By Abhijit Phadke
Predictive Dialers are very commonly used these days in outbound call centers to maximize the productivity by reducing the idle time spent in between calls. This article covers nearly all aspects of predictive dialers, and hopefully will serve as a valuable source of information for all those who are looking ahead to buy predictive dialers for their call centers.
Ok. So having said what this article is about, let's explore the topic further.
What is a Predictive Dialer?
Predictive dialers are softwares systems used in outbound call centers. These programs are installed on your main computer servers to which all your call center agents are connected. What these dialers do is that they auto-dial each of the telephone numbers from the list uploaded by you, one by one.
When the call is picked up by a person, the dialer software senses it, and immediately connects that call to one of your free agents, who can then talk to the person. These dialers are called predictive because based on calculations they can anticipate when the next call is likely to get connected and hence can start their new call attempts while all the agents are still on earlier calls. This aspect of predictive dialers is what makes them real time-savers.
Advantages of Predictive Dialing
I earlier did a bit of quantitative analysis, that shows how the benefit becomes more pronounced when the number of call center agents are more. Here is the link to that article, Benefits of Predictive dialers, it also contains the sample data based on which the graph has been made.
The main advantages are:
1. Auto-dialing eliminates the manual efforts required for dialing.
2. Capability to predict the next call-connect time, saves time.
Predictive Dialer softwares have algorithms that allow it to calculate and predict when the next call is most likely to get connected and when an agent is likely to be free to take the new call.
This is very helpful, because in traditional setups where a call center agent manually outcalls people one after another by dialing new numbers by hand, a lot of time gets wasted in between calls, because not all numbers get connected instantly. Some dialed numbers are busy, some are not reachable and some calls are not picked up. The main advantage of predictive dialers is that it automates all these dialing efforts, and more importantly does so while the agents are still on speaking on calls made to earlier numbers on the list.
How Predictive Dialers Work?
There are many people who claim that predictive dialer technology has highly complex algorithms to do all the guesswork. I don't completely agree to this point of view.
In these days and age, when chess softwares such as 'Deep Blue' and 'Fritz' are capable of outhinking the top chess grandmasters in the world, in a game that requires 'calculation' of infinite possibilities, saying that predictive dialing technology is highly complex, seems to me to be a very tall claim.
There are 3 main jobs that any predictive dialer software basically performs.
1. To interface with the input and output devices to initiate calls and connect them to agents.
2. To calculate when the next calls should be initiated and do it accordingly.
3. To recognize human-answered calls from the machine-answered ones, using basic level voice recognition methodologies.
In addition to having this basic level of artificial intelligence, the dialer can also have 'n' number of additional features added to it, to increase its usefulness.
Is it possible to make a Predictive Dialer Inhouse
Are you wondering 'Can I build my own predictive dialer that is custom-made to suit my requirements'?
My answer to this is 'Maybe yes, its possible to make a very basic predictive dialer inhouse, provided you have access to a talented software engineer or programmer who understands computer telephony integration and systems programming, and who can write effective code in C or C++ programming languages'.
In case you are using an ISDN PRI line for connectivity, it will have a PRI card that connects to your server. Also all the internal telephone lines will be connected to the server using a PBX card. The program that you create needs to interface on a systems level with these two cards and send and receive data to and from these cards.
As far as the prediction part is concerned, it does not seem to difficult to figure out. There are only few key variables that the software has to account for.
1. Average call connect time.
2. Average call duration.
3. Call start times for each agent.Here is a separate article that contains hints for making a predictive dialer.
Disadvantages of Predictive Dialing and the Pitfalls to Avoid
Predictive dialing is a sort of artificial intelligence mechanism that can help that helps in completing your outcalling activity faster. But its predictions cannot be accurate 100% of the time. That is the main disadvantage of predictive dialers. But it all depends on how good its architecture and algorithms are.
If an outbound call dialed by the dialer is picked up by a person, and its prediction algorithm fails, then there will be no free agent to take that call and speak to the outcalled person, which can result in a very bad experience for the person receiving the call. In such cases the predictive dialer will usually go ahead and play a pre-recorded voice message to the called person till the time your call center agent becomes free and takes the call. In other cases it can result in a blank call for the called person.
If the outcalled person disconnects the call while such a pre-recorded voice message is being played, or if their is a blank silence (instead of a recorded message) then such a call is treated as an abandoned call. Such calls irritate customers and there are legal aspects to this.
The legalities related to calls made using predictive dialers can vary from one country to another. From what I hear, as per the regulations in USA, if a call is picked up and an agent does not answer within 2 seconds it is considered as an abandoned call. In the UK too a call has to answered by the agent within 2 seconds of connecting, and the total daily abandon percentage should not be greater than 3% of the calls made, and as per Canadian rules and regulations the abandon percentage should not be more than 5%.
