from us Carl!)
And users mustn’t confuse compliance with performance. They are quite different things. You can get great compliance, but it’s meaningless if your performance line doesn’t move. Think you have a great dialer under compliance? Then try this test. Run your campaign in progressive and then in predictive mode and see how much productivity improvement you are really getting. If you are not sure how to do this we at Sytel would be happy to help out.