History of Predictive Dialers

The autodialer preceded the predictive dialer. While the basic autodialer merely automatically dials telephone numbers for call center agents who are idle or waiting for a call, the predictive dialer uses a variety of algorithms to predict both the availability of agents and called party answers, adjusting the calling process to the number of agents it predicts will be available when the calls it places are expected to be answered.

The predictive dialer monitors the answers to the calls it places, detecting how the calls it makes are answered. It discards unanswered calls, busy numbers, disconnected lines, answers from fax machines, answering machines and similar automated services, and only connects calls answered by people to waiting sales representatives. Thus, it frees agents from the task of manually dialing telephone numbers and subsequently listening to ring tones, unanswered or unsuccessful calls.

A predictive dialer can dramatically increase the time an agent spends on communication rather than waiting; a 2002 survey indicated an increase in talk time from twenty minutes in the hour to almost fifty. The system is most suitable for low quality lists and large numbers of agents; however, an unexpectedly high contact rate can overwhelm the system leading to call abandonment.

Before running a campaign, Call list data is loaded into the dialer. The data is generally derived from a large database such as a telephone directory or similar listing from CRM software. Some predictive dialers generate call lists and report call attempts. Unsuccessful calls are often analyzed to determine if the number called needs to be called back later or needs special treatment, such as a manual or autodialed call by an agent to listen to an answer machine message.

Predictive dialer systems are commonly used by telemarketing organizations involved in B2C (business to consumer) calling as it allows their sales representatives to have much more customer contact time. Predictive dialers may also be used by market survey companies and debt collection services who need to contact and personally speak to a lot of people by telephone. More commonly predictive dialers are now being used as a quick and easy way to automate all sorts of calls which would otherwise be made manually by a call center, such as welcome calls for new customers, customer service call backs, appointment confirmations/reminders, or even for the automation of large numbers of ad hoc calls that might need to take place (such as by a taxi company, or parcel delivery service etc).

They generally rely on the fact that if a person were to sit down and manually dial 1000 people, a large percentage of these calls will not result in contact with someone at the other end. Out of 1000 calls made, typically only about 25-35% would actually connect to a live person. Of the rest, a large number (often 40-60%) won't be answered at all, around 10% might be answering machines, faxes, modems or other electronic devices, around 5% of numbers would be busy and the rest will result in network errors, or be identified as invalid numbers. For call centers that need to make large numbers of outbound calls, this represents a large problem. Typically in manual dialing environments, a given agent will spend around 80% of their time listening to the phone ring waiting to talk to someone, or dealing with invalid numbers or answering machines and only about 20% of their time actually doing what they are really there to do. By using a predictive dialer to filter out these unproductive calls and to spare the agent from having to wait for the phone to be answered each time, call centers can reverse the situation. Agents can now spend on average around 80% of their time talking to customers and only about 20% of their time waiting for the next call - a 300% increase in productivity.