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Hostcomm Ofcom: Persistent Misuse (of predictive diallers)
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Ofcom: Persistent Misuse (of predictive diallers)

Introduction

This article is a summary of the 22-page statement from Ofcom: “Persistent Misuse - A statement of Ofcom’s general policy on the exercise of its enforcement powers” issued on 20 December 2016. To read the full Ofcom document, click here.

Ofcom's most recent statement does not represent major changes in the types of activities that it wishes to clamp down upon. However, three main themes emerge from the document.

Firstly, by removing the 3% threshold for abandoned calls, Ofcom is warning predictive dialler users that there's no acceptable rate of dropped calls. Users need to take active steps to monitor their dropped call rate and take action to control it.

Secondly, contact centre callers need to be transparent about who they are. They should not attempt to induce a customer to answer a call by misrepresenting the device (mobile numbers) or location (localised numbers). And thirdly, there are still a few bad apples spoiling the call centre barrel and Ofcom will be targeting the worst offenders for action.

The final section summarises the issues that apply to our dialler clients and any actions Hostcomm intends to take.


Persistent Misuse

Ofcom has confirmed that it intends to use its enforcement efforts and powers, to clamp down on organisations and individuals that are persistent misusers of communications technologies - especially advanced diallers.

Ofcom identifies two types of misuse in dialler technology:

  1. The particular way in which the dialler software is operated causes or is likely to cause unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety. E.g. dropped calls.

  2. The service is used to do something which causes unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety.  E.g. to commit a fraud.

The misuse is deemed persistent when it's repeated enough times to be clear that it's a pattern of behaviour. Or that it shows the user is reckless about the potential harm they may cause. Ofcom will take enforcement action for misuse that falls into these categories.

Types of Misuse

Ofcom intends to prioritise its enforcement towards those activities that cause the most harm to consumers.

The main focuses are on Silent and Abandoned Calls. These calls often occur where there's over dialling, resulting in not enough agents available to take the calls. Whether it's a silent or an abandoned call depends on what occurs next. Note that Ofcom identifies Silent and Abandoned calls as separate and distinct. A call can be one or the other, but not both.

Silent Calls

Ofcom believes that this practice causes the most distress to consumers and as a result, they're making this their highest priority. Ofcom defines a call as a 'silent call' where the recipient is not connected to an agent and where one or more of the following occurs:

  1. They hear nothing on answering the phone
  2. The call is disconnected as, or shortly after, they pick up the phone
  3. They hear background noise, beeps or conversation that's not directed at them
  4. Anything else that's not a message directed at them 

A well-operated service should be organised enough to ensure there are no silent calls. In many cases, silent calls can be avoided simply by adding an information message where an agent is not available.

Abandoned Calls

An abandoned call is often defined as a “dropped call”. An abandoned call is similar to a silent call because the call is not put through to an agent. However, unlike a silent call, the recipient is played a message, or they would hear one if they were not to disconnect the call themselves.  

Another example of an abandoned call could occur where an Interactive Voice Machine (IVM) is used to direct calls and the recipient indicates that they wish to speak to an agent. Instead, they are played an information message. An abandoned call can also occur where a recipient disconnects a call that would otherwise have heard an information message.

Calculating the Abandoned Call Rate

The Abandoned Call Rate is to be calculated for each calendar day.   

       Abandoned Calls                       =  Abandoned Call Rate (ACR)
Abandoned Calls + Live calls

Note: when we calculate the ACR, we don’t include:

  • Live calls

  • Silent Calls

  • Unconnected calls

  • Calls to answer machines that are:

  • Picked up by answer machine and disconnected

  • Picked up by answer machine and put through by mistake to an agent (false negatives)

  • Abandoned to Answer Machine

Where it's not possible to work out whether an abandoned call was abandoned to a live recipient or an answering machine, it will be assumed that the ratio is the same as for "live" calls to those that went to an answering machine in order to calculate the abandoned call rate to a live recipient. 

Removal of 3% “limit” for abandoned calls

Ofcom has stated that they have removed the 3% limit for abandoned calls. They point out that there's never been an acceptable level of abandoned calls. The 3% figure was the level at which enforcement activities were likely to take place. Now, instead, Ofcom will identify persistent offenders based on the type of misuse and total numbers involved. 

Other Persistent Misuses

Although Ofcom will be concentrating on Silent and Abandoned calls as representing the most important sources of persistent misuse, it's also identified several other examples.

  1. Scams
    In addition to direct attempts to defraud consumers or misleading them about the services offered or the costs incurred, scams include exploiting the use of premium rate or other revenue sharing services.

  2. Use of Call Location Identification (CLI)
    Ofcom recognises that there are legitimate reasons for altering the number seen by the recipient (such as businesses that have multiple locations). However, there are many uses that Ofcom has identified as misuse. They include:

    1. A CLI that's not authentic or valid, such as using a random string of numbers

    2. Displaying a CLI that's unreturnable so the number does not connect to an agent or recorded message

    3. Using different CLIs in order to mislead the recipient about the caller’s identity or location which would encourage them to answer or return a call that they wouldn't otherwise do

    4. The CLI is used to avoid detection or complaints to the regulators

    5. Where a person calls a CLI and is connected to an agent or message, but no information is provided by the organisation. Alternatively, that there's no opt out of future calls or messages or the call is used as an opportunity to market to that person without their consent

  3. Network or services in breach of PECRs
    Some activities will be in breach of the PECR (Personal Electronic Communications Regulations). These include:

    1. Failure to identify themselves on calls

    2. Withholding their CLIs

    3. Make calls to people on the TPS

    4. Using the dialler in a way that breaches PECRs

  4. Misuse of Technology
    Other uses of dialler software which involve misuse. For example, where agent connection waiting times are unfairly long or similarly where the use of IVMs that involve an unfairly long wait time, and without giving them a fair and informed choice about whether they should remain on hold. 

  5. Allocated Telephone numbers
    Using allocated numbers in a way that's inconsistent with the National Numbering Plan is misuse. For example, using personal numbers (070) for anything other than providing a personal numbering service, or “mobile numbers” are used for services other than those which fall under the definition of a mobile service. 

  6. Number Scanning
    Number scanning or "pinging" a number to find out whether it is active is an annoyance to consumers and is viewed by Ofcom as misuse.

Hostcomm’s response:

  1. Use of automated answerphone detect generates silent calls - Hostcomm doesn’t endorse AMD, so most of our clients will not be affected. Most AMDs cannot work within the 2 seconds that Ofcom has identified as the maximum time it should take for a message to be played.
  2. With regard to Localised Call ID, we will not promote these from March 1, except where there is a legitimate business (e.g. companies with multiple locations) case for providing such numbers.
  3. The process for dealing with “abandoned call no agent present” calls are configurable on our dialler so this should reduce complaints.
  4. Presenting mobile numbers from the dialler now constitutes “misuse”. We recommend that all our dialler clients replace any mobile CLI with an appropriate landline number. We will no longer supply mobile numbers for this purpose.
  5. Abandoned calls are not allowed at all, but Ofcom will only pursue the worst offenders. However, there is no safe level of abandoned call (there will not be a 3% limit). Persistent misuse will be measured over a 6 - 12 week period. In order to support our dialler clients, Hostcomm is looking to monitor dialler stats to highlight trends in abandoned calls and abandoned call rate.
  6. Ofcom requires calling records to be maintained for at least 6 months. Hostcomm will keep these records on behalf of our clients.

We have also prepared a Dialler Compliance Checklist which includes the recent Ofcom changes. Download the full Hostcomm Compliance Checklist.



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