This area will provide answers to the most frequently asked questions about dialers and RMEx’s dialer platform I-Tel.

In Quantrax’s opinion, when is an automated dialer justified in a collection operation?

Most collection experts would agree that high account volumes will easily justify a dialer. Traditionally, and even today, dialers are installed to improve productivity when compared with manual dialing environments. The fact that a machine can dial numbers faster than a human is undisputed. It can screen out the bad numbers, busy’s and no answers, even detecting answering machines with a high degree of accuracy. Most successful companies will already have a dialer. So we must ask the question, what next? There are many methods to compare dialers as far as their ability to dial numbers and to do it well. The real justification of a dialer comes from its ability to increase your productivity and your revenues. Quantrax believes that the goal of the first generation of dialers was to take us from manual dialing to automated dialing. It was very successful and we saw great gains in productivity.

The next generation of dialer technology within the collection industry has to evolve from the idea that we may have reached the limits of “improving” the basic dialer model. We must now look for new and better ways to integrate the dialer with our collection software. We must use the dialer to complement our automation and to do more with less resources. With regard to the question on how one would justify a dialer in the collection industry, we would rather ask “In the collection industry, why would you replace you existing dialer?” Quantrax believes that the industry is more than ready for the next generation of dialers. Quantrax will continue to invest in new dialer technology and the development of collection software that is designed to take advantage of the features of an automated dialer.

Can you provide examples of some new things we could do with a dialer within the collection industry?

Some ideas that could be considered are the following.

  • Let us take a look at the typical collection model for bad debt. We load accounts, send a letter(s) and then have the account worked by collectors. If you could score your accounts prior to establishing the work plans, more collectable accounts could be called quickly by “house collectors” after the letter series was completed, or even while the letters were being generated. Of course, the software must manage and automate the creation of different calling lists based on client, type of account, balance etc.
  • To better manage accounts, we usually place them in different categories within the system. E.g. New accounts, paying accounts, promises, insurance paid etc. While this type of classification has its advantages, it is not the best system for use with a predictive dialer where we require larger “pools” of accounts (campaigns) as opposed to many smaller groups. We need to be be able to take specific groups of accounts and “consolidate” them into larger dialer pools based on collection strategy and targets. Of course we are referring to automation as opposed to your managers having to create the dialer campaigns each morning!
  • In environments where the “account ownership” model exists and predictive dialing is not viable for certain groups of agents, consider using progressive dialing which allows all the non-connects to be handled by the system. Some dialer vendors will encourage you to use predictive dialing for a single agent. This is very poor business practice since it is guaranteed to increase abandoned calls. Progressive dialing is the best compromise for these situations.
  • Most companies will monitor calls for training purposes or enforcing compliance. This is typically done through the PBX (telephone system) as opposed to the dialer. We would usually select an extension to be monitored, and listen to all of the calls on that extension. A dialer should be able to monitor calls based on account characteristics as opposed to only an extension. E.g. Monitor all calls for Blue Ridge Hospital accounts, where the balance is over $500, regardless of the agent or extension.
  • With the new privacy laws, compliance will become more and more important in the years ahead. Recording calls could be a part of the requirements. It may also be necessary to know exactly what the agent was doing during the conversation. E.g. What was the balance on the screen when they told the debtor that they owed $600? The ability to replay call recordings along with the agent screens could become very important in the future.
  • Most companies do not have many different strategies for handling inbound calls. The routing is usually PBX-based, and relatively simple. Many sophisticated models can be used for routing inbound calls based on skill levels, type of account, client, account history, balance or the collector who last handled the account. Calls would need to be routed through the dialer which will in turn interface with the collection system and its data to determine the most appropriate action to be taken.
  • When the dialer is given a list of accounts to be called, it will do so in a particular sequence. This priority can be driven by your collection software (e.g. by balance, date last worked etc.). What happens when you want to start a home number campaign from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Assuming you had a person’s home and work numbers, it would not be too difficult to calculate the approximate distance between home and work. Why would we not sort the call list based on time it would take a person to get home? Once again, the dialer and the collection system must be working very closely to incorporate this type of feature into the model.

