“Robocalls:” Which side are you on?

Young employee working with a headset and accompanied by hisOkay! I admit it! I’m old enough to remember the days before there was computer technology that could automatically dial phone numbers. Then I worked for a company that was among the first to develop the software that could do it, and that primarily targeted its use in the debt collection industry. We actually had to “dumb-down” our marketing, because no one could believe we were being truthful when we said how quickly the technology could pay for itself when compared to manually dialed calls.

Back then the word “robocall” hadn’t been “invented,” or become a “dirty word” that implies all calls dialed by technology are unwanted and probably illegal. Wikipedia defines robocall as “a phone call that uses a computerized autodialer to deliver a pre-recorded message, as if from a robot.”

Let’s back up and define the original names used to identify the then-new technology that could save so much time for agents in any type of outbound call center:

  • automatic dialing and announcing device (“ADAD”): automatically dials telephone numbers and plays a recorded message once a connection is made.
  • autodialer: an electronic device or software that automatically dials telephone numbers. Once the call has been answered, the autodialer either plays a recorded message or connects the call to a live person.
  • voice broadcasting: an autodialer that, more specifically, plays a pre-recorded message.
  • interactive voice response or IVR: Some voice broadcasting messages ask the person who answers to press a button on their phone keypad, such as in opinion polls.
  • predictive dialer: an autodialer that connects an answered call to a live agent, using real time analysis to determine the optimal time to dial more numbers.
  • power dialer: dials a pre-set number of lines when an agent finishes the previous call.

Wikipedia goes on to say, “Robocalls are often associated with political and telemarketing phone campaigns, but can also be used for public-service or emergency announcements.” That last part of the definition hints at where people start to take sides. Should all automated dialing be banned, or would that leave us without an important tool that can be used for good when it’s in the right hands? 

Cindy Sebrell of ACA says, “[If certain laws banning robocalls are passed,] consumers are in jeopardy of not receiving beneficial communications including fraud and identity theft, data breach information, and even early notification that an unpaid bill is at risk or has been sent to a collection agency.” She said most consumers would want to know immediately so they could rectify the situation.


Inherent in the need to dial many prospects/users/consumers/clients/debtors (or whoever) is the need to maintain compliance with the laws while using an autodialer. In some cases, two or more regulations seem to conflict with each other, making impossible to obey the both the laws. Of course many dialing devices being used legitimately all over the world are compliant for the most part. But unfortunately it is becoming more prevalent for some companies and individuals use them to commit fraud and perpetrate scams on unwitting recipients. Or sometimes the tide is turned and the called party is all too aware of their rights and tries to force a caller into making non-compliant calls so they can sue for the same.

A recent article In Credit and Collection News states, “Consumer advocates and debt collectors are in a dogfight over a proposal before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow robocalls to cellphones. The proposal would allow businesses, including debt collectors, to make robocalls to cellphones if they “intended” to call the person in question. ACA International is pressing for the change.

There have been many complaints about the FCC’s rules and regulations not keeping pace with huge growth in mobile technology. Technology allows businesses to communicate with their customers in ways never expected in 1991 when TCPA was passed. “Compared to 1991, organizations today use efficient, automated technologies to place a variety of time-sensitive, non-telemarketing calls,” a recent letter sent to the TCPA states. “Unfortunately, due to a lack of clarity under the TCPA, these important communications are increasingly being chilled, organizations making the calls are increasingly being subjected to frivolous litigation, and consumers are increasingly missing important communications.”

When you receive a robocall during dinner or on your cell phone, are you ready to join the citizen groups who would use technology to block them or ban or them all together, or are you willing to stand up and advocate that they continue to be used responsibly? Almost all technology can be used for good or ill. Where do you draw the line on robocalls? We welcome your comments.

Marti Lythgoe, NL Editor

Categories: Business Relationships, Compliance, NL Insider, Technology

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