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by Daniel Harris,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: December 7, 2016


“Attention! This is not a sales call!” The battle cry of the telemarketer has now made itself heard in nearly every household with phone service, thanks to a humble technology known as the auto dialer.

While their most familiar use is in telemarketing, dialers have several other important use cases. This type of software also offers a dizzying array of complex capabilities. We’ve written this guide to help you better evaluate your options.

In particular, we’ll discuss:

What Is an Auto Dialer?
Dialing Modes: Predictive, Progressive and Preview
Important Functionality
Benefits of Auto Dialing
Key Considerations for Buyers
What Type of Buyer Are You?

What Is an Auto Dialer?

Auto dialers are hardware- or software-based systems that dial numbers automatically. Most solutions today are cloud-based software offerings known as “hosted dialers.” Generally, these systems are used by outbound contact centers to streamline the process of contacting actual or potential customers. The most sophisticated auto dialer software solutions on the market are known as “predictive dialers” (more on this below), but many systems offer a number of other dialing modes.

While the use of auto dialers was once limited to telemarketing, political campaigns, market research and so on, dialers have found a new use case with the advent of proactive customer service (i.e., reaching out to customers before they have issues). Many businesses now use dialers to contact existing customers instead of cold-calling potential customers. Auto dialer software can be used to broadcast messages such as late payment reminders, appointment reminders, service outage notifications and more for current customers.

Dialing Modes: Predictive, Progressive and Preview

Auto dialers have been on the market for a number of decades. With most contemporary systems, businesses upload lists of phone numbers for outbound campaigns to the dialer (typically in an Excel format, such as .CSV or .XLS). The dialer then dials the number in the list automatically.

Over time, the capabilities of dialers have evolved. Today, most solutions offer at least three major dialing modes for working through lists: predictive, progressive and preview dialing.

Basic Auto Dialer Modes

Basic Auto Dialer Modes

Predictive dialer software is the most sophisticated of the three. The purpose of this software is to “over-dial” numbers. In other words, the system dials multiple numbers at the same time, on the assumption that a percentage of calls will either be abandoned or go unanswered. Live calls are distributed to agents on the basis of factors such as availability and wait time between calls.

The system collects data about the percentage of answered calls, average number of rings before an answer, average length of call etc. This data is then analyzed using statistical algorithms to forecast when agents will become available. The system then uses this forecast to determine the pace at which it dials numbers, dialing multiple numbers at once. This maximizes the amount of time agents spend on the phone.

This type of software also screens out busy signals, answering machines, unanswered calls and more, and automatically avoids numbers in the National Do Not Call Registry. These capabilities ensure that agents only handle live calls.


Programming a dialer for an outbound campaign in PIMS Dialer

In progressive dialing, also known as power dialing, the system dials one call at a time for each available agent. You can establish calls-to-agent ratios, meaning the system will automatically dial a fixed number of lines for a given agent. The dialer runs through calling lists across multiple campaigns and paces itself based on abandonment rates (if these rates begin climbing, the system slows down the pace at which it’s dialing).

With a progressive or power dialer, calls are placed automatically, without agents’ control. The system screens out certain calls (e.g., unanswered calls), but in some cases, agents will have to decide whether they’re dealing with a human or an answering machine.

Preview dialers also just dial one number at a time—but what distinguishes them from progressive dialers is that they deliver contact records to agents before dialing a number. This gives agents an opportunity to review contact details before the call. Users can set the length of time agents are allowed to review records. What’s more, with a preview dialer, agents can choose whether or not to skip a number.

Predictive, progressive and preview dialing are all standard dialer modes, but there are a few more advanced dialer modes that you should also be aware of:

  • Message lay-down dialing presents a pre-recorded message to recipients of outbound calls for agentless campaigns.
  • Outbound interactive voice response (IVR) presents recipients of outbound calls with a message, along with an IVR menu that allows them to respond to it (e.g., a late payment reminder and an IVR menu allowing for self-service payment). The call can be transferred to an agent if the IVR can’t meet the contact’s needs.