Is I-Tel a part of Quantrax’s collection system or will it integrate with an existing collection system?

I-Tel is a dialer that is integrated with RMEx. If you have a collection system other than RMEx and are looking to replace your dialer, you should consider dialer vendors who market a product that would interface with your collection system. Our advice is to review your collection software at the same time that you evaluate a dialer. A dialer relies on large volumes of accounts being effectively managed by your collection software. A dialer can not manage your accounts. Only your collection software can do that. In many cases, an average dialer working with good collection software will provide better results than an excellent dialer working with average collection software! RMEx and I-Tel offer you an excellent integrated solution by combining two best-of-breed products.

Selecting a dialer seems to be a difficult task. What questions should one be asking of a vendor?

As with many products, different vendors will go to great lengths to convince you that their dialer is the best. While there are many items that you should be considering, the following could be some of the more important areas to consider.

  • Is the product being offered a standalone or integrated dialer?
  • How good is the predictive dialing component of the system? Is the vendor able to fully comply with the existing rules and pending legislation for all users of predictive dialers? Even if the collection industry has not become the target of legislation, it would be advantageous to invest in a product that could meet the requirements for other legislated industries – It is probably only be a matter of time before the collection industry will be called upon to meet or exceed the mandated standards.
  • What is the dialer vendor’s experience with collection systems? (Most of the major dialer vendors are primarily involved in selling to the telemarketing industry)
  • Can the dialer handle inbound calls?
  • Other than for the standard features such as outbound calling and inbound, what other features are available? (e.g. Call monitoring, call recording, IVR etc.?)
  • What type of support is available?
  • Does the vendor offer a single point of contact for support? With the different components of a dialer (usually built and supported by different vendors) a single point of contact is very important for any dialer solution.
  • What are the dialer vendor’s plans for product enhancements?

Please explain the terms “hard” and “soft” dialer.

The industry uses the terms soft dialer and hard dialer. All dialing algorithms (software component) are “soft”. A soft dialer is when the algorithms interface via a CTI port on a switch that does the dialing. All the dialer vendor does is supply software. With a “hard” dialer, the dialer vendor provides the dialer server too, which will be an adjunct to a switch and plug directly into the PSTN. Since Quantrax supplies the dialer software and hardware required (dialer server including telephony cards) I-Tel would be described as a “hard dialer”.

What is an “integrated dialer” and how does it differ from a “standalone dialer”?

With an integrated dialer, the dialing software works directly with the collection data on your system. There is no requirement to create separate calling lists or upload the results of dialer activity to your collection system. The “integration” usually refers to the dialer working directly with current collection data and your collection software, offering features that would usually not be available if the dialer could only access a subset of your collection information.

With a standalone dialer, one would create a subset of a collector’s work (or a group of pooled accounts) and download some key information to the dialer (usually a Personal Computer). These calling lists would usually be created the previous day, during the end-of-day processing, based on parameters selected by the management. The information transferred to a standalone dialer would include at a minimum, a phone number, a debtor name and account number. If more information was transferred (e.g. balance, collector code) the dialer could use that data to create sublists (sometimes referred to as splits) and have separate campaigns for each of those groups of accounts. In a predictive mode, the dialer would call the accounts in a sublist, bypassing the no answers or bad numbers. These calls would usually be notated on an “upload” file, with a status code (sometimes called a disposition or termination code) indicating the result of the call. If a contact was made, the call would be transferred to one of the agents who was registered on that specific campaign. Depending on the type of software you had, the dialer software would take the account number from the called account and populate a collection screen, which would in turn display the account that was just transferred to the agent (Sometimes referred to as a hot-key function). The collector would now be on familiar collection screens, working the account as they usually would. At the end of the call, they would disconnect and return to the dialer to wait for another call. At the end of the day, you would usually have a dialer “upload” program look at a file supplied by the dialer, and update all the accounts that were called but not contacted. These accounts could be notated based on the results of the call (e.g. no answer)

In the case of an integrated dialer, predictive calls are made from a calling list that is a part of the collection system. There is no transfer of data to a separate system. Campaigns can be created quickly based on the same queues that are created by your collection application, greatly reducing the need for managing the dialer. Because the dialer has access to the collection data, it is easier to immediately update accounts with attempts, bad numbers etc. – calls that were made but a contact not established. In the case of an integrated dialer, everything takes place in “real time” and the concept of dialer downloads or uploads does not exist.

