By Carl Adkins

Silent calls are the single greatest menace to the public perception of call centres. If we want to preserve any kind of workable outbound calling industry, they have to be stamped out. In a business context they are both a time wasting irritation, and a consideration for anyone running telephone marketing or research (outbound) campaigns.

Ofcom recently announced a new consultation which will have an effect on the number of silent calls we all receive. The bulk of silent calls are from call centres whose dial-out lines are dialling faster than the operators can answer.

Unpublished MORI research conducted in February 2007 on behalf of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) included a section on silent calls. This revealed that out of a sample of 1,961 respondents, over 25% had received more than two silent calls each week. (Nearly half the sample received no silent calls at all, which is almost certainly related to the 14.5 million telephone numbers registered with the TPS by February 2007 which are unlikely to be receiving any unsolicited marketing calls.)

The Ofcom consultation is the snappily named ‘Revised statement of policy on the persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or service’ (www.ofcom.org.uk).

It aims to revise the Communications Act, within which The Persistent Misuse Statement dealt with silent and abandoned calls. It was specifically aimed at organisations, usually call centres, using predictive diallers, the single biggest source of silent calls (although Ofcom’s guidance can and does have wider application).

One area that I believe merits consideration is the use of Answering Machine Detection (AMD) devices. These machines detect the noises made by answering machines and drop calls before putting people through. The number of abandoned calls almost certainly increased by AMD ‘false positives’ because the AMD will sometimes misinterpret the presence of a live individual as an answering machine and terminate the call. This is, in reality, a live call that has been abandoned. They can also fail to recognise services like BT’s 1571 which, of course, doesn’t sound like an answering machine.

Ofcom is suggesting that companies that use AMD need to factor these false positives into their abandoned call rate. We would like Ofcom to go one step further and ban them. The call centre industry has been under a huge, negative spotlight, and we see no need and no place for them.
The people we work with in the call centre industry are hard working and deliver a great service, in tough circumstances, to their customers. We urge the business community to take note and support a ban.

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