Ofcom no longer tolerates “abandoned calls” also known as “dropped calls” from call centre traffic.
UK industry regulator Ofcom is increasingly showing its teeth, with an ever-growing number of fines being handed down to its rule-breakers.
In fact, the majority of these new fines have been related to silent and abandoned calls.
According to Phil Reynolds, Joint CEO at call recording vendor Oak Innovation, new rules on the subject published by Ofcom in December 2016 and enforceable from 1 March this year are catching out many suppliers and resellers in the channel to the point where they are giving customers incorrect information.
“Since the 2010 Ofcom directive on silent and abandoned calls the volume of such calls has soared on the back of huge national campaigns supported by TV advertising, covering for example, the illegal selling of PPI insurance. The regulator now says that their current top priority is to tackle silent and abandoned calls.
“The problem for the channel is that their understanding of an acceptable rate of abandoned calls is the 3% figure mentioned in that original directive.
“Many suppliers are still advising this rate to their customers, whereas in their new ‘Persistent Misuse’ regulation Ofcom have clarified their position by saying that this was never the case and that just one abandoned call constitutes a breach of the rules for which transgressors can be fined.
“There are many consequences of this clarification for the whole industry, starting with the fact the use of a predictive dialler will become practically impossible.
“Earlier this year, and to no avail, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) quite rightly pointed out to Ofcom this move meant that contact centre productivity would plummet.”
What Are the Official Rules?
According to Ofcom, a person may misuse a relevant network or service in two possible ways:
1. One is where the particular way the person uses the network or service itself causes or is likely to cause unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety to someone else. An example is where a person makes silent or abandoned phone calls.
2. The other is where the person uses the network or service to do something else which causes someone unnecessary annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety. An example is where a person uses the phone in a way that misleads others into calling premium rate service numbers.
Misuse is persistent where it is repeated enough for it to be clear that it represents a pattern of behaviour or practice or recklessness about whether others suffer the relevant kinds of harm.
No Hiding Place
According to the regulator, ignorance of the ‘one strike and you’re out’ rule is no excuse. So, where firms have engaged another person or organisation to use the network or service on their behalf, such as third-party call centres, the organisation engaging the third party to make the calls may be the subject of an investigation and action for persistent misuse by its representatives.
Phil Reynolds adds, “Further misinformation can be found at many supplier websites where claims of 100% compliance with Ofcom regulations on abandoned and silent calls for predictive dialler equipment can be seen.
“This has clearly never been correct, and in any case they are impossible claims to make as the compliance is down to the operator of the device and totally beyond the control of a vendor or supplier.”
Reynolds says that call centres really have just two options now to maximise their call speaking times.
1. Use an agent-controlled progressive dialler instead of an automated predictive dialler
2. Employ more agents
Reynolds concludes, “3% has never been an acceptable level for abandoned calls. The problem today is that just one complaint to Ofcom will at the very least place a firm on the non-compliance radar of the regulator.”
“Call and contact centres will need to act responsibly, as most do, by keeping audit reports of their call activity, and while making such ‘best endeavours’ will help mitigate the risks of a fine, they will need to fall well short of the 3% to be more certain of avoiding trouble.”
This new policy will be enforced from 1 March 2017 so contact centres have less than 3 months to change their practices.