Important Auto Dialer Software Functionality

In addition to the dialing modes we’ve examined, auto dialer software offers a number of features that control how the dialer manages lists, initiates calls and reports data. Some of these features are more common, while others are only offered by a handful of vendors:

Multi-number dialing Allows you to enter multiple phone numbers for a given contact. You can set the best day of the week and time of day to call for different numbers listed for a contact (home, work, mobile etc.), and specify the number of rings per call.
Vertical dialing Dials multiple numbers associated with the contact (e.g., home, work and cell) and then prioritizes live connections. This is used most heavily in the collections industry. Can also be configured to skip alternate numbers to achieve better list penetration.
Local presence dialing Allows you to manage outbound caller ID information to display the same area code as that of the contact’s phone number, in order to make the incoming call appear “local.”
List prioritization/stacking Allows multiple dialing lists to be used for a single campaign. Users can assign different levels of priority to various lists.
Disposition codes Allows you to set up codes for different call outcomes. You can configure how your dialer records disposition codes as it works through a list, then use the recorded codes to recycle leads. (E.g., in an outbound sales campaign, you can configure the system only to redial numbers that weren’t answered or were busy the first time around.) Some solutions allow you to time the length between multiple calls to the same number based on disposition codes.
SLA-based inbound/outbound blending Agents will be automatically moved to inbound calls when there aren’t enough agents to meet inbound service-level goals. When inbound service-level goals are met, agents will be automatically moved to outbound campaigns. The service-level goals that control this process are established by service-level agreements (SLAs).
Abandonment-rate pacing Allows control over the algorithms that adjust the dialer’s pacing with respect to high or low abandonment rates.
Automated messaging The system can automatically send emails, text messages etc. to contacts. This can be synchronized with the activity of the dialer so messages are sent out as soon as an agent wraps up a call. Users can also choose to leave prerecorded messages as voicemails to move on to the next call more quickly.
Callback scheduling Agents can schedule times and dates for callbacks, or callback rules can be set for campaigns as a whole.
Text-to-speech Used to broadcast automated messages, such as appointment reminders.

Benefits of Auto Dialer Software

The major benefit of automated dialer software is easy enough to understand. Auto dialers allow you to more effectively utilize your most costly resource: agents.

Douglas Samuelson, the inventor of predictive methods, reports that his initial experiments with the technology resulted in agent talk times of 50 to 55 minutes per hour, versus an average of 40 minutes per hour with other dialing methods.

The benefits of power, preview and progressive dialing modes aren’t as dramatic, but they’re still obviously more efficient than manual dialing. Preview dialing, in particular, gives agents a chance to familiarize themselves with the leads they’ll be speaking with, which boosts agents’ chances of closing deals.

Key Considerations for Buyers

It may seem that predictive software is the obvious choice for your contact center, given the significant efficiency gains it offers. However, there are a few potential issues you should consider:

  • Because predictive dialers forecast agent availability, industry experts say you need at least eight to 10 agents in your contact center to see benefits. The more agents you have, the more significant the benefits will be.
  • Because these systems only deliver live calls, they “listen” for an answer before connecting the call to an agent. This results in a noticeable delay for the call recipient.
  • Depending on your business model, your agents may want to be able to control whether or not the system makes calls to certain leads. If this is the case, you’ll need a system with preview dialing capabilities.
  • Hosted dialers with all three dialing modes are often found in contact center suites. Because these suites offer advanced applications, such as IVR and automatic call distribution (ACD), they can come with fairly steep per-agent prices.
  • If you’re only in need of a dialer, you should consider some of the stand-alone systems on the market. Some of these solutions offer full predictive, whereas others only offer preview and progressive dialing.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Not all buyers have the same needs. If you fall into one of these categories, you’ll need to factor in additional considerations when evaluating vendors:

  • Buyers in the collections industry will generally need full predictive dialers with vertical dialing capabilities. Certain call center vendors, such as Five9 and Pimsware, work extensively with companies in the collections industry and offer robust dialer solutions.
  • Buyers in B2B sales may be able to benefit more from a progressive dialer. In other words, if you have a list of highly valuable leads, you may not want to burn through it with predictive, which is more appropriate for less valuable leads.
  • Buyers planning to integrate dialers with leading customer relationship management systems, such as Salesforce, should evaluate vendors that offer pre-built integrations with these systems, such as VanillaSoft and Vocalcom.
  • Buyers who need dialers for proactive customer service should evaluate options with automated messaging features for multi-channel notifications as well as inbound/outbound blending to support outbound functionality in call centers.

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