New Guidelines For Predictive Dialer Use
BY MICHAEL MCKINLAY, SYTEL LIMITED
[Go to table of predictive dialer behaviors
The telemarketing guidelines for predictive dialers announced by the U.S. Direct
Marketing Association (DMA) in January 1999 represent a major step forward for outbound
activities in the U.S., and indeed the world, by sending a clear signal that high levels
of nuisance calls will no longer be tolerated.
1) Vendor Vs. User Responsibility. Perhaps the most
significant aspect of the guidelines is that the responsibility for implementing them
falls almost entirely on users, as opposed to vendors. This is not totally unexpected
since, given the current lack of agreed standards, the alternative would be to oblige
vendors to ship different versions of their software, depending on what dialing guidelines
a user was expected to observe. For example, it is not just an issue of DMA members vs.
non-DMA members in the U.S., but of different practices among countries to which vendors
ship. Well, that is the argument for now.
2) Nuisance Calls And Abandoned Calls. The heart of
the guidelines are the stringent limits the DMA has set on nuisance calls. Vendors and
users alike talk about both nuisance calls and abandoned calls as the things dialers do,
in seeking performance improvements. They are not the same; abandoned calls being just a
subset of nuisance calls. What the guidelines set out to do primarily, and admirably, is
not just to limit abandoned calls, but to curtail nuisance practices that dialers have
resorted to in the past, specifically what we refer to in the table as "predictive
hang ups" and "call delays." These are practices that dialers have indulged
in to gain extra productivity, whilst avoiding having to hang up on a live party and
declare an abandoned call.
3) Impact On Nuisance Calls And Productivity. Sytel
recently conducted some research in the U.S. to determine the current level of nuisance
calls. The sample size was small and hence open to significant variance. Nevertheless, our
results suggested that for every 100 live outbound calls made to consumers in the U.S.,
there might be approximately 50 nuisance calls of all kinds.
If this is true, then effective implementation of the guidelines in the U.S. could
result in at least a tenfold reduction in nuisance calls. Given that predictive
performance and the level of nuisance calls are clearly linked, how can it be that such a
large reduction in nuisance calls would leave much room at all for achieving performance
gains from predictive dialing? The response is:
- There is a law of diminishing returns at work in predictive dialing, in that the more
nuisance calls that are made (of all kinds), the less the additional benefit in terms of
higher agent talk time per hour or lower wait times between calls.
- It is quite likely that the way some dialers are being used means that nuisance calls do
little for productivity, meaning that a reduction in them may not be noticed.
Although probably unintended, the guidelines make dialer efficiency a real issue. So
expect to see a lot more serious discussion in the future on what's good (and bad!) in
predictive dialer design.
4) Future Impact. Outside the U.S., the U.K. led the way five years
ago with its code of practice, and several other countries have followed suit (e.g., South
Africa). Many countries have yet to address these issues, so don't be surprised to see the
U.S. guidelines providing a model for widespread adoption internationally. If and when
that happens, expect the onus of compliance to fall squarely upon vendors. Otherwise, if
users are free to make their own choices, then some, unwittingly or otherwise, may choose
less rigorous standards than those recommended in the guidelines.
The DMA has made a bold move, and the outbound market in the U.S. and elsewhere can
only benefit if the beachhead of these guidelines is both sustained and, in due course,
Michael McKinlay is the managing director of Sytel Limited, a U.K. company which
specializes in outbound software and supplies its soft predictive algorithms to some of
the world's leading call center vendors. Sytel has campaigned consistently in all major
markets for self-regulation of dialers and was a key adviser to the U.S. DMA in the
formulation of its guidelines.