What are the advantages of a standalone dialer?

You can usually expect a standalone dialer to cost less than an integrated dialer. Because the product is entirely PC-based, you can sometimes expect a richer set of features than with an integrated dialer, which may be restricted by the host system’s architecture or hardware platform. With a standalone dialer, the vendor has to deal with a single platform. With an integrated dialer, the dialer and collection data will usually be on different hardware platforms. Some features may be more difficult to implement across different platforms and operating systems.

What are the advantages of an integrated dialer?

We must first define the role that a dialer plays in a collection environment. It should be the collection software that manages accounts. The dialer should be used to make calls, receive calls and direct them to the appropriate party and provide management features such as call monitoring and messaging. A well-designed integrated dialer should be able to everything and more that what a standalone dialer will do. But because the integrated dialer works directly off the collection database, there are some significant advantages you could enjoy.

  • Since there are no dialer “downloads” required, the calling takes place from lists that are directly stored on the collection database. If a debtor calls and that account was to be called by the dialer, later in the day, we can stop that account from being dialed. This is important in an industry where it may not be legal to make multiple calls to a debtor on the same day, regarding the same account. This is far more complex with a standalone dialer because calling lists are usually created ahead of time, and they are not usually updated by collection activities. Another example of this would be the ability to stop an account from being called if a payment was processed that day, for an account that on a dialer queue.
  • Since the dialer has direct access to the collection database, inbound calls could be matched to existing accounts based on the caller’s number. When the inbound call is transferred to an agent, it will be possible to display the debtor’s account before obtaining any information from the debtor, or store the calling number information on the account after the debtor has been identified.
  • When a predictive call is not completed, this information can be immediately transferred to the collection system and appropriate action taken based on management objectives.

What are the options for handling inbound calls?

There are several methods of handling inbound calls. Some companies will have separate numbers for individual collectors or groups of collectors. In some cases, a main number is always called. For either of these cases, there are different methods of routing the calls to agents. Inbound calls will usually be handled by a separate group of people or the same people who will be making outbound calls in either predictive or preview mode. In predictive mode, an inbound call could be transferred to an agent who is waiting for the dialer to give them a connected call. In this case, the dialer will be aware that an agent has taken an inbound call and is not available to receive a predictive call. The dialer must also adjust the launching of calls to accommodate for inbound calls that are transferred to predictive agents. The process where a dialer manages both inbound and outbound calls for a group of predictive agents is referred to as “blending”.

It is not necessary to use blending to transfer inbound calls to an agent. If there are specific groups of agents who handle inbound calls, this could be handled by setting up “hunt groups” for inbound calls. In this case, the dialer would transfer calls to any available agent in the hunt group, or distribute the calls in some sequential mode. “Skills-based” routing is a more advanced method of routing inbound calls. Regardless of the method we use, the calling number information from the inbound call must be available to the agent who handles the call, as soon as the call is retrieved. With RMEx, we will usually display a message to the agent, indicating the transfer of an inbound call, and if the calling number was matched to an account, the linked balance for the debtor. In the case where an agent chooses not to pick up the inbound call, there will be a procedure to transfer the call to another agent or let the call go to voice mail. Even with voice mail, RMEx will track the inbound call information for future use by the agent.

What are the options available for the distribution of inbound calls to different agents?

