A pioneer in the telecommunications sector with over 25 years of experience. Jonathan is currently the CTO and Head of AI at five9.
We’ve all experienced it. Your phone rings—and it’s from an unknown number. It’s probably a robocall. You probably shouldn’t bother answering. But you’re also waiting for a callback from a contractor you need to talk to, and maybe it’s them.
So, you answer the call. “Hello?” No answer. “Hellooooo??” Still no answer. A few moments later you give up and hang up.
If this is a familiar situation, you may have wondered why no one was there. In the end, they called you. If they want to sell you something, they really need to talk to you. You might also have wondered if it cost them money to make that call – and there’s no profit in making a call that doesn’t include a sale. Why, then, do they (whoever “they”) do this?
The true cost of making calls
The answer has to do with how these companies operate. Many companies make use of outbound calls to reach users. Many of them are legitimate companies that are making these calls because users have asked, leaving their phone number in a contact form on a website, for example. Some, unfortunately, are making unwanted calls.
In either case, they collect a large list of phone numbers they want to dial. They know that only a small percentage of them will connect with a person, and even fewer will result in the result they are looking for. To make the business profitable, they need to minimize the costs of making these calls.
Part of the cost comes from the telecom fees to make the actual call. The other part—and the real cost—is the human labor of the agents who speak to the people who respond. If these agents manually went through each number one by one, dialed from their computer or cell phone, and waited for someone to answer, the cost would be prohibitive.
Agents spent most of their time dialing, waiting for the ring and then waiting for the answer. They also spent a lot of time listening to voicemails. Only a small fraction of your time would be spent talking to people who responded.
As a result, almost all call centers that have a high volume of outbound calls – whether those calls are wanted or not – make use of software known colloquially in the industry as a “dialer”. This software receives, as input, a list of telephone numbers. It is also configured with rules that determine how many calls must be made at the same time.
The software waits for someone to answer and tries to quickly detect whether the call was answered by a human or went to voicemail. If it detects that the call has reached a human, it checks to see if an agent is available to answer the call. If one is available, it connects the agent to the call and marks that agent as no longer available until the agent completes the conversation with the user.
This dialing software, when configured correctly, can ensure a perfect balance. If you dial too slowly, there will not be enough calls and agents will be idle. If you dial too fast, many calls will be connected, but all agents will already be busy on other calls. In this case, the software has no choice but to wait and wait for the user to stay on the line until an agent is released. That’s exactly what happens to you when you get one of those calls and no one is there. The dialer is making calls too quickly.
To avoid this common annoyance, the United States has enacted laws that prohibit these dialers from dialing too quickly. This problem was already manifesting itself in the 1980s, so the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was passed in 1991. Among its many provisions, it specifies that only a small percentage of calls made – 3% – can be “abandoned”. ”. A call is abandoned when the called user hangs up before being connected to an agent. To prevent such abandonment, dialing software typically tries to ensure that a call can be routed to an agent within a few seconds after they say “hello”.
Although legitimate companies comply with this regulation, there are those bad actors – the “robocallers” – that do not. Compliance with the regulation incurs costs; they must have enough agents to ensure that only a small fraction of calls are abandoned. Because these robocallers favor profit over compliance and don’t care about the impact on the general population of nuisance calls, they choose to run their “hot” outbound dialers with high abandon rates.
Vendors that manufacture contact center software and have high ethical standards go to great lengths to ensure that their customers use such software in compliance with the TCPA Act. In fact, my company, for example, regularly audits its product usage and is vigilant to prevent bad actors from violating the TCPA. Unfortunately, there are many other providers out there that have lower standards, and this results in the uncomfortable experience we all hate.
what can you do about it
As a consumer, you have the right to complain to your carrier. These operators go after the robocallers that are generating a lot of complaints, so your complaint can make a difference. Going after these robocallers is difficult, but a new technology called STIR/SHAKEN is making it much more viable.
This, however, is a subject for a future article.
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