The Rebound of Outbound Solutions: A Q&A with Donna Fluss

For years, the outbound solutions market has been at a standstill, thanks in large part to the Federal Communications Commission's Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991. TCPA was enacted in part to protect consumers from robo-callers and also to ensure that mobile phone users would not incur charges from telemarketers. The market remained stagnant when the regulations were changed again in October 2013, prohibiting call centers from using automation to dial phone numbers.

John McNamara, chief marketing officer of LiveVox, discussed this issue in an earlier interview this year with Smart Customer Service. "The current ambiguity around what constitutes consent [with regard to] the automatic dialing easily...the single most burning issue in the contact center right now. You definitely should be concerned about this if a contact center is doing any outbound calling," McNamara said. "The TCPA's effect on squashing landline phone abuse has been compelling."

However, with unease comes market opportunity, and many outbound solution providers have been capitalizing on these concerns. DMG Consulting recently issued a new report, "2014-2015 Outbound Solutions Product and Market," that stated, "As of December 31, 2013, there were 3,193,235 outbound solution seats being used by 14,357 customers on a worldwide basis. This is an increase of 12.1 percent over the 2,849,099 seats reflected in DMG's restated 2012 outbound solutions numbers."

Smart Customer Service spoke with DMG president and founder Donna Fluss about these projections. Fluss says, "Growth will be driven primarily by adoption of outbound solutions in traditionally inbound centers, implementation of cloud-based solutions, and increased market interest, which is prompting innovation in this sector."

Smart Customer Service: According to DMG's projections, outbound solutions sales will see growth in the 5 percent range over the next few years. This number isn't spectacularly high. Is this still a positive sign for this market?

Donna Fluss: For years, this was a dead market. When the DNC [Do Not Cal] registry was first introduced in 2003, it pretty much killed the outbound market. Companies didn't know what to do, and there was pretty much nothing going on for a long time. But in 2013, when the new regulations came out, DMG predicted that it would have the opposite effect. It woke up the market, and that is because for years, nobody made any investments in outbound solutions. The solutions that were being used previously were really outdated. There was no way that companies could comply [with regulations]. Innovation was going to have to happen and it did, and we saw some substantial growth, which hadn't happened in years.

Smart Customer Service: How has nondialing technology spurred growth in the outbound market?

Fluss: First, companies haven't really refreshed their dialing technology since DNC came into effect, about 11 years now. When the regulations changed again in October 2013 that said that companies were not allowed to use automation to dial numbers, organizations couldn't take the chance of getting fined for breaking the rules.

The need to comply with regulations sent companies looking for non-telephony-based dialers that performed DNC checks in an automated fashion. Instead of a solution placing a call, which is important but not the only part of a solution, these dialers did all of these checking steps and basically passed the phone number to the agent, who manually dialed a number so the caller would be in compliance. That created a need for nonautomated dialers. Vendors didn't have these and that really helped to wake up the market.

Smart Customer Service: What are your thoughts about the outbound solutions market extending beyond the traditional phone channel? You state in the report that, "Vendors are working hard to build holistic offerings that include IVR, recording, quality assurance, agent scripting, surveying, and, in an increasing number of solutions, speech analytics."

Fluss: Organizations are using multichannel engagement strategies to interact with customers, so it's not just lobbing over a phone call to remind someone, for example, that their prescription is about to run out and they should place an order. This is a good application. It's not about using only the phone, but also SMS, email, and fax on both an inbound and outbound basis.

We used to have an inbound market and an outbound market. Increasingly, organizations want inbound and outbound capabilities that are seamlessly blended. The market now has the technology to deliver on highly attractive multichannel inbound and outbound solutions. It's about companies using all the available channels to interact with their customers' channel of choice, but that can get complicated, because that channel of choice can also change based on factors such as time of day.

Smart Customer Service: How is the cloud affecting the outbound solutions market?

Fluss: With the cloud, to get outbound capabilities, I can get what I want for a period of time by the drink , by what it is I use. When I don't need it anymore—say I'm a roofing company and don't do much business in the winter—I can scale down. [The cloud] really does change the dynamic of things. One of the original value propositions of the cloud was to democratize the world of the contact center, and it does. You don't have to buy something and put it in. You can just rent what you need. You can rent proactive customer care phone capabilities, you can rent outbound notifications, you can rent whatever it is that you want in the cloud, use it, basically give it back, then start using it again. It has equalized the opportunities for companies of all sizes.

Smart Customer Service: Who are some of the top players in the outbound solutions market?

Fluss: As of December 31, 2013, based on seat size, the top players in order are Aspect, Noble Systems, Genesys, Avaya, Altitude Software, Presence Technology, Interactive Intelligence, Five9, and Connect First.

Smart Customer Service: Did your outbound market research yield any surprises?

Fluss: We were slightly surprised by the pace of growth. There was a 12.1 percent growth [between 2012 to 2013] in a market that for years had contracted, and this was pretty impressive, especially from an economic perspective. DMG is always conservative, but it's very likely given what we're seeing that the rate of growth will exceed the 5 percent that we said for 2014. It's really a brave new world out there."

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