Inbound call distribution is an area that can be extensively discussed and documented. This area will discuss the topic briefly. (Note that the terms Hunt groups and queues are synonymous.) In general, you would set up ACD (Automatic call distributor) or hunt groups which will be made up of several agents who will handle a specific type of inbound call or business category. There would usually be a toll free number associated with each “group” of inbound agents. This “inbound number” formation can be used to route the call to the correct group of agents, to a specific agent or even to a specific dialing campaign. Inbound call distribution is not synonymous with call blending. There are many different flavors of inbound call management and the actual implementation and technical details of each method can be very complex. Some examples of inbound call management methods are very basic routing (when a user is in preview or power dialing mode), dedicated inbound agents (who handle nothing but inbound calls) and blending (where inbound calls are managed in a predictive environment).

Here are some additional notes on the area of inbound call distribution.

  • Incoming call queues operate in either of two states; within capacity or overflowing.
  • A queue operating within capacity will have more agents waiting than there are calls coming in to queue. In this circumstance, the logic to determine route to agent has a bearing on which agent gets the call.
  • An overflowing queue has all members busy on calls and calls waiting for an agent to become free. In this scenario, as soon as an agent completes a call, the next queued call is presented to that agent. The only scope for decision is the relative priority of queues that the newly-freed agent is a member of. The agent selection mechanism plays no part in this decision.
  • There are a number of ways in which a system could select the agent who should be offered the next inbound call. These are:
  • Top-down (always start with first person, then progress to next)
  • Round-robin (process in circular fashion, maintaining a ‘next agent’ position)
  • Waiting order (Order agents by the amount of time spent waiting for a call, usually longest wait first but can be shortest wait)
  • Skills route (Prioritize by some metrics that indicate the agent’s ability to handle a particular caller’s needs) This option would be developed in conjunction with several different parameters that would be set up within RMEx, in relation to the knowledge base.

I-Tel’s design calls for the following. In a simple scenario with one and only one queue, and running within capacity, queues behave as follows:

Top-down – The first person in the queue is presented calls most often, the last person in the queue is presented calls least often.

Round-robin - calls are distributed approximately evenly to the longest-waiting agent until the rate of calls coming in exceeds the rate of call completion. Between this point and the point of saturation calls appear to be distributed arbitrarily but will average out to be shared evenly among waiting agents,

Waiting order - Calls are always delivered to the longest-waiting agent (or shortest-waiting agent)

Skills-route – Calls are delivered to the most suitable waiting agent.

In a scenario with multiple queues, and running within capacity, queues behave as follows:

Top-down – If the queue is the highest-priority queue then the first person in the queue is presented calls most often. A lower-priority queue will appear to have calls distributed arbitrarily but some degree of preference for the head of the queue.

Round-robin – If the queue is the highest-priority queue then distribution is as per a single queue. If the queue is not the highest priority queue then the calls will appear to be distributed arbitrarily, but roughly evenly.

Waiting order – If the queue is the highest-priority queue then distribution is as per a single queue. If the queue is not the highest priority queue then the calls will appear to be distributed arbitrarily, and agent experience will oscillate between long waits and short waits.

Skills route – Calls will be delivered to the most suitable waiting agent. With multiple queues the likely quality of skills match is lower.

Practically speaking round-robin does a slightly worse job of fair and even call distribution when running within capacity compared to waiting order when there is one and only one queue, but a better job of fair and even call distribution with agents shared across multiple queues. Within I-Tel, we presently support top-down and round-robin.

How does the system manage different time zones with regard to predictive dialing?

You will be expected to purchase a database of area code and time zone information, and keep that updated based on changes (Quantrax will provide you with the necessary information). Quantrax will refer to this database to classify calls as local or long distance calls. This information is used in determining the least-cost routing of your calls. We will also create the information required to determine the earliest and latest possible calling times for each account based on all of the numbers that are eligible to be called. As an example, the dialer may be on the East coast, while the debtor may have home and work numbers that are on the West and East coasts respectively. Assuming that you are able to call each state between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. you would be able to call the West coast account between 11 a.m. and midnight East Coast time. You would be able to call the East coast number between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. East Coast time. Therefore both numbers could be called only between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern time. This is how our dialer will manage this particular example.

