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The Changing Face of Outbound Dialling
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 at least, reduced their headcount considerably. Furthermore, the effects of the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), which also allows businesses to opt out of receiving telemarketing calls, puts pressure on outbound dialling, along with the requirement for enhanced consent specified by the GDPR.

The effect of this has been to increase the proportion of outbound activity that is carried out for customer service purposes. A recent study of the UK contact centre outbound sector shows a significant move away from cold calling, and towards customer care.

The act of calling customers back about an ongoing issue is the single most popular outbound activity, with in-queue call-backs requested by the customer also growing in importance, 

Proactive customer service – calling the customer about an issue without being asked to first – is a strong brand builder as well as an effective call avoidance tactic. 

The overall proportion of sales calls has declined from around 40% in the past few years, with cold calling especially low this year at only 6% of outbound activity. 

Cross-selling/upselling and renewals continue to be an important outbound activity (and bear in mind that this figure does not include those many inbound service calls that are turned into cross-selling opportunities), with 19% of outbound calls being made for this purpose. 

Debt collection is steady at around 8% of respondents’ calls. Customer satisfaction surveys remain very low, with automated processes increasingly preferred.

Outbound Activity by Vertical Markets

The outsourcing and telemarketing sector is a key part of the UK’s outbound activity and is the largest exponent of outbound calling, with campaign-based outbound for sectors such as finance, telecoms and utilities still very important. It also does a significant amount of client satisfaction checking and market research, all of which are outbound activities. 34% of the outsourcing sector's activity is outbound.

Historically, the finance vertical market had the largest number of outbound agents, involved in debt collection, persuading customers to change financial products (e.g. credit cards) and increasingly, cross-selling and up-selling to existing customers. Businesses are aware that one of the key moves towards increased profitability is to get customers purchasing multiple products, e.g. a personal loan, a current account, a credit card and insurance from the same provider. However, the sector is seeing an increased use of cross-selling on inbound calls, as well as direct mail and web-based marketing, rather than an increase in outbound telephony, with offshore playing some role in outbound as well. Although only 17% of the finance sector's activity is outbound, it accounts for the second-highest number of outbound agents (over 23,000 in the UK). 

At 30%, the services sector carries out a high proportion of outbound activity, especially around sales, as is the case with the communications sector.

The retail & distribution sector uses outbound as a sales tool, calling existing customers, as well as providing information about deliveries, although this is now increasingly done through automated digital channels. However, the proportion of activity that is outbound is well below the industry average, at only 16%. 

There is a low level of outbound calling in public services, as many of these operations are non-sales, reactive helpdesk environments, which answer the public’s queries. As such, proactive outbound campaigns are rarely needed, and outbound only accounts for 9% of activity in this sector.

Printing & publishing has a higher level of outbound activity than most other vertical markets (47%), caused by the large number of calls made by newspapers, magazines and directories in order to sell advertising space, but this is a small vertical market.

Effects of Legislation

The Telephone Preference Service and GDPR are part of the general social and political drift towards allowing consumers and businesses the right not to be contacted by companies. 

In the UK, Ofcom is getting progressively stricter in its outbound regulations, and has clarified that the 3% ‘safe harbour’ of abandoned calls, which the industry had considered to be the maximum permitted, was in fact merely a guide to prioritise enforcement action, and that in fact no abandoned calls are permitted whatsoever. 

This has had an effect: while almost half of respondents using outbound dialling stated that this had not made any difference to how they used diallers, 40% said that they had reduced the amount of predictive dialling they did, while 15% had switched off their predictive dialler altogether.

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About the Author

Steve Morrell is the founder and lead analyst of ContactBabel, the contact centre industry analysts, which was founded in 2001 to provide high-quality research and analysis to the UK contact centre industry. He has written hundreds of research reports and his opinion on contact centres has been featured on the BBC, ITV, Sky, the Guardian. Forbes and the Financial Times.

Statistics from ContactBabel's "UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers' Guide" and "UK Contact Centres 2019-23: The State of the Industry".   

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