It’s no secret that robocalls, spam and call spoofing have all but destroyed Americans’ trust in telephone calls — to the point that many individuals have essentially stopped answering the phone. A widely cited Consumer Reports survey conducted in December 2018 suggests that 70 percent of U.S. adults will not respond if they do not recognize the number or if the caller’s number is anonymous.
This refusal to answer is certainly understandable from the consumer’s point of view (and we’re all consumers, after all), but it is costly for organizations that need to conduct business over the phone and have difficulty connecting with their customers.
It also represents a significant potential threat to public health and safety, as illustrated by health department’s contact tracers’ current challenges in getting individuals exposed to COVID-19 to pick up the phone. According to a Reuters investigation in August, more than three dozen public health departments were hindered largely due to some residents’ failure to answer their phones.
Authentication to Tackle Unwanted Calls
In March 2020, in response to growing consumer complaints and newly passed legislation to combat malicious robocalling and illegal spoofing, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that service providers implement call authentication based on the STIR/SHAKEN framework, which authenticates caller identity via digital certificates, by June 2021.
Many carriers have already implemented the standards and are working with analytics partners to refine their algorithms to determine which calls are suspicious and deserve to be marked as spam or blocked entirely. These algorithms use STIR/SHAKEN attestation ratings (which are based on the originating service provider’s relationship to the telephone number) along with many other variables such as complaints and calling patterns.
The goal is, of course, to stop abusive and unwanted calls without hindering organizations’ ability to call consumers for valid reasons. But aggressive algorithms also introduce the risk that legitimate business calls may be mistakenly filtered out. In fact, many companies have seen their answer rates drop even further as their outbound calls are blocked or marked as spam.
So, what can businesses do to make sure their calls get through — and then encourage their customers to answer?
Following are seven steps that organizations can take to combat erroneous call blocking and increase answer rates. These measures will help businesses optimize contact operations, increase call performance, and protect and promote their brands by restoring trust in calls.
STEP 1. CENTRALIZATION: Validate Identity Across the Calling Environment
The first step to reestablishing trust in the phone channel is to make sure your company’s numbers and contact information have been validated across the calling environment. Organizations often have several phone numbers sourced from different service providers. All these details need to be kept up to date across service providers and phone carriers so every number from your business is validated and doesn’t wrongly show up on phone screens as spam or, worse, get blocked.
Start by validating each number across service providers and phone carriers so your organization is seen as the legitimate call originator for all your numbers.
STEP 2. CONTACT: Connect with confidence
Some calls fail to connect because the number on file is incorrect or the call is placed at a time when the customer is unlikely to answer. One way to effectively address these issues and improve right-party contact rates is to incorporate predictive phone behavior intelligence into your CRM system.
This means making sure customer contact information is up to date, including which number is most likely to be answered (prioritizing the customer’s preference for landline or mobile calls, for example) and what days and times to call to increase the likelihood of a response. These types of solutions have been shown to increase right-party contact rates for outbound calls by an average of 33 percent.
STEP 3. CONSISTENCY: Enable an accurate call display
When calling customers, most enterprises use many telephone numbers beyond the few main published contact numbers. However, these additional numbers — especially internal extensions and corporate mobile numbers — often display inconsistent, inaccurate, or even blank caller ID names due to variations across internal systems and processes. But, as noted above, customers are much less likely to answer if they aren’t sure who is calling.
Managing the way your company’s brand is displayed on outbound calls is critical to creating confidence in who is calling. Make sure the correct information is displayed, and measure call performance to see if certain caller names are more effective — and, if so, make adjustments to increase answer rates.
STEP 4. CONNECTION: Ensure that your outbound calls get through
Anti-robocall and anti-spoofing regulations, designed to protect consumers from unwanted and fraudulent telephone calls, have led service providers to implement measures that can mistakenly block legitimate business calls or flag them as spam. Many organizations do not even realize that their calls are being blocked or flagged until they receive negative feedback from their customers.
To make sure calls from your telephone numbers are being accurately assessed as legitimate business calls by service providers and caller ID apps, you should register all your numbers across the caller ID ecosystem of carriers and app providers. You will also need to understand your baseline call patterns (How are telephone numbers assigned to campaigns? Which carriers terminate your calls? Are call answer rates similar across carriers?) to identify any telephone numbers that are being wrongly blocked or flagged.
There is no central location to check which calls are being blocked, but you can perform regular test calls and monitor any changes to your registered telephone numbers’ reputation across carriers, which will allow you to respond promptly if calls are being incorrectly blocked or marked as spam. You will need to report any suspected inaccurate spam labels or mistaken blocking to the individual voice service (mobile, landline or VoIP) or app provider.
STEP 5. CERTAINTY: Protect your brand from abuse by spoofers
Fraudsters often use spoofed calls to impersonate legitimate businesses and swindle consumers or trick them into handing over personal information. If your business telephone numbers are being used by spoofers, the fraudulent calls can damage your brand reputation and destroy customer loyalty and trust. Depending on the applicable consumer protection legislation, spoofing may also expose you to fines or penalties for purportedly making unwanted calls.
To protect your brand’s reputation and your customers — and reduce your liability risk — you should monitor the use of your brand across the caller ID ecosystem. Designate inbound, outbound, or bidirectional telephone numbers, and register inbound-only numbers as do-not-originate (DNO) numbers across the ecosystem, to prevent fraudsters from using these numbers. Also monitor the assigned caller names for third-party numbers, so you can identify attempts to spoof your organization’s caller name.
STEP 6. CERTIFICATION: Authenticate the caller identity
Congress and the FCC have now mandated that voice service providers deploy STIR/SHAKEN call authentication by June 2021. By applying this digital certificate technology, carriers can notify recipients that a call has been verified using a symbol, a verification keyword, or another visual alert. If the call cannot be verified, the carrier may block the call and/or mark it as potential spam.
However, enterprise networks can introduce complications. When an enterprise acquires phone numbers from one carrier but originates calls on a different carrier’s network, the attestation level — essentially a confidence score indicating how reliably a carrier can identify the caller and source of the call — can take different values. The concern is that anything other than the highest level of attestation may not be accepted as trustworthy by consumers, or even downstream carriers.
To take control of how your calls will be signed and with what attestation level, make sure your call operations staff understand the impacts and limitations of the STIR/SHAKEN standards, verify your STIR/SHAKEN attestation levels, and integrate STIR/SHAKEN standards into your network and mobile applications. This will allow you to sign outbound calls, verify inbound calls and secure end-to-end calls.
STEP 7. CONTEXT: Enhance the mobile call display
Beyond providing an accurate calling name and number, most landline caller ID displays offer limited opportunity to add context. Mobile displays, however, are an entirely different matter. Smartphone users have become accustomed to a steadily improving digital customer experience — one that far outpaces the typical current call experience. Enterprises can enhance this experience by providing richer content on the mobile phone display, giving customers more reason to answer.
Beyond visually displaying the call authentication or verification result to increase customer confidence that the caller is legitimate, businesses can provide a customized brand display using logos, images and digital business cards to deliver expanded name information and the caller’s title, department and location, for example.
You can also add a targeted message — about the purpose of the call, for instance, or a URL to visit for more information — for a personalized brand experience. This enhanced context can be included in the call history to make sure customers see the information even for calls they don’t answer.
The Impact of Restoring Trust
While digital communications are extremely popular among both businesses and customers (research suggests that customers often prefer to initiate contact via a web portal or email), everyone needs to speak with a real person sometimes.
The phone channel is frequently used at a more critical point in a relationship, such as when a complex issue escalates or in a high-priority interaction. Businesses regularly use voice calls for urgent or sensitive communications.
For enterprises, protecting and improving the customer experience, with the goal of boosting both customer retention and growth, is a key motivation for putting an end to robocalls and call spoofing.
Enabling organizations to reliably engage in high-value communications by phone — whether the dialing organization is a business nurturing an important client relationship, a health department tracing the contacts of a COVID patient, or a bank notifying a customer of attempted account fraud — will lead to both customer and operational business benefits.
Even more importantly, restoring trust in the phone is the first step in reenergizing a vital communication channel that, especially in today’s world, offers the next best option to being there.