In general, we do not care about where a call originates. What matters is the time in the location that we are calling to. With many companies outsourcing their call centers to locations outside the United States, it is important that any time zone logic we have in place can accommodate a dialer that could be outside the United States, and placing calls to accounts within the various territories within the US. How do we do that? We convert all the calling time parameters to numbers that are all based on GMT (which does not change). This allows us to place a call to any part of the world, regardless of where the dialer is located. Take the example of a company with two locations. One on the East coast and the other on the West coast. Let’s suppose the East coast location is making calls, but at 10 a.m. lose one of their telephone circuits due to a technical problem. If required, the West coast operation could make calls from their office while the problem is being resolved. Since we don’t care where the calls originate from, the dialer will make sure that people are only called based on the times that we are allowed to call the different destinations. The system will take care of adjustments required for daylight savings time (DST). with accurate calculations for the few areas that do not observe DST. In RMEx, you will need to tell the system when DST is effective and reset the option at the end of the DST period. I-Tel is able to handle the different calling hours that may exist in different regions, Canada is an example.

A key issue with regard to calling a debtor at legally allowed times is making sure that the phone numbers you have on your system are accurate. Area codes are frequently being updated and the correct time zone can not be determined if we do not have the correct area code. Some accounts may not even have an area code. Quantrax will be providing you with tools to verify and update accounts with area code information so that the dialer will have the best data with which to make its calls.

Abandoned calls are an important factor in a predictive dialing environment. When and why will I-Tel abandon a call?

TSytel informationhe only way a call is abandoned by I-Tel is if it has been answered by an individual and there is no agent available to take the call, and no agent becomes available in a very short space of time (usually 2 seconds). We do not (and should not) abandon outbound calls for any other reason. We do not hang up on ringing calls before the configured time-out had been reached (at least 15 to 18 seconds typically, configured through Campaign Manager). Some vendors will hang up on ringing calls – This is sometimes referred to as a “cancel dial”. Cancel dial is only necessary because a dialing algorithm has got the pacing very wrong. If you talk to other vendors, do ask them if they ever use the “cancel dial option”! Based on legislation pertaining to other industries, a contact attempt should be allowed to ring for the duration in order to maximize the potential to answer and reduce the number of abandoned calls. It is possible to hold up calls that have been answered in the hope that an agent will become available in the next two seconds. This parameter is configurable through campaign manager. Holding up calls for longer than 1 – 2 seconds is not recommended – typically it leads to the debtor dropping the call because they know it is a predictive call. To review the reasons for abandoned calls and their impact in greater detail, please review the case study on “The elimination of Silent Calls caused by Predictive Dialers“.

How do you check and adjust the dialing algorithms (pacing) to reduce abandoned calls?

With traditional dialing solutions, supervisors spend a great deal of time monitoring the dialer and tweaking dialing rates when abandoned calls increase. A well-designed dialer should allow supervisors to focus on managing their agents and campaigns, as opposed to second-guessing their dialer. This common problem does not exist with I-Tel – you define the maximum abandoned call rate (5% or less) and leave it alone! This in turn provides the lowest possible wait times given the user’s objectives on abandoned calls. It easily copes with all extreme dialing conditions e.g. 80-90% no answers and/or answering machines.

How are dialing rates adjusted when (as an example) the dialer enoucounters a high volume of bad numbers”?

Most dialers allow you to change the dialing rate by setting the number of trunks per agent. I-Tel does not allow this parameter to be changed. In a properly designed dialer, the dialing rate should never be a function of the number of trunks available. The dialer should evaluate the kind of campaign to be run and then, within proper dialing rules, e.g. for abandoned calls, work out how many trunks will be required for a given dialing rate. Quantrax can provide guidelines and tools to help do this.

Every dialer vendor claims to have the best “predictive dialer” based on proprietary technology for pacing. What makes Quantrax’s dialer different?

