The High Cost of Short Calls—and Why That's Changing


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If there are two certainties in the contact center world, the first is that many outbound calls last less than 30 seconds. Experience shows that outbound contact center calls frequently average between six and 30 seconds because so many people either hang up as soon as the pitch starts or let calls from unfamiliar numbers go directly to voicemail.

Mobile penetration has helped decrease call duration because all incoming calls count against those customers' monthly bucket of minutes. As a result, they're even more likely to let calls from unfamiliar numbers go to voicemail. Increasing mobile penetration also means that more outbound calls are to mobile numbers. In 2011, 13 percent of outbound calls were to mobile phones, according to a ContactBabel study. One year later, it was 16 percent.

Outbound call centers also have low answer-signal ratio (ASR) due to disconnected numbers or inaccurate call lists. Typically, less than 50 percent of calls are completed since call centers often buy outdated lists because they are cheaper.

This brevity is the reason for the second certainty in the contact center world: Telecoms typically charge call center operations much higher rates than they charge "normal" businesses because it's the only way they can turn a profit on this traffic.

Call centers tend to pay higher rates because their low ASR and ACD (average call duration) still consume telecoms' signaling and switch resources. For example, when a contact center has an ASR below 50 percent, it means its service provider is making no money on half of those calls. Higher rates enable telecoms to cover that loss.

In addition, dialer applications can generate enormous call volumes in a short period of time. ContactBabel's research shows that 40 percent of U.S. contact centers currently use outbound dialer applications, with another 8 percent planning to add them. That means telecoms can expect dialer-driven spikes to remain common for the foreseeable future, and contact centers can expect telecoms to continue to respond by charging higher rates.

To avoid being overwhelmed during those peaks—potentially to the point that more profitable calls are blocked—telecoms have to build excess network capacity. That can be expensive, especially considering that when the contact centers aren't operating, all of that extra capacity lies fallow instead of generating revenue.

For example, most telecoms assume only 10 percent of their customers will be using their phone at the same time. Suppose that during election season, a contact center targets a town with 5,000 lines. If a dialer application generates 500 calls at once, no one in that town will be able to make or receive a call. Greater network capacity avoids that problem, but the funding has to come from somewhere, and the best place is higher rates for call center customers.

How Everyone Can Come Out Ahead

For contact center operators and businesses with large internal call centers, the good news is that this situation is changing for the better. Savvy carriers have developed ways to transform call centers from resource hogs into profit centers, all without gouging customers.

For example, new network technologies have slashed switching and other resource overhead, to the point that connecting and tearing down millions of calls each day has shrunk to a relatively small cost of doing business. Those carriers can pass along that savings in the form of 30 percent to 80 percent lower rates for contact center customers than they typically get from traditional telecoms.

Take a contact center making 2 million minutes of calls per month to prospects in the U.S. and Canada. At AT&T's typical rate of $.02/minute, that translates into $40,000 per month in telecom costs. A carrier that specializes in serving contact centers would typically bill the company at approximately $.007/minute, or $14,000 per month. That's a savings of $26,000 every month!

Contact center operators can do their part too. For example, limiting the number of simultaneous calls to a particular carrier avoids the risk of network overload. Large call centers typically have multiple carrier vendors, giving them the flexibility to spread out their volume.

Contact center operators also can limit the number of simultaneous calls to a given rate center (a town or a small geographic part of a city) to avoid swamping local networks. As a result, the network serving the aforementioned 5,000-line town now can easily handle an influx of election calls on top its normal traffic load.

With this combination of new technology and savvy business practices, everyone wins. Contact center customers get a lower cost of doing business, so they can afford better databases while maintaining profits. Carriers get a better business model, and their other customers never run the risk of not being able to make or take calls.