By Krishna Korlepara
The relationship consumers have with their phones has changed. Before the age of cell phones, landlines were the call center’s primary form of near immediate connection with customers. Prior to caller ID, the phone would ring, the consumer would pick it up and call center agents could do their jobs.
Consumers couldn’t be sure who was waiting on the other end of the line, but they picked up the phone regardless. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and everyone is walking around with cell phones in their pockets, where over 90 percent of unrecognized numbers go unanswered.
It’s not that those conversations with the enterprise and call centers are less important. Sure, the ability to listen to a voicemail has granted consumers some amount of freedom, but that convenience is rarely the primary reason for ignoring a call these days. Rather, consumers are trying to avoid the calls they don’t want about the “extended auto warranty” they do not have.
The number of spam, robo, and fraudulent calls continues to increase year over year, warranting this avoidance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, daily call volumes increased to an average of 800 million wireless calls each weekday on Verizon’s network. That’s two times the call volume of Mother’s Day, the typical highest call volume day of the year. Estimates show that 16 precent, or just over 129 million, of those daily calls were robocalls.
For some consumers it is an easy decision to send all unrecognized numbers to voicemail to avoid scammers, but that behavior—while warranted to evade swindlers—has long lasting effects on the enterprise and call centers and their ability to do necessary work. Legitimate businesses and call centers with real reasons to reach out are trying to contact consumers from unrecognized numbers too. This consumer engagement leaves the enterprise in a hard place as they seek to share information only suitable for a secure phone connection.
United States Regulations
Attempts to remediate the issue have taken place on the federal level in the form of the recent STIR/SHAKEN regulations, which are protocols and a governance framework to ensure a caller ID isn’t spoofed, thereby reducing the number of illegal robocalls.
Under those FCC standards—set to be fully in effect by the end of June 2021—carriers would, in theory, be able to validate the authenticity and legitimacy of a caller. However, STIR/SHAKEN has its pitfalls, like smaller carriers having more time to comply to the standard, flagging numbers at a lower attestation level even if they come from a legitimate source, and calls coming from international markets not having to adhere to the U.S. STIR/SHAKEN standards.
Carriers have also developed approaches to decrease the number of nefarious calls by implementing various network-based call tagging solutions. Using calling number analytics, these systems recognize suspicious calls coming from specific calling phone numbers, but they also routinely have false positives by categorizing good calls as “spam likely.”
Cell phone manufacturers have tried implementing similar blocks, but they face identical issues when calls originate across varying devices.
While these solutions do alleviate some of the effects of deceptive calls, the financial and operational costs put on the enterprise and call center as a result is far too great to consider these solutions as adequate.
Every weekday in the U.S., call centers lose $685 million due to time wasted on unanswered outbound calls. These are calls made from legitimate businesses attempting to reach customers for legitimate reasons. In fact, voice calling is the primary method of contacting customers for the financial, healthcare, and insurance industries due to the often sensitive nature of the calls, and each industry utilizes call centers to manage the large volume of calls needed each day.
For every second that a call center agent is making and waiting for a call to be answered, it costs the call center 1.5 cents. Due to consumers’ previously mentioned reluctance to answer 94 precent of unrecognized numbers, which means 127 of a call center agent’s estimated 135 outbound calls made during one daytime shift go unanswered, wasting the call center an estimated $403.20 for each agent. That number continues to compound as we consider the total number of call center agents in the U.S.
When those calls go unanswered, thwarting connections vital to the enterprise, banks are unable to share alerts of suspicious activity, healthcare providers fail to share important test results in a timely manner, and insurance agencies are unable to connect with their customers to discuss a claim or have an adjuster setup an appointment to evaluate damages.
Every time a call fails to reach a customer, the enterprise delays handling a customer’s issue. This produces a bad customer experience that lowers their standing in the eyes of the customer.
The risk to the enterprise and call center is too great to leave this consumer behavior unchanged and in the hands of band-aid solutions that only work over certain carriers or specific devices or wait for government-mandated regulations that will require years to fully implement.
Rather, a more well-rounded approach that takes all aspects into consideration should be the only solution we look for. This is a solution that makes it possible for the enterprise and call center to reach its customers for the conversations that are too important to miss.
As director of product management at Sevis Systems, Krishna Korlepara leads the product strategy and long-term vision with specific focus on cloud-based identity solutions for telecom operators across the world.