The Smell of Predictive Dialing Success

The software suite made predictive dialers more versatile and accessible to call centers. Here's what's new, and what's to come.
by Lee Hollman

If you've been avoiding buying a predictive dialer because agents at your call center make too few calls to justify the cost of purchasing one, your wait is over. By adding a predictive dialer module to software suites you might already use for managing customer interactions and service, e-mail, company data or other resources, you can achieve effective outbound campaigns with a rapid return on investment.

Just ask Larry Mark, the chief technical officer for VorTecs, a Shelton, CT-based consulting firm for call centers. "Predictive dialing is one of the clearest returns on investment that you can make in a call center," he says. "You don't need to call millions of people, especially as the prices have come down. And you can have fairly small outbound call centers now."

Predictive dialing software has found growing acceptance among large numbers of call centers that can't afford the more traditional proprietary hardware dialing systems. Many of these software dialers are modules of comm servers, which can route messages from different mediums to agents. But call centers that focus primarily on outbound calls appreciate the power and efficiency of a hardware dialer, since they can typically accommodate more agents and handle greater volumes of outbound calls. Both types of dialers have their strengths and liabilities, which we will explore later in this article.

Predictive dialers have dramatically impacted how call center managers run their centers. Mark says that agents who answered outbound calls from a dialer typically worked separately from inbound agents, leaving "islands of information" between them (i.e., agents handling outbound calls weren't able to view the same customer information as agents handling inbound calls). "Upon the realization that there were these islands, [vendors] wanted to start sharing agent resources," he says.

Mark says that software-based predictive dialers emerged to bridge these islands of information. He explains that vendors of dialers and software for call centers contributed to the development of software-based dialers. "The traditional dialer vendors added products to their offerings that enabled them to work with software suites, and software vendors added outbound [modules] to their suites," he says.

As a module of a suite, predictive dialing software can work with other applications. That lets agents, for example, answer customers' e-mails and text chat requests, in addition to inbound and outbound calls. But Mark cautions that requiring agents to respond to blended calls, let alone blending different media, can confuse them.

"Blending information is the present and the future of predictive dialing," says Mark. "But people just don't seem to adapt well to call blending. You've got the human factors of switching modes between inbound and outbound calls."

He doesn't foresee hardware-based predictive dialers becoming obsolete. That's because hardware dialers often have more features than their software counterparts. For example, a hardware dialer might be able to associate more phone numbers with a given customer or include more options for finding customers' names on a calling list.

Predictive dialer hardware still grabs by far the largest share of the market. Brian Huff, technology analyst at New York, NY-based research and consulting firm Datamonitor, says that 68% of the revenue earned by predictive dialer vendors in 2000 came from sales of dialer hardware. Huff notes that centers that have already invested in a legacy-based dialer won't rush to replace them. But he also anticipates a rise in demand for soft dialers during the next five years.

Call centers are increasingly using predictive dialers for applications besides collections and telemarketing, such as assessing customer satisfaction. As more predictive dialing options come to market, say observers, they'll spur additional apps. Below, we detail how the latest products can help you design successful outbound campaigns.

Controlling Predictive Dialing Options
Can't decide if you want to purchase a turnkey predictive dialing system or dialing software for your call center? Calltrol (Hawthorne, NY) offers its Object Telephony Server (OTS) preinstalled on an industrial PC or as software for a Windows NT server.

Calltrol installs, configures and tests the software for you when you purchase it with a Calltrol server. You can connect the server to your phone switch or directly to your call center's phone lines. If you don't have a switch, you can use OTS as a comm server to set rules for routing inbound and outbound calls to appropriate agents, monitor and record calls, and create touchtone menus for customers. The OTS software comprises 12 modules that you can purchase together or separately, depending on the features you want.

David Friedman, vice president of marketing and sales for Calltrol, says that most of Calltrol's customers rely on OTS for more than predictive dialing. He says that customers often purchase the complete comm server system, and those who don't often license the complete software suite eventually. But Friedman adds that if you use OTS exclusively as a predictive dialer, the software still includes call monitoring and coaching features.

The majority of call centers that use Object Telephony Server purchase the software with its own server. But Friedman says that a growing number of centers select the software-only version. He explains that as more call centers gain IT sophistication, they collect their own assortment of servers, voice cards and other hardware and don't need to purchase another server. These centers save money, if not time, by installing the software on their own.

Friedman concedes that some businesses expressed concerns that the Windows server running OTS software isn't as dependable as a proprietary predictive dialing system. But he notes the server isn't necessarily the cause of problems. "These [Windows] systems are extremely reliable, so the bug, crash or lock-up rate isn't significant enough to make a material difference in the call center," he says. "It depends on what vendor's software you're running. Implementing a Windows NT solution doesn't make it less reliable, but predictive dialing software may vary in quality."

A starting version of the OTS software that handles predictive dialing for a server with 24 ports for analog or digital phone lines lists for $274 per port. An upgraded version of the same software with all OTS features, including call blending, recording and routing, costs $398 per port. The same versions of OTS on preinstalled servers cost $9,699 and $12,371 respectively. Each server can reach nearly 500 ports and the OTS software supports multiple servers.

Super-Dialing To The Rescue
If you're managing a small call center with a limited budget, Digisoft (New York, NY) offers Super-Dialing as a less costly alternative to predictive dialing. Super-Dialing is a module of Digisoft's Telescript 5.3 software that lets you create outbound calling lists based on your own criteria, like customers who live in a specific region or who want to learn more about a particular product. You can then assign individual agents or groups of agents to answer calls from each list. And you use Telescript to provide them with customized call scripts.

Digisoft recommends using Super-Dialing for outbound campaigns that focus on customers who have previous histories with your company. After you create your calling lists, the software enables you to set outbound dialing times for each list. For example, the software can dial every number on a list on weeknights between 6 pm and 8 pm. If agents receive no answer or a busy signal for some customers, Super-Dialing can dial their numbers again on another evening between 8 pm and 10 pm.

You connect the server running Telescript 5.3 to your phone switch. You can also use the software without a PBX by installing the app on agents' PCs that have dial-up modems.

Digisoft also offers Telescript 5.3 as a call scripting supplement for Calltrol's OTS-NT server. Andrew Davidson, director of marketing for Digisoft, says that many of the company's customers use Super-Dialing primarily during the early stages of their call center operations. "A lot of them do Super-Dialing first, and when they need a more powerful dialing platform, at that point they upgrade to a dialer," he says.

Telescript 5.3 recognizes the phone numbers that OTS-NT or Super-Dialing dials to provide agents with the appropriate call script for each customer. Agents can also transfer calls with customers' information to you and to each other. And they can resume interrupted calls at the same point in the script where they left off. New features for version 5.3 enable you to monitor calls using OTS-NT. Pricing for Telescript with Super-Dialing begins at $1,350 per seat. Telescript with predictive dialing functionality begins at $3,000 per agent for ten agents.


Originally Published in Call Center Magazine, December 05, 2001