Outbound Calling – Past, Present And Future – Part 1

July, 2013

This blog looks at the regulations for predictive dialers in the UK and US have achieved and what lessons other countries can draw from them.

Those of you familiar with Sytel will know that starting in the 1990s we waged war on bad outbound dialing practices, especially in the UK and the US. We played a key role in working with both Direct Marketing Associations and government regulators in both countries to bring in controls to try and create an orderly market.

The first regulations for predictive dialers have now been in place for about a decade and have become a standard that other countries around the world look to, albeit that none have yet legislated in such detail as the UK and the US.

In our travels around the world, we come across a variety of different market conditions for predictive dialing and this has prompted us to rethink what the regulations have achieved and what lessons other countries can draw from them.

We are going to look at UK and US experiences both pre and post regulation. And we are going to consider just live calls, not robo calls.

If you cast your mind back to the late 1990s, in both the UK and the US, consumers were being deluged by silent calls and abandoned calls. It was not uncommon to receive up to ten unsolicited calls a day, but with only 1 or 2 of them being live calls – i.e. an agent being available to talk

Eventually, in both countries, the regulators asked the local Direct Marketing Associations to put codes of practice in place for predictive dialers. This happened but with no visible impact on the volumes of nuisance calls. This should have surprised no one. With no effective monitoring or penalties in place, there was no discernible change in behaviour from either members or non-members of these associations

Then post 2000, regulators in both countries got fed up, and under overwhelming pressure from consumers brought in strict rules for predictive dialers. The dialing rules were extremely tough and, even today, are simply a step too far for virtually all predictive dialer vendors, whose productivity (predictive gain) under compliance is very limited. Few dialer vendors will admit to this, but it does mean that users of their products are obliged to be either non-compliant, or accept substantial drops in productivity, compared with pre-compliant days.

But there was more to come. The Direct Marketing Associations in both countries had successfully argued for outbound activities to be opt out rather than opt in. Unsurprisingly, in view of the dialer excesses, consumers also now demanded the ability to opt out on a national scale, hence the introduction of Do Not Call systems in both countries. If outbound telemarketeers have any faults, it’s their rampant optimism that everyone should be willing to talk to them! So to begin with, there was little concern about the Do Not Call lists, in the belief that in spite of the huge numbers of nuisance calls that consumers had been subjected to, most would not sign up. Well, history tells us how wrong this was. In both countries, consumers signed up in the millions, and there is now hardly an A, B, or C consumer who isn’t on their country’s list.

Next month we are going to look at the consequences of these developments for call center behaviour.

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