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End of Silent Calls?

The story so far: When calling companies use predictive dialers (whether it is for TPS unregistered cold calling or any other calling system) they at times (and it can be quite a few times) end up when someone answers the phone and they don't have an "agent" available.

These "no agent available" (NAA) calls are what are known as "silent calls". Statutory Intrument 2003/2426 "The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003" makes it clear that recorded messages for marketing purposes are unacceptable. However, an Informational Message which explains why the call is silent is lawful.

Yesterday I had a meeting (conference call) with Ofcom in which these issues were discussed. Ofcom clearly cannot supplant the role of the courts. However, noone present thought the Informational Message approach was unlawful. In fact it is one of the issues Ofcom are thinking about in terms of getting rid of silent calls.

There is a further problem which creates more urgency at the moment which is that BT are marketing the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) in a forceful manner. Previously the rate of registrations would have led the whole of the UK to have been registered by 2009. BT's privacy campaign has accelerated the whole process.

TPS registration will, however, not stop silent calls. All it would do is to stop the sort of cold calling from the EU that is prevented by the TPS. This would not stop marketing calls (which can essentially be cold calls) from people such as BT (where people have given some form of permission to be contacted). If call centres used predictive diallers (power diallers) there will still be NAA calls at some level.

The point about "silent calls" is that because they are silent (and often there is no CLI (1471 - Caller Line Identification) it worries many recipients thinking someone is "casing the joint".

So we are now in a position in which call centres can stop the silent call. Ofcom are working on detailed proposals which will look at the levels of NAA calls and deal with expensive CLI numbers (premium number scams).

However, call centres could stop the silent call tomorrow. This would be by implementing the two key things that stop worry. Firstly, the Informational Message and secondly by using CLI. Clearly they also need to tune the software to reduce the proportion of calls that are NAA. Life is such that, however, there will always be a small number of NAA calls unless people don't use predictive diallers.

Ofcom have asked that any call centre using Informational Messages as a pilot scheme should tell Ofcom so that they know what is going on.

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