Abandoned calls: how local market can meet DMASA requirements

Paul Fick, MD of Spescom DataFusion (Image: file photo)

Abandoned calls – a silent ‘no response’ call terminated by the call originator when answered by a live individual – can be very harmful to the reputation of the direct marketing industry. Calls like these are inconvenient, annoying and can be downright disturbing. And now there are laws against it. In the UK, repeat direct marketing offenders now face up to £2million in fines. In South Africa, the Consumer Protection Act will launch in April 2011.

While this Act does not contain explicit regulations pertaining to abandoned call rates, it does include clauses regarding how and when consumers may be contacted for direct marketing purposes. Like any other industry, should the direct marketing industry fail to police itself with regard to abandoned call rates and should consumers protest, it could well be legislated. The new National Consumer Commission, who will be enforcing the Act, will be the entity to which consumers turn.

Locally, the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA) has in its guidance to industry previously set the maximum abandoned call rate at ‘as close to 0% as possible’ and encourage a maximum of 2%. This conforms to international norms: that the abandoned call rate shall be no more than 3% of live calls per campaign (i.e., across call centres) or per call centre (i.e., across campaigns) over a 24 hour period.

Silent and abandoned calls most often occur for two reasons:

• when an automated dialer makes a call to a live contact and there is no agent free to speak to the person, the call is consequently terminated by the dialler; or
• when a direct marketing company engages in the practice of ‘pinging’, using an automated calling system to scan a list of telephone numbers to see which are in service, the system may not be able to distinguish between a live answer and a recorded answering machine response, and the call is terminated.

The first instance is known in the industry as ‘over dialing’ – and it can be resolved.

In theory, an automated dialer makes use of historical data to predict call timing, and lines up calls for agents accordingly. Any number of variables may throw this timing out, resulting in a high call abandon rate. This is not a new challenge to industry and intelligent dialers are now building in functionality to enable users to configure call algorithms to ensure a specific abandoned call rate is not exceeded. They monitor the number of calls made and regulate dialing accordingly.

In the UK, as of February 1, 2011, persistent offenders now face fines from £50,000 to £2,000,000. New rules issued by Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, include the following:

• Unanswered calls — Calls which are not answered must ring for a minimum of 15 seconds before being terminated.

• 72 hour policy — When an abandoned call (other than an Answer Machine Detection, or AMD, false positive), has been made to a particular number, any repeat calls to that number in the following 72 hours may only be made with the guaranteed presence of a live operator.

• 24 hour policy — When a call has been identified by AMD equipment as being picked up by an answer machine (including AMD false positives), any repeat calls to that specific number within the same 24 hour period may only be made with the guaranteed presence of a live operator.

The smart response for South African companies engaging in direct marketing: get an intelligent automated dialer.

By Paul Fick, MD of Spescom DataFusion