So Predictive Dialers Head For Software... | Outdialing Systems

I found one company that put together a custom installation, using their own programmers, with a software-based predictive dialing system and Dialogic boards. It may not be the best system for everybody, but it is definitely possible to get predictive dialing for less than you expect.

Dialing is by definition software. It always has been. For years, the predictive dialing vendors (rightly) competed with one another on features — answering machine detect, speed of answer, and fundamental algorithm — that were software. The boxes were of secondary importance. They were proprietary because you needed lots of processing horsepower to drive those software applications.

Nowadays you want to have more flexibility with your agents, inbound or outbound. You want to link your hardware systems together: switches and computers, dialers and voice systems.

The logic behind it is overwhelming: if dialing features are mainly software, and powerful generic processors are available to run them, there’s no reason why they can’t be part of an overall inbound and outbound call routing system on a client/server platform.

So what should you be thinking about when buying your predictive dialer? Integration — with every other piece of hardware and software in your call center. Mostly software.

What’s happening in the call center now is the marriage of voice and data. Call centers are using open dialing platforms to take advantage of other niche technologies in the call center. It’s a powerful means of taking the benefits of predictive dialers even further.

Why is integration important to call centers? Primarily because of the increased control call center managers have over their technology. Essential call center equipment like ACDs, PBXs and predictive dialers now work in concert, allowing for greater efficiency and productivity.

Companies are driven to make better use of their resources. There are so many technology directions that companies can easily fritter away resources and not really improve the service they provide or the bottom line that they protect.

Smaller centers have basically three options:

  1. Buy a turnkey system (which may be proprietary) and build a telecom and computer system around it. This is good for companies that want to dump older equipment.

  2. Go for an integrated solution, combining the power of PCs and LANs with software or hardware dialing processors and a phone system.

    Using off-the-shelf parts, you can put together inexpensive solutions. You can grow into it slowly, without sacrificing the dialing features you need: swift answer detection and screen transfer.

  3. Or lay a dialing solution on top of the existing telecom and data infrastructure. Your best option here: talk to the vendors who make your existing equipment and software. Chances are you might find a dialer maker among the vendors of your ACD, VRU or call management software.

Software-driven predictive dialers integrate into the call center environment because they’re based on multipurpose minicomputers that let users run other software and because they employ industry standard computer-telephone devices to perform predictive dialing.

Besides predictive dialing, many dialing systems let call center agents perform preview dialing where agents call up data and review it before the call is placed. Preview dialing mostly benefits small call centers making business to business calls.

As for the future of predictive dialers, most agree about the importance of integration. For some call centers, integration means less dependency on mainframes, while others see it as a way to tie dialers into a national database of people who don’t want calls. Even more adventurous is the theory that full function predictive dialing will be possible from an agent’s home phone.

Regardless of what happens in the future, one thing is true: forward thinking has turned a once limited piece of hardware into a versatile and vital piece of technology. As long as that persists, its value in today’s (and tomorrow’s) call center remains undiminished.

But Wait - Aren’t They Complicated? | Outdialing Systems

Yes, and no. The story of dialing in the last few years has been one of a technology that matured, and then was overrun by changes in technology outside the box.

By that I mean that the basic functions involved in predictive dialing (or any other dialing, for that matter) were long ago created and encoded into software. The rest of the cost of a predictive dialer was the cost of the high-powered dedicated box needed to make it happen, and to integrate it into the list system, and to the agent desktop.

It wasn’t so long ago that predictive dialers were a simple purchase — you bought the one that gave you the most talk time per hour, or the one that had the best answering machine detect. What you looked for in a dialer was dialing features. That’s changing immensely.

Like most other hardware technologies, predictive dialers are responding to changes in the nature of the call center. Nowadays you want more flexibility with your agents, inbound or outbound. You want to link your hardware systems together: switches and computers, dialers and voice systems.

More than anything else, you want to choose the software applications that make sense for your business, and get cost-effective hardware to run them. Decoupling the software apps from the hardware is the most impressive development to come along in years.

Predictive dialer vendors, like PBX and ACD vendors before them, have been forced to adapt to a changing world. People are less inclined to choose a standalone system they can’t program and that can only be connected to a limited range of compatible peripherals.

Predictive dialing has always been a software application. It required a great deal of processing power, so vendors put their specialized software onto high-powered computers, most of them with a closed architecture. But the research and development was always geared to better dialing algorithms, more sophisticated call tracking features, and better database management — essentially software apps.

What started as a great idea for outbound telemarketing and collections — fire out more calls than necessary to maximize agent productivity — became the platform on which software companies continued to refine and develop new features for handling calls.

It was such a good idea that companies in other areas (telemarketing software, especially) began adding predictive dialing modules to their systems. The logic was good: if dialing features are mainly software, and powerful generic processors are available to run them, there’s no reason not to create a whole new category of product — the PC-based (or at least client/server-based) dialer.

The traditional hardware/dialing vendors are now changing to match. Several of them have taken their core technologies, enhanced them, and are presenting them to call centers in a new light. They are creating systems for managing all aspects of the call flow. They let agents make calls in predictive mode, and receive incoming calls as well.

