What are silent calls?

It's quite common these days to answer your phone and find that no one is there. These calls are referred to as 'Silent Calls'.

Silent calls are generated by diallers.

Ofcom is the regulator responsible for controlling silent calls

Companies load lots of telephone numbers into diallers and let these devices take care of the dialling.

Diallers try to intelligently guess when an operator will become free. It then places a call. It may have to place several calls before it gets a live person on the other end of the line. Once it has a live answer, it will pass that call through to an operator. If no operator is free, it drops the call. This is when you experience a 'silent call'.

The problem is simply that trying to intelligently estimate when an operator will become free and how long it is going to take to get a live person on the other end of the phone is a complex piece of guesswork and for all those receiving silent calls, clearly it doesn't work very well.

Why do companies use diallers if they don't work properly?

The answer is simple, by using diallers to make calls on behalf of the operators, the company effectively pushes calls to the operators thereby no longer relying on them to do the dialling and this increases productivity.

Can silent calls be stopped?

Technically yes they can. Diallers generally have two modes of operation.

  • Predictive Dialling

    This is the scenario described earlier whereby diallers try to intelligently balance the number of operators with the number of calls it is placing. This is the 'mode' that causes the most silent calls.

  • Progressive Dialling

    Unlike predictive dialling, progressive dialling only places a call once it actually knows an operator is free and ready to receive a call. Although technically it is still possible for progressive dialling to generate silent calls, this is rare and most commonly happens in the crossover between the dialler connecting with a live person and the operator logging off for a break.

    Companies don't generally use progressive dialling because operators have to sit around waiting on a call to be given to them. The dialler only starts dialling when the operator is actually free and it may have to dial several numbers before connecting with someone on the other end of the call, at which point the call is transferred to an operator to take over.

Should diallers be banned?

Many companies have spent tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to improve the efficiency of their diallers. The truth is that their focus is pretty much on improving efficiency for the business rather than reducing the irritation to consumers i.e. silent calls.

However, there are rules on diallers and the affects they have on consumers and these are set by Ofcom.

It's unfortunate, but diallers are here to stay. The key is in improving their efficiency and Ofcom are hot on the case.

Newly Updated

In December 2016 Ofcom produced an updated “Persistent Misuse Policy Statement” (the last time this was updated was 2010).

As part of this update, Ofcom “clarified” that even one dropped call could be classed as “misuse”. This was news to many businesses who regularly undertake telemarketing and feel that they adhere to the law. The previous statement from Ofcom stated a level of 3% for abandoned calls, which was taken by many as a “safe harbour” – the threshold above which enforcement action may be likely.

In their statement, Ofcom said of this change:

“...we may not allow a certain amount of unlawful activity or fetter our discretion to take action against it...”

In layman’s terms, even one silent call is against the law, but Ofcom will not commit to doing anything about one call. As to how many silent calls Ofcom would need before they took any action they won’t say.

So companies can no longer leave silent calls, or so it seems. When pushed for clarification on whether Ofcom was essentially banning Predictive Diallers, Ofcom told us that this was not their intention to ban predictive diallers and that it is for each company to make their own judgement.

So not a very clear situation at all then.