If correspondence is the most cost-effective collection tool, the phone call is running a very close second. The main difference in using the telephone for collections is that you have to have a person involved and staff is a prized commodity in government. Therefore, a smaller government is more likely to use correspondence and less likely to use the phone because staff has multiple assignments in addition to collections. There’s just no time to make a bunch of phone calls! But maybe there is, especially if the computer is doing the work for you.
There are two types of phone use in collections. We’ll call them in-bound and out-bound. Most governments are used to taking in-bound calls from the public but those agencies with collection strategies will attempt to integrate out-bounding calling into their already overburdened list of tasks.
Thankfully, there are multiple technologies out there that help a collector use the phone in more efficient ways. Dialers are designed to do just that, dial the phone. Historically, businesses using a dialer had to dedicate staff to making out-bound dialer calls and separate staff would be responsible for taking in-bound calls. It’s worth noting that most quality dialers utilize a call blend model allowing staff to take in-bound calls while simultaneously being available to accept dialer generated out-bound calls.
There is some disagreement in the telephony world on what the difference is between Power Dialing and Automated Dialing, if any. We will define it here and hopefully not add to the confusion.
Power dialing is a manual process at its core. The collector looks up debtor’s account and then decides to make a phone call to that debtor based on what they see. Once they decide to make the call, the collector can click an icon on the screen to have the computer dial the chosen phone number. The collector would have a headset on, would hear the ringing of the phone, say hello when the customer answered, or would leave a message on an answering machine.
Depending on the software and services, power dialing does come with a few options. There are some software packages with customizable “hot keys” that allow the collector to enter standardized notes based on the call results. For instance, if the collector left a message on the answering machine, the collector could use a hot key specific to that call outcome. A pre-defined note would be automatically placed on the account.
This dialing option is used mainly for those who want to provide a more mild calling strategy. Power dialing’s biggest advantage is that it helps eliminate dialing errors by automatically dialing the phone number listed on the account. The obvious downside is that a collector is required to make the determination to place a call and this requires collection staff.
Automated dialing differs from power dialing in one major way; the computer does the bulk of the out-bound dialing from a list of phone numbers gathered from the accounts. It works like this:
Someone within the collection office decides there is a particular group of debtors that needs to be called that day. Based on some basic filters like work, home or time zone, the phone numbers are compiled into a list which is then sent to the automated calling system.
The collector doesn’t see each account whose phone number is dialed by the computer. They only see the accounts where the computer dialing process results in a connection to a human voice or an answering machine. When a dialed number results in a productive connection, the system passes the call to the collector and the account information is displayed on the collector’s computer screen. Depending on the vendor, there may or may not be dead air during this search and retrieve function. Dead air means the customer picks up the phone and says “Hello?”, but the collector isn’t online yet which creates a noticeable delay in the collector’s response. You may have experienced this with telemarketing calls.
When the collector is finished with the call, they make their notes then let the system know they are available for their next phone call. The system starts dialing again.
In the background, the system ties into your collection software. The interaction is such that the Automated Dialing System receives the list electronically from your collection software and loads it up ready to make phone calls. As it makes phone calls through the day, it keeps track of call results like who did not answer, busy signals, or answering machines. When the system has dialed through the designated accounts, it returns a call result log back to the collection system electronically so each account history can be updated with a predefined note.
The more aggressive agencies adopt an outbound strategy that includes predictive dialing. Similar to automated dialing, predictive dialing uses a variety of algorithms to predict both the availability of the collector and called party answers. It adjusts the speed with which it dials based on the number of collectors it predicts will be available when the calls it places are 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 collectors with calls answered by people. Thus, it frees agents from the task of manually dialing telephone numbers and subsequently listening to ring tones, unanswered or unsuccessful calls.
Beyond its predictive call model, this dialer functions much like the automated dialer. Someone sets the calling criteria to generate the call lists. Collectors wrap up calls and let the system know they are available for another call. The system returns a call results log and account histories are updated. Dead time can be an issue with predictive dialing as well, but predictive dialing can dramatically increase the time a collector spends on productive communication instead of waiting for calls to be answered.