Fourth & Inbound to Go!

By Zachary Rice

Do you remember that regular season game between the Outbound Intruders and the State/Federal Regulators? If you missed the infamous gridiron battle, let me recap it for you. The State/Federal Regulators were victorious! Just ask any outbound contact center about the myriad of state and federal regulations they have to comply with on a daily basis. Enough said. With the precedent established through outbound regulations, the State/Federal Regulators have now put the Inbound Customer Servers on their schedule.

What am I talking about? Teleservices leaders are beginning to realize, or should realize, that outbound contact centers were not regulated because they were “intrusive,” but rather because of their “annoyance” factor. Since outbound regulations have almost reached a point of saturation, regulators are now targeting annoyances within inbound contact centers.

A recent survey conducted by the ATA’s National Inbound Committee revealed that nearly 60 percent of inbound contact centers use an automated attendant (IVR) for every inbound call. Of that, almost 30 percent use an IVR only. Evidently, that’s not good enough because according to the Telephone Doctor’s “What Bugs You on the Telephone?” survey, the automated attendant (IVR) won hands down as the biggest frustration or “pet peeve” of the American public for inbound contact centers. So what? [Deep Sigh]  Let me explain.

Where does the American public turn with telephone annoyances? Do they make a conscious decision to follow a free market economy mentality and do business with different companies? Nope! Once the precedent was established that telephone communication annoyances are the government’s problem to fix, they are heading right to their legislators. Why? It was effective! Against popular opinion, legislators listen and care what their constituents are saying.  Let me repeat, legislators care!  If legislators don’t, at minimum, listen and, for the most part, take some action, they lose votes which could cost them reelection (a.k.a. their jobs). So, yes, legislators have to care, if they want to keep their jobs. That’s why we’re seeing a big bull’s-eye on inbound contact centers.

Proposed Inbound Legislation in 2006:

  • Oklahoma H.B. 2783 would have required any business doing inbound work with consumers in Oklahoma to make a live operator available if the customer zeroes out by pressing “0” or says “Operator.”
  • New Jersey A.B. 2089 would have required telecom companies using an automated answering system or response system during normal business hours to have trained company representatives available to respond to customer phone inquiries and inform customers that they may have access to a company representative in lieu of the automated system.
  • New Jersey A.B 2712 would have required cable TV companies to maintain a toll-free or collect-call telephone access line available to subscribers twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with trained company representatives available to respond to customer phone inquiries during normal business hours. After normal business hours, the access line may be answered by an answering service or automated response system, including an answering machine. Inquiries after normal business hours must be responded to by a trained company representative on the next business day. Under normal conditions, telephone answer time by a customer representative, including wait time, shall not exceed thirty seconds from when the connection is made.
  • Rhode Island H.B. 7660 would have required cell phone companies to provide customers with direct toll-free numbers to corporate contacts “other than [an] automated answering system” to resolve service inquiries.  Cell phone companies would document all customer inquires and record the time, in minutes, spent resolving the issues raised by the customer.  For any inquiry or dispute related to billing or service resolved in the customer’s favor, “said customer shall be credited on their account one dollar for every minute spent resolving the issue or dispute.”
  • New York A.B. 10446 would have required the department of insurance to force every health insurer, group health plan, health maintenance organization, or other entity offering medical benefits, whether by insurance or otherwise, to provide residents of this state with a way to bypass the automated telephone answering service of such health insurer, group health plan, health maintenance organization, or other entity offering medical benefits.

Customer’s annoyance with inbound contact centers is clear: It is annoying to use an automated attendant without the ability to immediately get to a live agent whenever they choose. Do you want state and/or the federal government telling your company how to run its business? Is government truly the appropriate party to determine which standards balance the needs of both consumers and business? There must be unity within the teleservices community to actively communicate a position and get involved in the process. If not, inbound contact centers will soon be abiding by as many regulations as outbound contact centers.

Are you going to send your Inbound Customer Servers‘ quarterback onto the field without an offensive line? You must put on your helmet, get off the sidelines, and protect him from the State/Federal Regulators’ powerful and unrelenting linebackers.

What are you going to do when they say “Hike”?

[From Connection Magazine November 2006]