In the Age of Robocalls, Companies Can Get Customers to Answer the Phone

With a surge in unwanted calls, many consumers are now conditioned to not answer their phones unless they know who is calling. Recent research by Consumer Reports found that 70 percent of Americans don't answer their phones under those circumstances.

From the consumer perspective, it is understandable, but it comes at a risk: An ignored call from a telemarketer is just another missed robocall; but if the caller turns out to be a local hospital informing you that a family member has been injured or your child's school calling with an important message, the stakes of ignoring calls become much higher. Call originators making legitimate and wanted calls are seeing their businesses impacted by lower answer rates, driven by consumer distrust of unrecognized calls.

Legitimate call originators--businesses that rely heavily on contact centers and calling campaigns--are searching for a better way to get their calls answered without adding to the unwanted call burden for recipients.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of smartphone apps that categorize and provide a reputation for incoming calls to help combat the robocall problem. Many of these call authentication technologies provide consumers with additional caller information categories to distinguish between normal and nefarious calls and help consumers decide whether they should answer. With more context and verifiability should come a higher answer rate for legitimate incoming calls.

To enable this, call originators need to understand which tools are available to improve call validation and rectify interactions with customers. Call authentication tools have varying levels of effectiveness driven by carrier network integration, visibility into cross-carrier traffic, and the ability to track and detect real-time spoofing events.

Callers might not always understand why their calls are being classified in a certain way, so it's important to equip legitimate call originators and consumers with intelligent tools to make informed decisions to avoid the risk of becoming a victim of scam or fraud.

In addition, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently ruled that it will allow carriers to block unwanted calls by default based on call analytics as long as customers are informed and can opt of out the service. The definition of an unwanted call is extremely broad and can include calls with a large number of customer complaints.

Call originators seeking to validate their calling campaigns via authentication analytics engines should consider the following best practices:

Don't use one main calling number for multiple uses.

One common observation from Transaction Network Services' 2019 Robocall Investigation Report is that outbound numbers used for multiple purposes (i.e. by different departments) tend to get flagged by analytics engines and thus receive mixed feedback from consumers. A number used for marketing, for example, should not be used by other departments for other subjects. Increased call frequency means consumers will invariably provide negative feedback, which leads to a robocall tag. By segmenting the use of toll-free numbers by purpose or subject, companies can improve their numbers' status as legitimate.

Use a consistent, real, assigned number and user-dialable calling number.

Another trend by bad actors is the use of invalid or unallocated telephone numbers. This practice has increased more than 200 percent since 2018. In November 2017, the FCC adopted new rules that allow providers to block callers they deem invalid, unallocated, or unused. However, on the carrier side, it is important to equip subscribers with as much relevant information about incoming calls as possible. Failing to display caller ID information could influence call authentication apps or network categorization frameworks and enable bad actors to have better access to subscribers.

Align context and content of calls for the duration of the number's assignment.

Consistently using the same number for the same purpose results in a more accurate reputation. As mentioned above, keep numbers to single-subject (department) use to avoid being tagged as a robocall. When reassigning a number to another purpose, best practice dictates that you wait 60-days before redeploying those numbers.

Provide a consistent Calling Name profile that matches context.

Displaying an accurate and consistent caller ID gives customers more confidence knowing who is calling and helps them make the decision to answer the call. Consider using a service that can help you update and manage what is displayed on outbound calls.

Document normal calling patterns.

Call originators should let analytics companies and service providers know their normal calling patterns, specifically with regards to time of day and expected volume. When launching new campaigns, use numbers that are compliant and known; this will aid analytics and service providers to designate the number as legitimate and not spoofed numbers.

Don't call unassigned numbers frequently.

Know your customers and their current numbers. Frequent calls to unassigned numbers is a red flag and mirrors a technique bad actors use: dialing random numbers looking for unsuspecting consumers.

Comply with DNC lists, TCPA and FDCPA.

Legitimate enterprises are willing to document compliance with state and federal laws, such as the Do Not Call list, Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, and to provide contact information and telephone numbers where called parties can report alleged violations of the law. Bad actors, obviously, avoid this because it enables law enforcement to identify them.

Use branded calling.

Carriers and enterprises should evaluate enhanced enterprise-focused tools like branded calling. To increase validation and confidence in call identity, a corporate logo or other information is displayed to the consumer. This helps ensure businesses can reach their customers in an emergency; a prime example is if a doctor needs to contact a patient about medical care.

There are also emerging solutions that service providers can offer to provide aggregators and enterprises with a lens into their call center practices to manage their reputation scores. The registration of calling campaigns, for example, could yield positive results, as analytics engines begin to better understand sudden spikes in calling traffic.

Call originators, service providers, and other stakeholders throughout the telecommunications ecosystem recognize the risks associated with the rising tide of robocalls. Make no mistake, the correlation between consumer trust in voice calls and customer faith in businesses is inextricably entwined. Lose consumer trust and your brand will suffer.

Lavinia Kennedy is director of Call Guardian at Transaction Network Services (TNS).