A money-saving technology that enables sometimes irritating – though for many companies, extremely useful – robocalls, has been making big headlines recently, as the presidential race in the United States nears its finish line and candidates scour swing states for pivotal votes.
Automated calls themselves are nothing new, although, according to Stephanie Condon of Cnet.com – a news Web site that’s operated by San Francisco-based CBS Interactive – technological advancements have led to more robocall vendors, reducing the technology’s price enough to make it an affordable way to reach voters and targets from other types of marketing targets.
The technology behind robocalls is “fairly straightforward,” Condon writes.
“It is essentially a Web-based interface, or software on a computer with a dialer capacity, connected to a high speed line or voice over IP,” Condon writes. “Some voter-calling firms develop their own software, while others use software like Spitfire, developed by OPC Marketing.”
Addison, Texas-based OPC Marketing offers both predictive and auto dialer software, and markets them under the Spitfire brand, whose trademark is shown on the right.
Here’s how the technology works.
Auto dialers do what their name implies: they dial numbers automatically from a database, then detect the difference between a live person, answering machine or voicemail at the other end, and deliver a pre-recorded message.
“Depending on the configuration and the capacity the amount of available telephone lines determines how many calls the auto dialer places or receives per hour,” OPC officials say on their Web site. “Auto dialer technology is also known as ‘Voice broadcasting.’ ”
OPC Spitfire also comes as a so-called “hosted auto-dialer,” sometimes referred to as an integrated voice response system, or predictive dialer.
The hosted dialer systems work much the same way as auto dialers – they can be used to answer all inbound calls on a specific number automatically, then play a pre-recorded message. With hosted dialers, a phonepad’s number keys also can be used to interact with a caller’s response.
“Hosted auto dialers are ‘Virtual’ or co-located, which means they are not in the next room at your place of work, it is hosted elsewhere,” OPC officials say. “The advantages may include lower long distance costs, hosted in a safe server environment. The auto dialer uses someone else’s electricity, physical space and security from tampering. Agents can connect to the auto dialer from anywhere.”
In elections, it isn’t clear how effective the technologies are, though research suggests that campaigners have enough faith in robocalls that they’re proliferating rapidly.
Here’s how the nonpartisan, Washington, D.C.-based Pew (News - Alert) Research Center broke down the rise of robocalls following a survey released in March:
Before the hotly contested midterm congressional elections of 2006, about two-thirds of voters received pre-recorded campaign calls, said the Pew Research Center.
Nearly two-thirds of voters received pre-recorded campaign calls ahead of the 2006 midterm elections, according to Pew.
A later Pew study showed that by March of this year, 39 percent of voters nationwide had already received a pre-recorded political phone call.
“It showed robocalls to be the top form of direct campaign outreach, over mailings or live phone calls,” Condon says.
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Michael Dinan is a contributing editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To read more of Michael’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan