Sytel's Views on How to Work with the Ofcom Guidelines dated December 2016

The UK regulator issued an update in December 2016 on their dialling guidelines. The main focus of the guidelines is that call centres need to avoid instances of persistent misuse, whereby either Ofcom and/or consumers have cause for complaint over how outbound calls are made.

The guidelines are general rather than prescriptive. In Sytel's view call centres need firm guidelines to work with. And that is what we provide in this guide, so that call centres can plan with surety how to carry out responsible outbound dialling and avoid any charge of persistent misuse by Ofcom.

The opinions in this document are, of course, our own and come from 20 years of advising on and dealing with compliance matters in the UK. We are happy to engage with any call centre seeking clarification or help on any of the issues discussed.

1 Choosing the right dialler

This should be obvious, but is often overlooked. Just because you have a dialler, it doesn't mean that it is any good!  Yes, your dialler may dial lots of numbers and make abandoned calls, but this is not the real measure of a good predictive dialler.  The only true measure of a dialler's worth is whether it provides significant predictive gain under compliance.  Predictive gain may be a new concept to many people reading this.  It is a simple concept.  Run your campaign in predictive mode and then in progressive mode.  The difference in agent talk time per hour, between the two campaign modes, is your predictive gain.  For more on this see 'The predictive gain of Predictive Diallers' article on the Call Centre Helper website.  


If your predictive gain under compliance is negligible, then you might be better operating in progressive mode to avoid violating regulatory limits – or you should consider a dialler replacement.

2 Abandoned call target Until recently you could work within a target of 3% for abandoned calls, but no more it seems.  Ofcom have said that this is no longer a safe harbour, but they are not making it easy for anyone to fathom their intentions.  We have been talking to them and poring over all their Guidelines and here is our best reading of their intentions.
  • Ofcom have confirmed to us in writing that they are not intending to ban the use of predictive diallers.
  • The only evidence as to what level of abandoned calls they might find acceptable lies in their December 2016 Guidelines. In Annex 3 there, they give an example of how to calculate abandoned calls, and the answer is 1%. Whilst we suspect they would not endorse this figure, if they were asked specifically to support it, in our view they would find it impossible to pursue anyone for persistent misuse, who set this as a target for their campaigns.
  • But there are caveats; you will need to ensure that you follow the 72 hour rule (see 7 below) and you should not be dialling anyone covered by a don't call list. If you do this and dial at 1%, then in our view the chances of generating sufficient abandoned calls, in particular to the same person/persons, so as to warrant a potential misuse charge, are simply negligible. It does of course mean that your dialler has to be able to dial effectively at 1%, in other words produce reasonable predictive gain.
  • Some call centres may carry on dialling at 3% on the basis that the compliance team at Ofcom are so stretched, that they will never get to them AND that again at this level there is unlikely to be any persistent misuse. This seems to arise from the fact that some diallers simply don't produce any decent predictive gain at an abandoned target of much below 3%. We think this is a very risky strategy.
3 Measuring abandoned calls correctly See point 2 above.  Historically many diallers have got the measure for abandoned calls wrong.  In fact for many years the industry standard was to measure abandoned calls as a % of All Calls and not just Live Calls.  Expect Ofcom to look beyond any percentage figure you show, to be sure it has been calculated correctly. If you are not sure how to do this then see Ofcom's Persistent Misuse Statement December 2016Ofcom-Logo-sml.png
4 Clear reporting on all calls There is some lack of clarity in the guidance that Ofcom offer on reporting of call states.  For example in their December 2016 Statement they stipulate the need for "detailed records of calls" and then in a footnote they state that this should include "total numbers of abandoned and live calls."  This could be interpreted to imply that records of other call outcome states don't matter.

Well, they do. Given Ofcom's absolute determination to do away with all silent calls and abandoned calls AND also enforce the other provisions set in the December 2006 Statement, comprehensive reporting will be required in future on all the items listed here.  So, for every single outbound call that is made on a campaign, expect to be able to report on it.

