Who can tell us what the main benefit of predictive dialing is? A sea of hands goes up. No problem there. Let's try another one. Hands up those of you who know what predictive dialing is, and how it really works? A few hands boldly up, but a striking number are at half mast, and there are quite a few no shows.
Does it matter? It certainly does. An industry/product starts to realize its true potential when vendors, users and other interested parties have figured out what is going on; not just what the benefits are, but how things work, and what the standards are. By standards we simply mean the measures and practices which allow all interested parties to be presented with a level playing field, for purposes of making effective comparisons and assessments of performance.
Take a related technology. Imagine that you are buying a database to manage your calling lists. A key question is whether the software/hardware configurations being proposed are up to the job. One way of doing this is get vendors to benchmark their solutions against a common standard. Here's a quote taken from the tpc home page of the Transactions Processing Performance Council
"The TPC is a non-profit corporation founded to define transaction processing and database benchmarks. TPC benchmarks can be run by any company based on published standards. The benchmarks are audited and reviewed by the TPC."
Of course all database vendors will go for differentiation, or even look to alter the shape of the playing field occasionally to suit their offerings, rather than just be tried by a brute ranking of numbers. But there is little doubt that this kind of standard has been effective in helping the database market to grow in size.So what standards, if any, apply in the case of predictive dialers? There is a wealth of legislation and codes of practice governing issues such as agent behaviour, who can be called, and cooling off periods. In the US much of this is covered by The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and there are similar rules in Europe, in those countries where outbound dialing is allowed. Some would even argue that the legislators have been too busy protecting consumer's rights.
Rules Governing Dialer Behavior One area, surprisingly, which has been almost totally neglected by the legislators and rulemakers is the rules governing how outbound dialers behave. Research in a number of leading outbound countries including the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia shows that in only one are there any explicit rules at a national level. That country is the UK, and even there confusion reigns as to how the rules should be interpreted.
So What Do These Rules Concern? Essentially they are to do with dialer behaviour when numbers are ringing, or when people answer and there are no agents available to take a call. This is a feature primarily of power and predictive dialing. If you are not sure why this is, see the highlight on abandoned calls.
Abandoned Calls Predictive and power dialers typically dial more numbers than there are agents to take calls,on the basis that not all numbers dialed will get a live answer. In the case of a predictive dialer, the extent of overdialing will depend on the factors assessed by it, in its algorithms. The higher the level of overdialing, the lower the wait times for agents between calls. And because dialers are dealing in probabilities and not certainties, sometimes live calls will be made when no agents are waiting, leading to calls being abandoned (sometimes known as a nuisance calls) by the dialer. These rules are as follows:
The Rules In Context If these rules are left to the user to interpret as he sees fit, let's look at what the performance implications might be in respect of the first three of these rules. In all cases the measure of performance being looked at is the agent talk time per hour on a campaign.
Depending on which measure of call abandonment, and which call delay you go for, the spread in the range of talk times per agent hour achievable, is 2¾ minutes per agent hour. What about at lower rates of live calls? The spread now in agent talk times achievable now is almost eight minutes. wider still!
Some dialers may allow longer call delays than those shown above. Added to that are the impact of any dialer hang-ups. If this practice is also considered, and hangups are not treated as abandoned calls, then in both of our calling scenarios, the same dialer, by virtue of the dialing rules being applied, can easily display variations in average agent talk time, in excess of ten minutes in the hour.
So How Does A User Decide..?
Is it really fair to leave this issue to call centres to decide for themselves? The average call centre manager doesn't want to be bothered with the fine nuances of dialing rules, he just wants to know what's permissible, and then to get the best performance from that situation, subject to the wishes of his client(s).
What About The People Being Dialed?
So Whither Dialing Rules? A telemarketeer flying in from Mars would be pretty impressed with the size of outbound telemarketing, especially in the US, and he would be encouraged by all the interest in it in Europe. But he'd probably look in wonder at the differing ways dialing rules are being interpreted in the market. If we asked his advice on whether dialing rules matter, here's a guess as to what he might say.
Sensible Dialing Rules Do Matter
And last but not least they matter to vendors selling predictive solutions as well, who should be competing on real differentiators such as product quality, CTI capability and so on, rather than on their own individual interpretation of dialing rules.
Published: Thursday, August 22, 2002
Charlotte Purvis is a speaker and communication consultant who has influenced an average of one million customer interactions each year for over 20 years. She consults, trains, and speaks on customer service, business communication, and leadership development for global companies, universities, and community organizations. She practices what she teaches as evidenced by nearly 100% of her engagements coming from repeat or referral business.
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