I am not a legal expert, and its better that you find out what the prevalent laws in your country are, related to calls made using predictive dialers that get abandoned.
What to look for when buying a predictive dialer software
It is essential that the dialer that you are going to buy and install on your server is compatible with your existing systems. It has to compatible with your operating system, and should have the capability to seamlessly integrate with the other tools that you use.
If the dialer that you purchase does not install or run correctly on your system because it turns out to be incompatible then you will be left with no option but to have to followup with the software company for refunds or replacement.
According to me, it's better to ask the company for a demo version that will run on your systems. If they know that are prospective buyer, then most predictive dialer companies will be glad to assist you by providing a demo version for you to install and test. They may also provide technical support on the way. When you test the new software and are convinced that it works well for you, then you can go ahead with buying it.
You need to check the scalability of the dialer. How many agents can it service at a time, and how many outbound calls can it initiate simultaneously. In case you expand your operations later on, will the predictive dialer still work properly without any modifications? This is the scalability factor that you should think about.
A very basic predictive dialer can only make predictive call attempts to a list of numbers and connect the received calls to free agents. This is the bare minimum that you require. However for best telemarketing results, its better that the dialer software have additional features.
Here are some features that you should look for when buying a predictive dialer.
Additional data fields:
All predictive dialer software work on the input data that has to be feeded to it. In its most basic form the input data is in the form of a list of telephone numbers that have to be outcalled by the dialer.
In addition to uploading the numbers to be dialed on the server, many dialer softwares can also allow for additional information about each number to be uploaded. This is essential because the dialer software connects a call center agent to the call as soon as a person picks up the phone. The agent has to have at least the basic information available on their screens such as the name of the person who has been dialed, so that they can speak accordingly to the prospective customers.
It's better to buy a predictive dialer that allows for more input data to be uploaded for each of the numbers being dialed, so that agents can get the maximum relevant information and can be more productive on each call. After all its not only about how many calls your call center makes in a day, but also about the overall conversion or success rates, which makes your call center services worthwhile for your clients.
Integration with your existing CRM tool
If the dialer can import and export data from your existing CRM software, it can be a big help, because you won't have to maintain data outside of your regular system and hence it will be easier to manage the daily calling activities.
The ability to enter notes for each called number.
It's better if your predictive dialer has the ability for short notes to be entered for each called number. e.g. If a prospective customer asks the agent to call later in the day, or the next day, then the agent should be able to enter a note or tag this in the system itself, instead of doing it elsewhere. This data can later be fetched and aid in creating the new set of numbers for outcalling.
Reporting features of the Dialer
The dialer should be able to provide a detailed report of all the calls made. The report can include status of all the dialed numbers such as how many calls were connected, how many got abandoned, how many calls which were not picked up, how many busy tones, how many answering machines encountered etc. In addition it should be able to provide agent-wise reports, and campaign-wise reports.
This data can provide useful insights for optimizing your call center resources, and help in improving the success rate of your telemarketing campaigns.
The Price of the Dialer
Predictive dialers can be free open-source softwares, or they can be high-cost ones that companies make and sell. If you are looking for a long-term solution, then in my opinion, its better to invest some money and buy a good predictive dialer instead of opting for the free ones.
The free dialers will have limited capabilities, and the technical support will be missing. In case there are bugs in the free software it may stop working in between and hamper your outbound calling activity on the floor. In case the bugs in your free software are serious, it may even end up eating the memory resources on your server, and cause significant damage and headache. This is my view, and of course you are entitled to have your own opinion about this never ending free vs. paid debate.
In case you do decide to buy a dialer, then it's good to check out quite a few ones, before making a final choice. This will allow you to check out the various features that dialers offer, and consider how many would suit your purpose, and then you decide what is worth spending on.
List of Predictive Dialer companies
Here's a list of some of the companies that make and sell predictive dialer software programs. This data is compiled based on whatever little knowledge I have about the industry and by scouring the web for additional information. I am not affiliated to any of the companies listed below.
The list is not in any particular order.
I would have liked to present you with a list of the best predictive dialers out there in the market, or give you a list of the top 10 predictive dialers in the world, but unfortunately that's not possible for me to do.
This is because I haven't used or tested all of the dialers listed below, and hence it would be unfair for me to say that Avaya is the best, or that Genesys is the best just because I have more experience of these systems.
In any case, its natural for each company to claim their product to be the best, and so long as no one does a comparative testing of each dialer based on key metrics, its hard to give a definitive and conclusive answer to this question.
So here's the list so that you can do further research on this.
Five9: US company. Has its headquarters located in California. It offers a cloud based hosted predictive dialer software.
CISCO: Multinational company headquartered in San Jose, California, USA, that is one of the market leaders in contact center infrastructure.
Drishti: Indian company headquartered at Gurgaon in Haryana. Also has offices in other Indian cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. It's brand of predictive dialers is known as the 'Ameyo predictive dialer'.