The Quantrax dialer (by Sytel) does not use traditional mathematical modeling to pace its dialing. Every traditional predictive dialing model will start dialing prior to an agent becoming available to take a call – the result is that an agent can receive a new call a short time after the previous call has been completed (the time is referred to as the wait time). Our dialer distances itself from all other products based on the fact that it does not dial when no agents are available. Why? If you dial ahead, you have to make assumptions. Agents becoming available in the future depends on statistical items (e.g. wrap time) and call outcomes (e.g. bad numbers, answered calls). Both of these are extremely difficult to predict and they can and will change very rapidly even under normal conditions. Under these circumstances, traditional dialers are forced to “abandon” calls because there will be no agents to handle an answered call in the time that is stipulated by existing legislation. Sytel’s model is radically different and the natural reaction is “If the dialer does not dial a single number if there are no agents available (agents would be in talk or wrap mode to be unavailable), won’t you experience longer wait times that if you did dial ahead all the time?” The answer is “No”. Our dialer is able to dial extremely effectively under any conditions, even though it does not dial when no agents are available. The section on “Predictive dialing” has more details.

Can you explain how the dialer handles bad numbers, operator intercepts etc. (SIT’s)?

Since a machine is used to place a dialer call, we must use technology (digital signal processing) to analyze and understand what happens during a call. In non-technical terms, one could describe DSP’s (digital signal processors) as ‘computerized ears’. Some important things happen before a call is answered while other events need to be analyzed after a call is answered. This analysis is easier with digital networks (ISDN) than with analog circuits. In the United States there are many areas where digital circuits are not available and will not be available for many years. As a result, we have many instances where ‘end-to-end” ISDN signaling is not available. In these cases a DSP literally “listens” to the call progress (call progress detection) and makes a determination as to what happened (e.g. Call was answered or number was bad). Unfortunately, with non end-to-end ISDN, there is no consistency. In one region the tones used for a disconnected number may be used in another region as the indicator for a changed number.

The dialer will be connected to the outside world through digital interfaces (e.g. PRI’s) that can be used to transmit call data as well as signaling information. In preview or power dialing, the agents are in control and will make decisions based on what they hear. In the industry, special tones that are issued by the carriers (e.g. for changed or disconnected numbers) are referred to as special information tones (SIT). When you set up a predictive campaign the agent is not available to listen to the call progress and you have the option of selecting one of the following.

  • You do not want to use SIT detection (not recommended since every call will need to be handled by an agent).
  • You can specify SIT detection. SIT detection is something that takes place before a call is answered when we refer to digital networks. With we are dealing with circuits which are not completely digital, tones have to be analyzed to obtain information about the status of each call.
  • You can specify answering machine detection (AMD). That commences after a call has been answered (by a person or a machine). Answering machines, modems and fax machines are the most common machines that are detected by a dialer. With an answering machine, you can opt to drop the call, play a message or transfer the call to an agent.

With our system, you can automate the actions taken when special information tones are detected. These include notating the accounts, making decisions, removing phone numbers and taking other actions.

What about devices designed to combat predictive dialers?

Irresponsible dialing has prominently profiled predictive dialers to the point that they have created new legislation as well as new devices that claim to combat and block predictive dialers. An example of such a device is the “Telezapper'” that is marketed in the United States. These devices claim to screen calls and can make predictive dialers hang up by making them think that they were connected to a number that was not valid. How do these devices work? When a phone rings, it has to be answered before the called party (or a machine) can make any determination about who is calling. A device meant to block predictive dialers would need to give the dialer the impression that there was no human or answering machine available to take the call. What would a dialer usually do in such a case? It would usually hang up! Most dialers will be set up to listen for answering machines, modems or fax machines. This determination process can only start after a call has been answered (whether it be by a human or a machine). The dialer would listen for an answering machine or a fax or modem (different vendors use different techniques for detecting answering machines). You would not want a screening device to sound like an answering machine because that could fool a dear friend who was calling to discuss something important. What if the device sent a short signal that would be recognized by the dialer as a fax or modem but not confuse an intelligent human? The dialer would hang up while a human would stay on the line. This technology could be used to block a predictive dialer. Can we get past these machines? Yes we can. You simply turn off fax machine or modem detection so that those calls are connected to an agent. A call blocking device will not be able to differentiate between a call received from Joe Nice (collector) and friend Mary. The device becomes ineffective when a human controls the call, but you will need to have an agent handle the faxes and modems (Those would probably be few compared to the actual blocking devices).