To facilitate that, dialer makers have incorporated a technology to blend agents; this allows a single station to handle either incoming or outgoing calls. And although it’s not used widely yet, it’s growing. The dialer is steadily losing its identity as a purely outbound object. It’s got to act like, and interact with, inbound call routing systems. Because it’s increasingly unlikely that a given center will be doing all of one kind of calling, or all of another. Recent information from Datamonitor suggested that the market for outbound dialers was actually expected to increase in the next few years.

Since few call centers are now dedicated to outbound traffic, integration with inbound is the highest priority for the vendors of high-end outbound dialers. Their strengths is clearly in the software that routes the calls, downloads the lists, tracks the results and coordinates the customer information on the back-end. If this sounds an awful lot like the new CIS software, you are right. If it sounds like computer telephony integration, you are also right.

The most successful predictive dialer companies right now — the ones making the most interesting and useful technology — are the ones that have rethought the logic of the outbound call center and recast their dialer as an indispensable component of the inbound and outbound center. For all of them, the selling point is not the power of the dialing engine, but the value-added capabilities of the companion software.

Outdialing Systems

As an outbound call center manager or supervisor, you get more than a little annoyed when your agents can’t reach the people on their call lists. You know it’s not your agent’s fault. Much of their time is taken up trying to get through to a prospect to make a sale or collect a bill, and the longer it takes them to do their job, the more it costs.

Even if you have a small call center, a typical agent only reaches 25 to 35 people per 100 attempts, which could take hours. Enter predictive dialing: automation provides the same 100 calls in about 90 minutes, routing your agent only the ones that reach a human voice.

Today’s dialers are much more sophisticated than they were fifteen years ago. Predictive dialing automates the entire outdialing process, with the computer choosing the person to be called and dialing the number. The call is only passed to the agent when a live human answers.

Predictive dialers screen out all the non-productive calls before they reach the agent: all the busy signals, no-answers, answering machines, network messages, and so on. The agent simply moves from one ready call to another, without stopping to dial, listen, or choose the next call.

True predictive dialing is merely one kind of automated dialing — there are others; but predictive is the most powerful and the most productivity-enhancing. True predictive dialing has complex mathematical algorithms that consider, in real-time, the number of available telephone lines, the number of available operators, the probability of not reaching the intended party, the time between calls required for maximum operator efficiency, the length of an average conversation, and the average length of time the operators need to enter the relevant data.

Some predictive dialing systems constantly adjust the dialing rate by monitoring changes in all these factors. The dialer is taking a sort of gamble: knowing that these processes are in motion, and knowing that there is a certain chance that a call placed will end in failure, it throws more calls into the network than there are agents available to handle them, if all the calls were to succeed.

Sometimes the prediction is wrong, and there are fewer failures than expected. In this case the called party will pick up the phone, say hello, and be hung up on when no agent is available. One of the intricacies of predictive dialer management is fine-tuning the aggressiveness of your dialer’s algorithm.

Predictive dialing has been nothing short of revolutionary in the outbound call center. When agents dial calls manually, the typical talk time is close to 25 minutes per hour. Most of the rest of that time is non-productive: looking up the next number to dial it; dialing the phone; listening to the rings; dealing with the answering machine or the busy signal, etc. Predictive dialing takes all that away from the agent’s desk and buries it inside the processor.

When working with a predictive dialer, it is possible to push agent performance into the range of 45 to 50 minutes per hour. I’ve heard of centers going as high as 54 minutes per hour. (You can’t really go higher than that, taking into account post-call wrap up time.)

There is more to the technology than just the pacing algorithm. Predictive machines excel at detecting exactly what is on the other end of the phone, including the ability to differentiate a human voice from an answering machine. They typically decide that the call has reached a person within the first 1/50th of a second — the start of the word “hello.”

Here are just a few of the important ways predictive dialing systems can help you.

  • They completely automate outbound consumer calling. That includes the actual dialing, assigning agents and controlling the list you call from.

    You can run multiple inbound and outbound campaigns, and you can specify names on a list not to call. It also schedules automatic callbacks for nonproductive calls. Dialers let you set the parameters for the dialing algorithms to meet the needs of a particular campaign, like the percent of overdials the system sends out.

    With collections applications, for example, you may not care if the dialer has to hang up on a “customer” if there is no agent available. You’ll trade the customer’s good will for a higher volume of calls. But for a sales promotion, you’d want to keep those hang-ups to a minimum.

  • You can manage your call center more effectively.

    Standard features include real-time statistics about how each agent, group of agents or list is performing. Also, trunk pooling, which reduces operating costs by processing both inbound and outbound over the same trunks.

  • They reduce agent burnout and turnover. Just imagine all the tedium they avoid: finding the phone number, typing it in, waiting for the phone to connect and the number to ring.

    The dialer makes sure that the only calls an agent has to deal with are real calls, with a live customer on the other end. No busy signals, no endless ringing, no answering machines.

    Cutting out that stalling doubles the time spent talking on the phone. Talk time, which is about 20 minutes an hour without a dialer, jumps to 40 to 50 minutes with one. Agents like their jobs better when they don’t have to wait around for the phone to be answered.

  • Reach more people in less time. You penetrate lists more deeply in a fraction of the time.

Predictive dialers adjust the balance of agents from one list to another, taking into account factors like list performance, time of day and the success of particular agents.