Should Inbound Contact Centers Be Worried?

By Zachary Rice

As Homer Simpson once claimed, “Remember, as far as anyone knows, we’re a nice, normal family.” Well, unbeknownst to me, too many contact centers seem to have Homer’s same delusion – not about their families or coworkers – but about their inbound customer service operations. Is there any doubt that customers realize how long they’re waiting in queue? That they have no options besides sitting through a five-minute IVR tree? That they are so frustrated and irritable once they reach their destination, it is no longer possible for them to have an ideal customer experience? The list goes on; however, customers’ patience with these situations does not, which should worry any company receiving inbound calls.

We should all know by now that customers turn to their legislators for help with any type of annoyance, particularly telephone annoyances. In this case, legislators are listening. I could be mistaken, and I know it’s difficult to make predictions about the future, but why not take a look at some facts? In 2006, there were five specific problematic bills in four states. In 2007, with a carryover of two bills in New Jersey, there were sixteen specific problematic bills in nine states, with two bills in the United States Congress. That’s a 220% increase in bills and 125% increase in the number of states.

Some bills have failed and some are still pending, but don’t let this mislead you into thinking that the failed bills won’t be introduced again. There are hundreds of ways for a bill to fail and only one way for them to pass. Below is a brief overview of the bills we’ve been tracking.

Disclosures: 2007 Connecticut H.B. 5783, 2007 Nevada A. 422, 2007 Oklahoma H.B. 1292, 2007 United States S.B. 2553, and 2007 United States H.B. 4932 all deal with disclosures, specifically with a contact center’s location. The above bills would require the agent to disclose their physical location, with a couple going as far as disclosing their city, state, and country. There are four bills that go a little further than just a mandatory location disclosure:

  • 2007 Arizona S.B. 1281 / H.B. 2446.  Requires a consumer services employee to disclose to the consumer the complete physical location and the legal name of the seller on whose behalf the solicitor is calling and the employee’s true legal name; provides that a person making or receiving a call from a consumer sales call center has the right to speak to a qualified employee of the company or government agency with which the person is doing business; disallows sending financial, credit, or personal information overseas without permission.
  • 2007 Minnesota S 162 / H.B. 116. Provides that any person who receives a telephone call, or places a call to a customer sales call center or customer service call center, has the right to know the identification of the state or country where the employee is located; provides when a person receives a telephone solicitation or places a call to such centers, which requests the person’s financial, credit, or identifying information, the person has the right to request the contact of a center in the United States.

In addition to requiring physical location disclosures and disallowing sending personal information overseas, both Arizona bills state that the consumer has the “right to speak to a qualified employee of the company or government agency” and both Minnesota bills require a transfer to contact centers in the United States. These types of requirements, especially the Minnesota bills, would cause a severe, adverse impact with companies that utilize offshore contact centers.

Automated Telephone Answering Devices: 2007 Missouri H. 882, 2006 New Jersey A.B. 2089, 2006 New Jersey A.B. 2712, 2007 New York A. 1135, 2006 New York A.B. 10446, 2006 Oklahoma H. B. 2783, and 2006 Rhode Island H.B. 7660 all deal with contact centers utilizing automated telephone answering devices. These bills include requirements for mandatory live operators, “0” opt out and alternative numbers to reach live operators for customers doing business with specific vertical markets, which includes health insurers, cell phone companies, state agencies, telecommunication companies, and utility contact centers. Below are three bills that are very interesting.

  • 2007 Florida S.B. 1858 / H 997 requires state agencies employing an “automated telephone answering system” to provide “opt out” to agent menu options within the first minute of received calls during regular hours of operation. It also mandates at least two telephone lines dedicated to “opt out” calls and sets a goal of five minutes or less hold time per call.
  • 2007 New York A. 5841 requires businesses employing an “automated telephone answering device” to announce that calls are being answered by such a device, whether or not callers can transfer directly to agents and when (if ever) an agent is available to take calls. It also sets standards for transfer queue times to connect to agents, including leaving a message to be called back within an hour. In addition, it requires that any and all advertising must specify that the telephone numbers published will be answered only by an automated device, if this is the case.

Notice the New York and Florida bills introduce the first set of mandatory minimum service levels. If passed, this could mandate time limits on when consumers may opt out, mandatory maximum queue times, and maximum time for callbacks. They also would regulate specific announcements, options to leave messages, and would provide a certain amount of telephone lines dedicated to opt outs.

Imagine one of these overbearing pieces of legislation passing in the near future…do I hear a collective, “D’oh!” from the industry?

[From Connection Magazine September 2007]

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