For example, it is not enough to say that you don't make silent calls. You should also expect to provide an exception report showing, by number, any calls which break the two second rule (see 5 below).  And, in our view, don't be surprised if Ofcom compliance officers ask to see logs, where they can run more detailed checks. 
5 The two second rule If an agent is not available to take a call no later than two seconds after the telephone has been picked up, or no later than two seconds after an individual begins to speak, then the call is deemed to be abandoned and a message must be played (see 8 below).
6 The fifteen second rule "Calls which are not answered must ring for a minimum of 15 seconds before being terminated." Note that the December 2016 Statement also counsels against leaving numbers ringing for long periods of time in the hope that someone will answer, but offers no guidance on such a maximum ring time.  In our view unless you are checking for an answering machine, the vast majority of answers come well within 20 seconds. 
7 The 72 hour rule "When an 'abandoned call' has been made to a particular number, any repeat calls to that number in the following 72 hours may only be made with the guaranteed presence of a live operator (i.e. agent)". 
8 The hangup message See 5. Above. "On call abandonment a very brief recorded information message must be played which contains at least the following information;
  • the identity of the company on whose behalf the call was made (which will not necessarily be the same company that is making the call);
  • details of a no charge (0800) or Special Services basic rate (0845) number the called person can contact so they have the possibility of declining to receive further marketing calls from that company; and
  • includes no marketing content and is not used as an opportunity to market to the called person"
9 Managing silent agents Whether or not you are dialling predictively, make sure that your agents do not, for whatever reason, hang up on live calls without saying anything.  If this does happen then it is an abandoned call and needs to be recorded as such. This is considered persistent misuse if your agents are doing it often.  Don't expect consumers necessarily to complain, but be aware that Ofcom may want to know why, if you have lots of short duration calls where the agent initiates hangup.  In any case be aware that this activity will very quickly give you a problem, as you rack up recorded abandoned calls. 
10 Answering Machine Detection (AMD) We continue to be puzzled as to why Ofcom don't simply ban AMD.  We suspect the reason they don't is because of pressure from significant users in the marketplace claiming that a ban would damage their business.  When you consider the way in which false positives get generated, the levels they can reach and combine this with Ofcom's Statement that 3% is no longer a safe harbour for abandoned calls, then it seems to us there is a clear case for just turning AMD off, and letting agents manage the calls.

But if your management insists that you use it, then there is a rule to be aware of namely "When a call has been identified by AMD technology as an answer machine (including AMD false positives), any repeat calls to that number in the following 24 hours may only be made with the guaranteed presence of a call centre agent." 
11 CLI compliance This requirement comes with a number of provisions. To make sure you comply properly with all of them go to the latest Statement at A2.12-2.14 in Ofcom's Persistent Misuse Statement December 2016.Ofcom-Logo-sml.png
12 Managing IVM The December 2016 Ofcom Statement says, "If a call recipient elects to speak to an agent but experiences an unfairly long wait time..then this is misuse."  We invited Ofcom to specify what time period they regard as "unfairly long" but they have declined to do so. So what to do? Well these are not inbound calls which may stay in queue for many seconds or minutes before being answered. Ofcom's view clearly is that IVM calls in queue need to be treated more sympathetically.  See A1.27-1.32 of their December 2016 Statement for some helpful ideas on how to do this.

But it is worth remembering, if you cast your mind back to Ofcom's October 2010 Statement, it was implied by industry, that all IVM calls would be answered immediately by an agent!  This was never going to be the case and Ofcom now understand this.  However, given this earlier position, it is difficult to see Ofcom being happy with average wait times extending into minutes rather than just seconds. Our best advice is do some forecasting/blending with your software supplier so you can keep wait times to no more than 20 seconds on average, but even that is no guarantee if consumers complain AND you don't heed the good advice that Ofcom include in their December 2016 Statement on IVM. 


Disclaimer: This information in this guide represents the views of Sytel Limited. We have used our best efforts to address the subject in hand in a balanced and fair way but cannot be held responsible for any particular inferences and conclusions that any other party may draw or rely upon.