Newsletter Two

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Issue 02 of Outbound Focus, a free email publication of Sytel Limited.

Thanks go out to all who responded to our first issue. Comments and contributions are always welcome, and some responses are aired below. More thought-provoking material this issue, so get your brain-cells tuned up for what follows!

Jamie Stewart

In This Issue

    More on Answering Machine Detection
    Provided by Bob Van Voorhis
    An overview of the UK Telephone Preference Service
    Lighter moments from the call center industry


In Issue 01 we aimed a broadside at the use, or rather mis-use, of answering machine detection in dialing equipment for outbound campaigns.

No one, but no one, came out in defence of this practice. So that was the first piece of good news. But there is more good news.

From the Netherlands:
The major telecom provider there offers a voicemail service, which is used widely in place of answering machines. Before this service is activated, a special beep is sent before the network transfers you to the voicemail box. Detection rates are very high and responses are very quick. If answering machine vendors could do the same and agree on a common beep (hertz) standard, then that would be good news. If any readers know of activity in this area, we would be pleased to hear from you.

From the US:
We visited a major outbound bureau who tells us that his (upgraded) detection cards in his ACD, serving several thousand agents, are giving him 80 – 90% detection in sub-second times. We haven’t managed to get independent verification of this, but if it is true, then it’s good news indeed. Again if anyone else has news of this type, we’d be interested in hearing. We don’t normally declare vendor names in this column, but we will make an exception here, if the same name keeps popping up.

We have written a short note balancing the upsides and downsides of this subject, in a bit more detail. If you would like a copy, just send us an email.

Business-to-Business Calling

In September 1999, we said the following in our ‘Tip of the Month‘ column:

“Conventional wisdom will tell you that you should not use predictive dialing for this, since the percentage of live calls will be so high that there will be no advantage. But conventional wisdom has been passed by in this area. In many businesses, especially small ones, calls will be answered by an answering machine or auto attendant. These calls will either be terminated by the dialer, or quickly by the agent, whether or not he decides to leave a message. A well-designed predictive dialer will respond to these conditions by sensing what is happening, raising its dialing rate and keeping the agent wait time down between calls.”

We are sticking to our guns on this, but have come across a few doubters. If you have a strong opinion on this, especially based on practice, let us know, and we will summarise all views next month.


This issue we are very pleased to welcome Bob Van Voorhis on board. Many readers will know Bob from his stewardship at TeleProfessional, where he was editor-in-chief in the 90’s, and a well-respected commentator on both the US and the world call center scenes. We asked Bob to give us his views on how outbound calling to consumers is currently working in the US. No holds barred, here’s what he has to say.

“Let’s start by making one thing clear. I am neither an industry apologist, nor a privacy radical advocating the banning of outbound telephone calls. I have a long-standing affiliation with the call center industry, and support (even encourage) the use of the telephone in a proactive manner, as long as certain limits are placed upon the callers, and common sense and courtesy prevails.

That said, I am concerned with the future of outbound calling in the consumer marketplace due to widespread misuse of outbound dialing and what may be perceived as a continued insensitivity to consumer preferences. Let me explain.

I would estimate that 50% of all ‘telemarketing’ calls received at our home are the result of overdialing. By that I mean that the telephone rings, it is picked up and there is no one on the other end of the line. Unlike Bill and Hillary (for those of outside the US, I mean the folk in the White House), I cannot believe that I am the victim of some vast conspiracy and so can only conclude that my experience is more or less typical. And while there was a time that overdialing was the industry’s secret, those days are long gone. People now know that ‘telemarketeers’, not school age pranksters are behind the aggravation.

Compliance with regulations and common courtesy continues to be haphazard and lackadaisical. I know of one large service agency that instructs their agents to ignore on-screen warnings that the individual being called is located in a ‘no rebuttal state’. They must offer at least two rebuttals to consumer objections or face reprisals or dismissal. And some companies still call consumers on Sunday (it is legal in most states) despite the certain knowledge that the recipients tend to resent the intrusion, causing conversion rates to drop and overall resistance to increase.

One possible result of this ‘devil-may-care’ attitude; consumer calling seems to have become primarily the province of telephone service providers and credit card companies. Can it be that other businesses have found these practices so distasteful as to cease their outbound campaigns, thus distancing themselves from the offenders?