Voicent: A well-known US company headquartered at Mountain View, California. Located next to Google's headquarters.
SpitFire: Located at Texas in USA. The company offers its customers a premise-based, or hosted solution or a hybrid solution which is a combination of the two.
TouchStar: Another US based company based in Georgia, that offers On-site as well as hosted predictive dialer solutions.
Avaya: Avaya is a well-known name for those in the call center and telecom business. The company has its headquarters located in New Jersey, USA. For it's Indian operations, it has a office located at Santacruz in Mumbai.
Genesys: This is another US company that is well-known for its contact center infrastructure and solutions. It's Indian office is located in Gurgaon.
YTel: Located in USA. Offers cloud-based dialer solutions.
Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are also several other companies that make predictive dialers.
Difference between Predictive Dialers and Power Dialers:
Power dialers are also auto dialers that automate the process of dialing a list of numbers and connecting them to the free agents. However there is a difference between predictive and power dialing.
In Power dialing, the software checks the status of every agent, and as soon as an agent becomes free dials out the next number on the agent's behalf and feeds the connected call to the agent.
So this means that in power dialing there are no predictions being made by the software and calling happens after an agent actually becomes free. And as we mentioned earlier, predictive dialers make an intelligent guess as to next agent is likely to become free and initiate the new calls while the agents are still on their earlier calls.
This is the reason why predictive dialers are faster compared to power dialers, and hence are often referred to as the advanced version of power dialers.
Difference between Predictive Dialers and Preview Dialers
Preview dialers allow agents to preview information on their screen about the next number being dialed for them, and the agents can then choose whether to dial or not to dial that particular number.
For example, if agents are making calls for collections, the information displayed to the agent may contain the additional information about the customer's account such as the person' name to whom the call is being made, the outstanding amount, the payment due dates etc. which the agent can inform to the customer.
Predictive dialers of course have the basic task of making faster calls using prediction tools, and hence are inherently different. However even they can be integrated with existing systems for displaying relevant data, or have inbuilt capabilities to display the required information to agents when the call is connected to the agents.
Difference between Predictive Dialers and Progressive Dialers
Progressive dialers are also similar to preview dialers in that they display relevant information on the agent's screen, however the difference is that progressive dialers do not allow agents to preview the information and make a choice. Instead they work by directly making the call and and handing over the connected calls as well as the corresponding data to the agent at the same time.
And as mentioned above predictive dialers are the smartest of them all, and are inherently meant for a different purpose, viz. faster calling.
How does a predictive dialer know the difference between a human voice and an answering machine?
The AMD technology (answering machine detection) is not a perfect. The dialer software usually makes use of several voice recognition techniques to identify a human response such as those listed below.
1. Short Word or words followed by a pause = Human
e.g. A human response to a call from an unknown number is typically 'hello?' followed by a pause. This type of questioning kind of response is typical no matter which native language a person speaks in.
In contrast an Answering machine message will be a longer set of words said without a pause. e.g. 'Hi, I am not at home. Please leave your message after the beep'
As you can guess, this cannot work 100% of the time, since answering machine messages can also be short or can contain pauses after the initial words.
This can result in the dialer generating 'False positives' where it mistakes an answering machine for a human and connects a call, and in other cases it can result in 'blank calls' where it mistakes a human being for an answering machine and disconnects the call.
There have been concerns about how AMD detection contributes to blank calls and results in increased call abandon rates, and hence several predictive dialer vendors now have the option of turning off AMD detection (meaning both the answering machine as well as human responses are connected to the call center agents).
Can predictive dilaers work with Skype?
Predictive dialers work well with VOIP (Voice over IP) protocols. There are vendors who sell such dialers that utilize the outcalling facilities of Skype.
What are soft and hard predictive dialers?
These are the two types of predictive dialers available in the market. Here's what each of them means.
Soft Predictive Dialers:
As the name implies Soft dialers are basically software programs that can be installed on your existing server and make use of your existing telephony systems. There is no additional hardware required, and cost lower.
Hard Predictive dialers:
Hard dialers do the same task of predictive dialing but do it with more accuracy, since it has better AMD detection capability. It is made using specialized hardware, and costs more.
What is a Smart Predictive Dialer?
Smart predictive dialers (also known as Intelligent predictive dialers) have added functionality. They allow for pre-recorded voice messages to be played to all the connected numbers, and can also accept user input, and proceed further based on that.
For example in the case of a sales campaign for a new product, such a dialer can outcall a set of uploaded numbers, play a short recorded voice message about the product, and further request the called person to press a particular key if they would like to speak to an agent to know more.
If the user presses that key on his phone, then that call is connected to any of the live agents. Such a smarter approach can lead to more targeted and fruitful sales calls, since the initial 'Push' technique, has been boosted by the 'Pull' from the prospective customer.