How does Quantrax handle answering machines?

Since a very significant percentage of calls placed within the United States will picked up by an answering machine, a strategy for handling answering machines in an automated dialing environment in extremely important. This complex area can be separated into many different issues. These include the ability to accurately identify an answering machine, how the collection industry could handle a call that is answered by a machine and the ability to play recorded messages. Most dialers have a strategy for detecting and responding to answering machines (referred to answering machine detection or AMD).

What is the accuracy of answer detection with regard to differentiating between live voices and answering machines?

It would be reasonable to say that there is only one way to guarantee 100% accuracy in detecting answering machines and also, not mistaking a human voice for an answering machine. That would only be by having an agent make the determination in every instance. The technology for detecting answering machines is mature and is unlikely to see any significant improvements in the immediate future. While some vendors will claim to be able to screen and detect an answering machine in under 2 seconds, with over 95% accuracy, times of 2 – 3 seconds and accuracy of a maximum of 85% may be more realistic estimates. One of the reasons that we can not achieve higher levels of accuracy has to do with the fact that we have to make a decision in a very short time. The time frame for compliance may be as little as 2 seconds! Today’s digital answering machines offer voice quality that can be easily mistaken for a human and it is not difficult for technology to mistake a human for a machine or vice versa.

What is Quantrax’s recommendation for handling answering machines?

Quantrax must leave any final decision on answering machine detection with its clients. However, Quantrax expects to provide its clients with the technology to address the problem with all of the possible options. Some clients will chose to transfer all connected calls to an agent, allowing the agent to handle answering machines. With today’s technology, the agent’s can select one of several recorded messages or transfer the call to an IVR session for “intelligent” messaging. If a client chooses to utilize answering machine detection, every call will be screened by the system which will mean that there could sometimes be a delay of 2 – 3 seconds on transferring a live call to an agent. If the call was answered, the agent may miss the debtor’s first “hello” as the system performs its analysis. If an answering machine is detected, we will give the clients the option to drop the call, play a message or transfer the call to an IVR session without any agent intervention. You can also opt to transfer answering machines to an agent who could then record a personalized message that was based on the account history. To those of us who focus on the productivity of agents, transferring answering machines to agents may seem a waste of valuable talk time. In the collection industry, one must evaluate that against the reaction of an educated debtor who will not return messages left or encounters brief “dead air”, recognizes a call from a predictive dialer and hangs up before the call is transferred to an agent! The final strategy will depend on the evaluation of many different options based on your specific circumstances. We suggest that you experiment with several different options prior to making any long-term decisions.

The following is from one of Sytel’s newsletters (www.outboundfocus.com)

The predictive dialing guidelines announced by the US Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org) in January 1999 are going to lead to a rethinking about the use of answering machine detection in outbound campaigns. The reason for this is that dialers may not keep the folk they have called waiting for more than two seconds, without transferring the call to a waiting agent. More than two seconds and they are now obliged to hang up and register an abandoned call. Forget the claims you hear for high answering machine detection levels in several hundreds of milliseconds only. The fact is that two seconds from the time that the line goes offhook will be tough for some vendors wishing to do answering machine, as opposed to other kinds of call progress detection. But here are four reasons why users may want to forgo answering machine detection anyway.

1. Predictive dialers are increasingly used for marketing campaigns, away from their traditional home base of debt collection, where concern for caller reaction was not always high. Today many consumers simply hang up when they know that a dialer is doing call progress analysis on them to determine whether or not they are an answering machine. Or their blood pressure rises if the answering machine detection is slow, and the agent is then in for a difficult call.

2. The agent misses the first ‘hello’ and maybe the second one as well.

3. If the speed of detection is increased to avoid these problems, it is pretty certain that some live calls will be dropped in mistake for answering machines.

4. If the agent does the detection, then there is the scope to leave a personalized message on the machine.

Does I-Tel support unattended (agentless) campaigns?