Several years ago, I wrote that it was time for the industry to stop ‘selling’ to the consumer public and to start ‘wooing’ them by treating them the way they would like to be treated and offering the public services and products they find useful and pertinent. It’s not too late; but I can’t help thinking that if self-regulation won’t work, then the Feds and States legislatures will take over, and we won’t necessarily be better off for it.”

Bob can be contacted 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.


A healthy outbound market requires an effective means of consumers not participating. This can be done via ‘opt in’ legislation or by having an effective ‘don’t call’ registration system.

Some countries in the European Community (EC) have adopted ‘opt in’ practices, which mean that you can only call someone at home, if you have their explicit permission to do so. But half the EC countries, and virtually all other countries in the world work on an ‘opt-out’ basis, meaning that you can call anyone unless they have taken action to record their number in a ‘don’t call’ list.

This month we are turning the spotlight on the UK. A national Telephone Preference Service (TPS) allowing consumers to state their ‘opt out’ preference has been in operation in the UK since 1994. Little known about and little used, it had accumulated some 150,000 numbers by late 1998.

Oftel, the regulator for the UK telecoms industry, at the behest of a new Labour government was asked to ginger things up back in 1998, and last year a TPS Mark II was set up, again run by the UK Direct Marketing Association (UKDMA), but with a much higher profile than hitherto.

Tessa Kelly, Director of Compliance Operations at the Telephone Preference Service in the UKDMA gave us the following update:

“After nearly a year in operation, as at mid-April, the file size for TPS is 1,050,000. The figures are beyond our forecasts; we had anticipated reaching over a million numbers in several years rather than one. The current rate of calls coming into the registration lines is between 2,000 -3,000 a day.

In May 2000 we will have a web download facility available for subscribers (call centers); they will be able to download data whenever they wish. Individuals will also be able to register their numbers through the web site.”

Tessa can be contacted at

So the take-up of numbers in the Mark II version of the TPS so far is around 30 times the level that the Mark I version ran at.

Scary stuff for telemarketeers!? Maybe, but consider this:

  1. In fact, people who don’t wish to be sold to over the phone are best screened out, so that marketeers can concentrate on other subscribers, who at worst may be benign in their attitudes, and at best will be willing listeners and potential buyers.
  2. If outbound calling is done responsibly, and campaigns are targeted carefully, rather than aimed blindly, then perhaps most consumers will be happy to receive calls, rather than subscribe to the TPS.

Apart from the massive increase in the take-up rate, the other major feature of the new TPS is how technology is being actively deployed to make the service easy to use and more accessible for both consumers and call centers, for example the move to web-based access.

And compared with TPS Mark I, other companies are working more actively with the DMA to take its ‘don’t call’ list and provide additional services. One interesting example of this is TP Technologies. This company has produced a service they call Active TPS that sits between a switch and the PSTN and removes TPS-flagged numbers as they are dialed. Carl Adkins, their MD, tells us that they have built in facilities to allow overrides to occur for consumers being dialed, whose numbers are on the TPS ‘don’t call’ list, but who have indicated that they are happy to receive calls from particular companies. For more, send an email to

What about compliance? It is incumbent upon companies to clean their calling lists and not call those who have registered with the TPS. If they do, then fines of up to UK£5000 (almost US$8000) per complaint can be levied.

Complaints are initially investigated by the Telephone Preference Service who can then refer offenders to the Data Protection Registrar for prosecution. No news of any prosecutions yet, but the mood, as we read it, is that persistent offenders will be prosecuted.


Now, a real-life anecdote to lighten the load. This is from Stephen Coates, a communications consultant from Sydney, Australia. More inbound than out, but hilarious enough to deserve an airing!

Steve:   Hello?

Caller:   Do you bake cakes?
Steve:   Yes, sometimes.

Caller:   Well, I want a cake.
Steve:   You do?

Caller:   I want a chocolate cake, with dark chocolate ice cream.
Steve:   Yes.

Caller:   Can you bake that?
Steve:   Yes.

Caller:   When will it be ready?
Steve:   Probably by Thursday.

Caller:   That’s five days, why can’t you do it tomorrow?
Steve:   Well, I’ll have to go to the supermarket to buy a cake mix
                 and I won’t be able to go there until Tuesday. I can then
                 bake it Wednesday evening.

Caller:   Is this Joe’s Cake Shop?
Steve:   No.

Know any good outbound anecdotes? Send us an email.

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