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People tend to associate automated dialing exclusively with telemarketing. For example, when we hear the term “call list”, we tend to picture an automated-dialing machine with glowing-red demon eyes lurking in the boiler room of some crumbling building. We imagine this evil-looking piece of scrap metal cranking out thousands of unsolicited calls an hour to innocent familes just about to sit down to their warm, home-cooked dinners. Ignore the fact that many households today no longer eat home-cooked meals as a family like they did in the 1950’s. Today it's more likely that parents are working late while children eat fast food in front of their computer. But even though times have changed, the old notions about automated outbound dialing and call lists still remain.

So let’s set the record straight. Not all automated outbound dialing is part of a telemarketing campaign asking people to donate money to disabled carnival-ride operators or to pre-pay for funeral arrangements of a fifth-cousin thrice removed. Rather, automated outbound dialing can be a legitimate business tool, especially in B2B (Business-to-Business) scenarios. For example, companies involved in industries such as food and beverage rely on planned outbound calls to support their direct-store-delivery (DSD) model where suppliers such as Coca-Cola or PepsiCo telephone accounts like Costco, Wal-Mart, Carrefour or REWE on a weekly basis to find out what products are needed before making the weekly delivery.

Automated outbound dialing allows a call list to be executed by a computer telephone system rather than by an actual call center agent. In most “modes” of automated dialing, the “dialer” software automatically dials numerous telephone numbers and connects an agent whenever an actual person answers the call. In cases where the dialer encounters a busy signal, unanswered call, answering machines or fax machine the dialer software does not bother connecting an agent, thus saving time and money. However, the person who answers the phone often experiences a few seconds delay while the dialer software connects an agent. In cases where no agent is actually available, the predictive dialer will drop the call — hanging up on the person who answered the telephone. Below we take a look at the three most common modes of automated outbound dialing — preview dialing, progressive/power dialing, and predictive dialing.

Preview Dialing: In preview mode, the dialer software presents the agent with the customer details of the next planned call, before the call is actually placed. This gives the agent time to review the customer information, including things such as open service tickets, open sales order, purchase history, and so on. When the agent is ready, the agent can press a button to have the dialer software dial the call. Or, if the agent wants to skip the call the agent can press another button to see the details of the next call instead. The main advantage of preview dialing over manual dialing is that the agent is saved the time that it would actually take to dial the telephone number.

Progressive/Power Dialing: Progressive dialers, also known as power dialers, work in a similar fashion to preview dialers — except that the agent is shown the customer information as the call is being dialed, rather than beforehand. Additionally, no manual action or confirmation is required from the agent. The agent is able to listen along as the dialer “progresses” through the call list, dialing numbers and encountering busy signals, answering machines, fax machines and unanswered calls until finally an actual person answers a call.

Predictive Dialing: Predictive dialers automatically dial more telephone numbers than there are agents available to receive calls, in order to make sure that an agent is never sitting around idle waiting for a call to be connected while the system encounters busy signals, answering machines, fax machines or unanswered calls. Obviously, this can result in an unpleasant experience for callers who answer the telephone only to find that there is no one on the other end — or that the call has been dropped. Progressive dialers try to minimize this amount of “over dialing” by using sophisticated “predictive” algorithms that take into consideration statistics such as the average talk time of each call as well as the percentage of calls that are answered by an actual person (as opposed to busy signals, unanswered calls, or fax or answering/ machines) in order to estimate how many calls to over-dial. It is possible with most dialers to configure a maximum acceptable drop rate (in order to limit the number of calls that are dropped by the dialer) that temporarily slows down or suspends overdialing until a large enough sample size of statistics exists to fully optimize overdialing.

SAP CRM does not include out-of-the-box automated outbound dialing capabilities. However, both progressive dialing and predictive dialing modes can be integrated with the SAP CRM Interaction Center through SAP’s ICI or SAPphone interface using contact-center software such as SAP Business Communications Management (BCM) or similar products from third-party partners such as Genesys, Avaya, and so on. For example, see OSS note 732347 for details on integrating Avaya Predictive Dialing System (PDS) with the SAP CRM Interaction Center.