Nuisance calls: five things we need to know about answering machine detection

The spotlight is firmly on mitigation of nuisance calls right now says Justin Hamilton- Martin : Ofcom recently ruled that telemarketing companies must display their telephone numbers, while December saw an update from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Ofcom update on their joint action plan to tackle nuisance calls and text messages.

This month Ofcom closes its consultation period on its ‘persistent misuse’ policy.

In turn, these developments have focused attention back on effective use of outbound diallers, to ensure that they stay within acceptable industry guidelines, whether those stay the same as they are now or become more stringent in the future.  As part of this, companies who use – or are considering using – Answering Machine Detection (AMD) to help maximise the productivity of their outbound dialling teams need to be aware of the impact that AMD can have on compliance.

Some readers will be familiar with the topics in question, while for others, the whole area of nuisance calls, outbound dialling and AMD can be bewildering.  So here are five essential ‘need to know’ facts:

ONE – It’s all about outbound diallers – few would dispute the benefits of outbound diallers as a means to streamline the whole agent-customer engagement process.  However, the more potential call recipients are reached, the higher the potential for answering machines to be reached, leading to ‘abandoned’ or ‘silent’ calls.

TWO – AMD is essentially about listening to a telephone line after it’s been answered – to determine if there’s a ‘live’ person at the other end, the purpose of this being to present agents with the maximum number of ‘real’ call recipients.  Over-dialling is a practice that enables more outbound calls to be made.

THREE – AMD is not new – in fact, it’s been around for about two decades in one form or another.  That said, it’s evolved a great deal in recent times (more on that later).  When it was first introduced, it was focused on preventing answering machines from reaching agents, rather than preventing ‘live’ call recipients being incorrectly identified as answering machines.

FOUR – traditional AMD cadence technology has had some bad press –– such as the inaccuracies around assessing if a call has been answered by a human or machine within Ofcom’s two second permitted time limit (which also causes an annoying delay).  Testing around the system is part of Ofcom’s set of requirements, including estimating the likely number of silent calls.  The current accepted abandonment rate is 3%, so if false positives are estimated at just over 1%, then the contact centre would need to monitor the dialler and ensure it remains at >2% abandonment every day in order to remain compliant. The complex testing, monitoring and reporting to Ofcom meant that some users felt the potential benefits were outweighed by the administration and risk involved.  As a result, some companies limit how they use cadence AMD, or have stopped using it altogether.

FIVE – AMD is changing – the new generation of AMD technology takes a very different approach.  Rather than trying to detect every answering machine, it only filters out a call if certain that an answering machine is present, plus it is undetectable to the called party.  The net effect is that the abandoned calls from false positives are almost entirely eradicated, making it easier for contact centres to comply with Ofcom guidelines whilst still filtering out a considerable proportion of of wasted agent calls.

It will be interesting to see how the industry develops over the next year and to watch out for any changes from Ofcom as a result of the consultation.  However, regardless of any official change in rules, ensuring that nuisance calls are kept to a minimum while keeping contact centres as productive as possible has to be a good thing.

Justin Hamilton-Martin is CEO, Ultracomms

Justin Hamilton Martin