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The traditional outbound call was simply about selling more products to new and existing customers. However, legislation and customer pressure has had a continuing impact on cold calling, and the past years have seen an increasing proportion of outbound calling being made to existing customers, either to deliver customer care or to inform them proactively about events and circumstances which affect them.

Outbound activity

The proportion of contact centre activity that was outbound peaked at 33.7% in 2004, falling back slightly to 32.9% in 2005 (however, there was still an overall increase in the actual number of outbound calls made in 2005). In 2006, the figure fell to 29.1%, which was a decrease of 3.5% in actual numbers of outbound calls, most likely as a result of a reduction in cold calling from UK operations, driven by cost and legislation.

Since then, the proportion of UK contact centre activity that is outbound has declined quite consistently year on year, standing at 21.7% in 2014. Of course, this is not just due to a decline in actual outbound activity, but also the significant growth in inbound activity that continues to take place.

Outbound agent positions

In the past, there have been a large number of smaller contact centres which performed market research and outsourced telemarketing activities on behalf of other clients. (Large outsourcing companies are likely to be heavily involved in inbound client care as well as outbound campaigns). The past few years have put great pressure on the profit margins of these types of 'commodity' contact centres, with the result that a significant proportion have ceased trading or reduced their outbound headcount considerably, with fully-automated or offshore operations being more widespread.

Furthermore, the effects of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which also allows businesses to opt out of receiving telemarketing calls, puts pressure on the outbound sector. As take-up of the service grows (there are over 18m telephone numbers on the TPS – well over 60% of UK households), businesses which use cold-call telemarketing are left with two decisions: to continue their existing call-per-prospect activity (thus reducing the overall number of calls they make, as more people opt-out), or make more calls per prospect, keeping the overall volume up. The latter option may well alienate more people through pestering them with too many calls, which may drive up the numbers registering on the TPS, making the pool of available prospects even smaller. The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations, which has been in force since the end of 2003, banned all unsolicited email and SMS messages to individuals, cutting businesses’ direct marketing opportunities at a stroke. In previous years, there had been limited fines for nuisance or silent calls, but the government has recently made it easier to fine companies [1],[2].

Against this backdrop, Ofcom has commissioned ContactBabel to carry out a major piece of industry research. Ofcom is currently developing its approach to tackling nuisance calls by reviewing whether the policy it uses to protect consumers could be improved – particularly in the area of silent and abandoned calls.

As part of this, Ofcom is now running an anonymous survey of the contact centre industry to establish:

•    the key drivers of silent or abandoned calls;

•    whether any changes to Ofcom’s policy may help reduce the likelihood of silent or abandoned calls being made, and the level of harm they cause;

•    the costs and benefits to businesses of complying with Ofcom’s regulatory policy;

•    other industry developments which may be relevant to Ofcom’s work.

Ofcom wants to gather as much information as possible to ensure that its policy takes into account the real workings and capabilities of the contact centre industry, and would like to hear from any operation calling UK customers – whether based domestically or offshore.

All the responses will be anonymised before being made available to Ofcom. In addition, any published report based on this research will only contain information that is anonymised and in aggregated form. Respondents to the survey will receive the findings of the report in June 2015.

For more information on this important research, and how you (or someone you know) can take part, please contact smorrell@contactbabel.com or take the survey at http://fluidsurveys.com/s/ofcom/

To find out more about the impact of poor prospecting, read about our recent research into a prospect's view of B2B sales practices and discover the best practices of top performing sales professionals.

[1]https://www.gov.uk/government/news/nuisance-calls-firms-to-face-more-fines

[2] https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2015/02/ico-welcomes-changes-to-help-target-nuisance-callers-and-spam-texters/

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About Steve Morrell

Steve Morrell is Managing Partner at ContactBabel, the leading analyst firm for the contact centre industry.

Find out more at www.contactbabel.com

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