Thursday, 17 May 2012

Diallers – The Silent Calls Backlash

Outbound call centres are responsible for the phenomenon of 'silent calls', where customers are called by diallers but there's nobody on the other end of the line.

The phone rings and rings, you pick up, there's no-one there... Silent calls are predominantly generated by predictive diallers used in call centres and contact centres. The 'dead air' is a result of an agent not being available to deal with the call resulting in the call being terminated by the dialler. As well as call centres, diallers are used by telemarketeers.

Silent calls are not illegal although the problems of diallers causing needless anxiety or annoyance triggered OFCOM to investigate two companies believed to be generating a large percentage of silent calls with diallers. In 2005, they issued an official warning to one of the companies and in 2006 OFCOM's policy on silent calls and diallers changed saying abandoned calls should carry a recorded message explaining the company behind the call, with silent calls being kept to below 3% in any 24-hour time frame.  

Homeworker David Hickson also began investigating silent calls back in 2003 after being on the receiving end of abandoned calls from diallers. “BT told me that it happens all the time,” he said. “They explained it was to do with diallers that outbound call centres use.”
Hickson led a campaign to stop silent calls that has had an impact on the call centre industry. The backlash against silent calls as result of diallers has even put the future of the outbound industry in question. Ofcom has since prosecuted a number of companies and despite advances in diallers technology, the backlash has triggered dramatic changes in the UK call centre sector.

Diallers: Does the Call Centre Industry need them?

Outbound centres that use diallers increase their efficiency. Helen Ward, a senior consultant at the hardware and software outbound dialling solutions company, Avaya, explained: “Manual dialling typically achieves seven contacts an hour. Preview dialling where agents can see what numbers the system is dialling achieves ten contacts per hour,” she said. “Predictive dialling, where the system makes calls based on the number of agents available, then connects the agent when the recipient picks up, can achieve 28 contacts per hour. This means that the cost per transaction is significantly reduced using these dialling techniques.”

Diallers Boosts Agent Productivity

An example of how diallers can massively impact on productivity is demonstrated by the bookmaker Betfair. Betfair adopted diallers in 2005 as director Julie Cooper explained, using agents to individually dial numbers was time consuming. The Genesys' preview dialler was installed and instantly boosted productivity without making any of the dreaded silent calls that so alienates customers. “With the implementation of the dialler, we increased agent productivity by as much as 50 per cent,” she said.

Telecoms Applications are a dialler provider. Managing director David Fricker explained how a predictive dialler offers far more than a method of making phone calls. “It involves live monitoring of the data penetration and results of active campaigns. It sets recall timers for engaged calls, telephone answer machines, dead numbers and so on. This saves agent time and improves data penetration to previously unachievable levels. It also lets call centre managers know that all their data is being used, and that it’s not just agents selecting the data that looks most profitable to them.”

Call Centres Misusing Diallers

But some call centres are setting their diallers to ensure that their agents always have a call waiting. Many call centres feel under pressure to deliver results and meet targets, and setting diallers up in this way is one way of increasing productivity, but it also generates more silent calls. Simply put, more calls are being answered by customers than there are agents. The anxiety the silent calls from diallers cause is often down to the assumption that the call is a burglar checking to see if anyone's home, or that somebody is deliberately out to make nuisance calls. The scale of the silent calls epidemic in 2004 was huge - up to 800 companies were using diallers in the UK, generating 120,000 complaints a month. The distress diallers were clearly causing was a wake up call for the call centre industry and direct marketing sector – damage limitation had become necessary.

The revised Ofcom regulations in 2006 on predictive dialling that stated a 3% limit on silent calls and insisted silent calls were explained by an information message helped improve the use of diallers in the call centre industry. 70% of contact centres changed their outbound operations as a result of the revised regulations, and the fines issued to Carphone Warehouse, Space Kitchens and Bedrooms, Toucan Residential and Bracken Bay Kitchens of up to £45,000 served as a further warning to call centres to regulate the use of diallers.

Changing Attitudes to Diallers Crucial

And now new technology for diallers is being introduced to help the call centre industry comply to the restrictions on silent calls. Dialler company itCampus UK said that with the right technology, there is no reason to have silent calls or long delays. As well as tapping into technology, call centres need to ensure dedicated managers are overseeing the dialler. As Kristi McKernan, client service manager at contact centre 2Touch, said: “We need to put systems in place to ensure that no one is bothered by any of our calls.” This includes 'sensible recycling rules' so the same customer is not bombarded with calls and that predictive dialling modes on diallers are only used when there are eight or more agents available to handle the calls. She added that call centres sticking to reasonable hours also helps eliminate customer anxiety and irritation.
Many experts in the contact centre sector believe that the industry needs to not just step up to the challenge to comply to legislation, they need to adopt these changes in order to survive.

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