Newsletter One

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the first issue of Outbound Focus, a free email publication of Sytel Limited.

This information service is aimed at plugging a gap in the outbound market. It is going to look at the issues shaping this market on a global basis, including best business practices, and technological and legislative developments.

We aim to stimulate and educate.

We will include contributions from anyone promoting effective and responsible outbound dialing. And we hope you will enjoy it as well; though you will have to go to Section 4 to read our monthly joke!

Jamie Stewart

In This Issue

    The Use of Answering Machine Detection
    Provided by Art Sobszak, champion of responsible telemarketing
    Important issues in the outbound marketplace
    Lighter moments from the call center industry


This section, written by us, will look at the way in which technologies are evolving and being used in the outbound world, for example, the rise of switch-based solutions, and the move to virtual (anywhere) agents. Technology is clearly not consumer-neutral. Where we see it being deployed to the consumer’s benefit we will say so. And where we see it not being used in the consumer’s best interest, we will say so as well. If you are a vendor, user, or consumer and think we get it wrong, them we will publish any opinion you may have, provided that you argue it well.

Now to our opening contribution.

The Use of Answering Machine Detection

Have you ever wondered about the herd mentality in some markets? Vendors and users alike adopt a practice and persist with it, even when there are clear doubts about it. In private, people may voice doubts, but publicly no one wants to break ranks.

Well that’s pretty much the way it is with answering machine detection for outbound campaigns. The received wisdom is that outbound dialers should be used to detect and hang up on answering machines, taking this activity away from outbound agents, and thus raising their productivity. Essentially the idea is to decide whether an answered call is a live person, or a machine.

This practice began in the debt collection market in the 1980s where concern for caller reaction was not always high. So if someone hadn’t been keeping up on his payments, it was deemed OK to ring him up and then keep him waiting while you figured out whether or not he was an answering machine.

Then in the 90’s, predictive dialing crossed tracks into telemarketing, market research, customer care and many other outbound telephony areas – and answering machine detection by dialers remains live and well. It is usually a key requirement of most tender documents, and most dialer vendors won’t go out to bat without it.

So how widely is it really used? We’d love to know too. Our travels tell us that quite a few users turn it off, and let the agent handle the call, especially in Europe. But most users, especially in the US, say they still use it.

Last year, in a number of articles, we said that the predictive dialing guidelines announced by the US Direct Marketing Association, in January of that year, would lead to a rethink about the use of answering machine detection in outbound campaigns. The reason for this is that, under the guidelines, dialers may not keep the people they have called waiting for more than two seconds, without transferring the call to a waiting agent. At the two second point, dialers are now obliged to hang up and register an abandoned call.

Can answering machine detection be done during this time? Maybe, and if it is effective, then that’s good news all round. But this issue isn’t really about technology, or shouldn’t be. The US predictive dialing guidelines reflect the fact that it is simply wrong to make an outbound call and then keep a consumer waiting for any length of time. The DMA in the UK have set a maximum delay of one second, and don’t be surprised if the US guidelines reduce to this level.

Quite apart from compliance with these guidelines though, there are four reasons why all users should consider letting agents detect answering machines.

  1. 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 almost always misses the first ‘hello’ and probably the second one as well.
  3. If the speed of detection is increased to avoid these problems, then it is pretty certain that at least some live calls will be dropped in mistake for answering machines.
  4. And if the agent does the detection, then there is always scope to leave a personalised message on the answering machine.

For users worried about the impact on productivity, measured as minutes of talk time per agent hour, it is probably a lot less than you think. If this surprises you, send us an email, and we will tell you why.

In today’s markets, especially if the aim is to sell something, nothing beats having an agent available to answer the first hello.


To help launch our first issue we called our old friend Art Sobszak, champion of responsible telemarketing, based in Omaha, USA. Art contributed the first ‘Tip of the Month’ for our website way back in Aug ’98. He was delighted to be asked to provide another first for Sytel.

Set Telephone Appointments to Show Your Professionalism, and Save Time.
by Art Sobczak

How do you position yourself as a professional salesperson using the phone, as opposed to one of those ‘pesky telephone solicitors’?

One way is to set appointments for your follow-up conversations.

If you suggest a specific time for a telephone appointment and treat it just as you would a face-to-face appointment, you send a clear message that your time is valuable (as is your contact’s) and what you both will discuss is significant. Conversely, meekly suggesting that you speak again “next Thursday afternoon” is vague and easy to disregard. The prospect is really thinking, “Sure, you can call then. I don’t know if I’ll be here or not, and it’s really not that important anyway.”

I’m still surprised when people admit they’re not using the powerful tool of phone appointments. Granted, you might not be able to logistically set an appointment for every call you place — nor would you want to — but everyone has those important follow-up contacts worthy of an appointment.

Here’s how I suggest setting the appointment: At the call’s wrap-up phase, after you’ve determined what you’ll both do before the next contact, say,

“Great. Let’s schedule our next conversation. You mentioned you will have tested the sample by next Thursday, so does Friday look good for us to speak again?”

Assuming the prospect affirms, continue with,

“Good, do you have your calendar handy? Is there any time better than another? Morning, maybe?”

Wait for his answer, check your schedule, then narrow down the choice:

“Ok, please write me down for 11:15, your time, and I’ll call you. Does that work?”

Place emphasis on “your time,” and “I’ll call you,” so you’re clear on the responsibilities. End with:

“I’ve got you in my book, and unless I hear from you otherwise, I’ll call you next Friday at 11:15. And if you have the sample and your notes ready then, we can go over them.”

This again reviews the details, reminds your prospect of what he or she is going to do before the call, and sets an agenda for the next contact.

Set phone appointments. It’s an efficient use of your time, and it sends a clear message of professionalism.

Get Art’s free TelE-Sales Hot Tips of the Week and other resources at

Click here for a complete archive of our ‘Tip of the Month’ column.

If you are an outbound specialist, and would like to be a monthly tipster, just send us an email.


In this section we are going to look at legislative and trade issues that are shaping the development and direction of the outbound market. We will give you factual comment, and informed opinion, not hype. In coming months, watch out for comment and analysis on matters such as the following:

  • The rise of outbound activities in the Far East, especially Japan
  • A look at compensation schemes for outbound bureaux; payments by hour versus payments by result
  • ‘Opt-in’ and ‘opt-out’ moves in the European community and elsewhere
  • ‘Do not call’ lists and telephone preference schemes; who has them and how they work
  • The rise of cross-border outbound activities
  • Legislation and marketing codes of practice for dialers

We welcome contributions from third parties for this section.


If you got this far, you deserve a bit of humour.


A salesman calls a house to make a sale and little Johnny answers the phone.

Salesman: Hello, is your dad home?

Johnny: (whispering) Yes.

Salesman: Can I talk to him?

Johnny: He’s busy.

Salesman: OK, is your mom home?

Johnny: Yes.

Salesman: Can I talk to her?

Johnny: She’s busy.

Salesman: Is there anyone else there?

Johnny: The fire department…

Salesman: Er…can I talk to one of them?

Johnny: They’re busy.

Salesman: Is there anyone ELSE there???

Johnny: The police department…

Salesman: Can I talk to one of them???

Johnny: They’re busy.

Salesman: Let me get this straight! Your Dad, your Mom, the fire department, and the police department are all in your house and there all busy???!

Johnny: Yes.

Salesman: Well, what are they doing????

Johnny: Looking for me…

Know any good outbound anecdotes? Send us an email.

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