Picture this: you’re sitting at home enjoying your dinner, and the telephone rings. Initially, you consider letting the machine pick it up, but you think again, ultimately thinking what everyone thinks in those scenarios––what if the call is important. What if they need you to pick it up. It’s understandable, some people just like to leave messages on an answering machine. Therefore, you leave your hot dinner, you head over to the telephone, you take the phone call, and…the caller is a live agent calling you from some random customer service department of a company you’ve never heard of trying to sell you something you don’t care anything about. After some–– potentially censor-worthy––words, you tell them you aren’t interested, and they hear the click of you hanging up the phone.
At this point, it dawns on you that your dinner is now cold.
Now, to suggest that this is anything other than annoying would be foolish––everyone hates to be on the receiving end of an outbound call from a contact center that they’ve never interacted with previously. You may even wonder is it illegal for them to call? You grumble and wonder how they got your phone number. It’s pointless getting frustrated at the customer service representative for calling you; it isn’t them that dials it. That’s the job of the autodialer, and that’s where the question of legality comes in.
There are two different types of robocalling devices that contact centers use in order to “cold call” (i.e. to dial a number that they don’t know without invitation), and this is where the point of contention lies. In simple terms, an autodialer is nothing more than a machine that will dial a series of numbers consecutively. Many well-meaning companies use autodialer services and software responsibly––some even use them in industries beyond retail. Doctor’s offices, hospitals, banking services, and police departments can use the same function to contact many people in the local area, or who are on their lists, quickly should the need arise.
Responsible companies can also use automatic dialing software as part of their marketing campaigns. Bright Pattern is one such company that provides the technology to do so, helping businesses to get their message out there. The auto dialer software not only connects to a limited number of people at a decent time, but it will get an automated recorded message or SMS message sent out as well. From a small business point of view, these devices can be a real help if they’re used with an understanding of convenience and while following regulations too.
Predictive dialers are also robocalling devices, with one difference. Rather than having a live agent making a series of calls until someone picks up (like auto dialer software would), a predictive dialer will only connect to an available agent after the call has been answered. It’s predictive dialing that has caused the question of legality in the U.S.
Simply put, people just don’t answer their cellphones when “unknown caller” is on the caller ID, presuming it to be a scam. If a landline is called, it’s no longer as difficult as it used to be when finding the phone number of your last received call. To that end, unknown numbers can become known, and thus ignored, by any type of phone. Due to the use of auto-dialing software by scammers, it’s not hard to see how the presumption of legitimate calls being an attempt to steal personal information can be made.
When an outbound call has been answered, only for no-one to appear on the caller side of the line, it’s known as abandonment. This is the main regulation that often lands users of predictive dialers in trouble. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandates that if an answered call is not connected (to a live agent) within two seconds, the call is classed as abandoned. Furthermore, regulations state that there must not be more than a 3% abandonment rate for any outbound caller. There is a higher likelihood of this happening with predictive dialer versions of robocalling––through either a delay in the connection to the next available agent or the next call being made before the previous one is concluded. With a higher risk of abandonment, there are higher possibilities of violations. Plus, there’s also the higher possibility of being left open to harassment accusations through repeated miss-dialing of unlisted and restricted numbers, or through calling the same number repeatedly.
There have been cases where the use of this type of autodialer has landed users with fines and even civil trials.
Another problem lies in knowing what constitutes as an automatic dialer and what is simply a contact list. Call centers also need consent to make those calls too. The complexities of automatic dialing software include its definition and whether it’s used responsibly. As a contact center solution for making multiple calls, it’s risky. Ultimately, the use of an auto-dialer is not illegal, but over-use of it can lead to violations of the FCC’s rules on abandoned calls. As with any tool at the disposal of contact center management, auto dialer systems need to be used with care.