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Buyer's Guide

by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 17, 2017

Predictive dialers: love ‘em or hate ‘em.

Chances are that if you’re familiar with the word, you help to manage a call center and fall into the “love ‘em” camp. Even if that’s the case, however, you may have lost your patience if you’ve ever answered a call during dinner, only to wait five seconds before the agent begins talking.

That five-second delay is actually a hallmark of the predictive dialer, a system which automatically dials numbers, pacing itself according to predictions of when call center agents will become available to answer calls.

By dialing numbers in this way instead of simply placing another call when an agent actually becomes available, predictive dialers ensure that your agents spend more time on the phones and less time chatting with each other about fantasy sports teams.

Predictive dialers are sophisticated, so you need to understand how they work and how they differ from other kinds of auto dialers before you invest in one. We’ve written this guide to help you learn what you need to know to make an informed purchase.

(Click on a link below to jump to that section.)

How Do Predictive Dialers Work?
What Are the Features of Predictive Dialers?
What Are the Major Uses of Predictive Dialers?
What Are the Limits of Predictive Dialers?

How Do Predictive Dialers Work?

The term “predictive dialer” is often used as a synonym for “auto dialer.” In fact, predictive dialers represent a major evolutionary leap forward from auto dialers.

Most people would assume that if an auto dialer just places another call when an agent hangs up, the agent is spending enough time on the phone.

But if you work in an outbound call center, you know that many dialed calls never get answered. Those that do frequently go to voicemail, or the recipient of the call gets annoyed and hangs up.

In the late 1980s, Douglas Samuelson invented the predictive dialer to solve this problem.

Predictive dialers assume that many calls will go unanswered. They forecast when an agent will wrap up a call based on historical call length data, and begin dialing before the agent actually wraps up the call she or he is currently handling.

This is only half of the story, however. Predictive dialers also deliberately overdial.

Instead of simply dialing one call for each available agent, waiting for the call to end and dialing again, they dial more calls than agents could possibly handle if all of those calls actually got answered (which of course never happens).

Predictive dialers then screen out busy signals, answering machines and hangups to ensure that only live calls get distributed to an agent once she or he wraps up the current call.

The “predictive” part of predictive dialing involves feeding data about call center performance (such as the rate of abandoned calls, average call length etc.) into statistical algorithms, which forecast approximately when an agent will wrap up a call. The diagram below gives a simplified overview of a predictive dialer’s operations:

Overview of Predictive Dialing Functionality

Overview of Predictive Dialing Functionality


The good thing about these algorithms? You don’t need to understand them. Predictive dialer systems offer simple, rule-based interfaces that hide all the statistical mechanics of the system from users.

While predictive dialers are found in some integrated suites of call center applications, many vendors still offer them as standalone applications. Early dialers were hardware-based solutions, but cloud vendors now offer hosted predictive dialers as well.

What are the Features of Predictive Dialers?

The following features can be found in most predictive dialers:

Upload lists Upload lists of contacts for campaigns, generally in .CSV format.
Manage numbers Manage numbers in the lists you upload. For example, ensure that even if a number appears twice in a list, it only gets dialed once. You can also avoid calling cell phones or numbers in specific area codes.
Do Not Call (DNC) Compliance Track callers’ requests to be placed on the DNC list in real time. Upload your organization’s DNC list to the National Registry and exclude those numbers from your campaigns.
Vertical dialing Upload and dial multiple numbers for each contact (particularly important for collection agencies that need to improve their list penetration rates - i.e., the rate of successful communication attempts out of total communication attempts in an outbound campaign).
Custom caller ID/local presence dialing Control the name and number that appears on outbound caller ID. You can also dial out from a number in the same area code as the contact.
Call scheduling rules Limit the times of day the dialer begins and ends making calls.
Dialing rate Control how many times the dialer rings each contact. Many dialers can adjust the dialing rate according to lead priority for outbound sales calls.
Answering machine detection Screens calls answered by machines from agents. Dialers can also avoid voicemail, busy signals, FAX machines etc.
Agent scripts Customize predefined, branching scripts that help agents to handle calls consistently throughout your contact center.
Pacing algorithms Adjust pacing to meet defined rules. In particular, users can define an acceptable call abandonment rate. If the dialer exceeds this rate, it adjusts pacing by dialing fewer calls until the abandonment rate drops.
CRM integration Dialers can integrate with your CRM system to track your agents’ activities.

What Are the Major Uses of Predictive Dialers?

Predictive dialers aren’t right for all call centers. They’re the most aggressive kind of outbound dialer out there. For some call centers, reaching contacts with a predictive dialer will be like hunting rabbits with a bazooka. However, they’re ideal for the following purposes:

  1. Collections. Predictive dialing was born in the collections industry, and while many contact centers are moving to multi-channel operations, there’s little chance a debtor will respond to a Facebook message or text message. If you’re in collections, look for industry-specific features, such as vertical dialing.
  2. Billing. Predictive dialers can be used to notify your customers that they have unpaid invoices.
  3. Telemarketing. While the DNC Registry places limits on how dialers can be used for telemarketing, they can also be used for this purpose given the high rate of hangups, busy signals etc. when contacts aren’t expecting calls.

Campaign Performance Reporting in PIMS Dialer

Campaign Performance Reporting in PIMS Dialer

What are the Limits of Predictive Dialers?

The delay that we mentioned before is a big hurdle. Have you ever answered a telemarketing call, only to wait for a noticeable length of time before someone responds to your “Hello?” Perhaps you’ve already started speaking when the agent then interrupts you with a script.

This delay is caused by the fact that predictive dialers only connect live calls, so they “listen” for a human voice before sending the call to an agent. Obviously, this can annoy your customers, so you need to make sure that you’re not calling your most valuable leads with a predictive dialer.

Other types of auto dialers don’t have this functionality, and connect calls without any delay. If courtesy to your leads or customers is more in line with your business goals, consider a standard progressive or preview dialer.

The efficiency gains you can achieve with a predictive dialer are also influenced by the size of your call center. If you only have two agents, it doesn’t pay off to invest in a fancy system to forecast when they’re going to wrap up their calls.

You need to have at least 8 to 10 agents to see the benefits of a predictive dialer.

Finally, predictive dialers can vastly increase your chances of annoying the masses. Make sure you’re complying with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act if you’re operating in the U.S., and check local laws and regulations if you’re not. Many countries place severe restrictions on the use of dialers, particularly predictive dialers.

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