An unattended campaign is one where the dialer will dial in a “predictive” or “progressive” mode and play a message for live connects and answering machines. With I-Tel, you have the option to set up unattended campaigns and to allocate a number of “virtual agents” to the campaign. This will have a direct relationship to the resources that are utilized (e.g. channels) and the pacing of the dialer. With an IVR platform, you will be able to give the debtor an opportunity to transfer to an agent when a call has been connected. You can also use IVR to allow the debtor to make a payment without talking to a collector.

What is the hardware that is used in Quantrax’s dialing solution?

Aculab Information Most dialers will utilize a server (personal computer) and telephony cards to provide the media resources and connectivity requirements. Quantrax has selected Aculab for the supply of its telephony cards. There is no doubt that the choice of telephony cards is a critical component of any dialer. The choice of Aculab is consistent with Quantrax’s very high standards in the selection of technology partners. An example is Aculab’s superb technology is its Prosody X-range of telephony boards.

Quantrax has a strategic partnership with Velocite Systems to design and build the servers that will run the dialer software and house the telephony cards. These servers manage all of the telephony functions of the I-Tel solution. In larger operations, we are able to configure multiple servers to create a larger system. We could also place separate Softswitches in a distributed environment base on geographical requirements.

Why a server built for Quantrax and not a commercially available system from a vendor such as Dell?

The hardware that supports a dialer platform must be extremely reliable. The vendor must be flexible and must offer consistently high levels of support. This is not always available from commercial systems or large vendors who tend to be less personal. The system we configure is an “industrial strength” personal computer. In addition to the expansion capabilities of the system, it is also important that the system is not affected by changes in system software or hardware. As an example, the following is a statement from the manufacturer of the motherboards used in our servers.

“ITOX Key Strength: Revision Control Market Leader. Revision control of components prolongs the future availability of products. ITOX revision controlled motherboards have life spans 5 to 10 times longer than commercial motherboards. This increased life cycle saves customers from the expenses of accommodating changes and recertifying products. ITOX is able to offer revision control because it is affiliated with DFI, one of the world’s top 10 motherboard producers.”

In addition to system software, Quantrax has been very detail-oriented and responsible in configuring a hardware platform that is extremely reliable. This is not an accident, because as we all know that PC’s are not the most reliable systems and will fail from time to time. In most cases, you can not afford to have a dialer that is down, regardless of the reason. Reasons such as a defective PRI or a network problem are beyond our control, but configuring hardware that has a very, very low chance of failing is technically feasible. You will pay a little more than you would for a commercially available personal computer, but our systems have been designed for more than the average user since this is an application that calls for very high availability. Please review our paper on Fault Tolerance. In addition to the reliable hardware platform, a 3-year on-site service plan is standard. Why would you need a service technician if the hardware is so reliable? We are not saying that the hardware will never fail – we are saying that you should not have any down time even if a component fails. The paper discusses this in more detail. Please take a few minutes to review it.

How is I-Tel licensed? What are the associated costs?

Quantrax’s technical team will evaluate your requirements prior to making any recommendations. For a dialer installation, there will be a hardware component (server and telephony cards), server software, I-Tel software (licensed based on the number of concurrent agents) and a professional services component which covers planning, telephony integration, working with your PBX vendor, installation, setup and training. A support (maintenance) fee based on the I-Tel software license fees, will ensure that you receive software updates and operational support for your dialer. Quantrax will provide estimates based on your requirements.

What do we get for the maintenance fees? Why is software maintenance necessary?

With most dialer software vendors, a collection operation will only receive “technical support” for maintenance fees that can be as much as 20% a year. Because the vendor offers little more than a dialer, the ability to deliver enhancements that truly enhance the collection experience are very limited. As a result, you basically pay high maintenance fees in order to be able to call someone if you have a dialer hardware, software or telephony problem. While we provide the first level of support for any type of dialer-related problem, you can also expect us to invest in code that will helps you do a better job through your dialer-RMEx interface. The true benefit of a dialer is not derived from its features but its integration with your collection software and its features.