Friday, 11 January 2013

Ofcom plan to tackle nuisance calls

Ofcom plans to tackle the growing problem of nuisance calls after a study revealed that almost half of all adults were subjected to silent or abandoned calls over a 6 month period. These silent or abandoned calls can cause considerable concern and annoyance for consumers.

The plan to tackle nuisance calls comes as Ofcom publishes its annual Consumer Experience Report, which tracks key trends in consumers’ use of communications services to inform Ofcom’s regulatory and consumer protection initiatives.

The report finds that there is a year on year growth in consumers experiencing this type of call and that during a six month period in 2012, 47% of all adults with a landline experienced a silent call. An increase up from 24% the previous year. Silent calls are usually caused by automated dialling (dialler) systems used in call centres.

Ofcom also point out that during the same six month period that 71% of landline customers had received a live marketing  call while 63% had received a recorded marketing message.

Ofcom's plan is to bring together industry, regulators and the government in addressing nuisance calls. The 5 point plan consists of the follwoing:

  • New research which aims to create a clearer picture of the problems that consumers experience.
  • Working with industry to identify methods of tracing those people who hide their identity
  • Improve Compliance by working with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)
  • Coordinated action. Ofcom has committed to a role in a coordinated effort to tackle the wider issue of nuisance calls with other regulatory bodies such as the Information Commissioners Office and Government. See the online consumer guide to tackling nuisance calls and messages
  • Enforcement Action: Ofcom will continue to take enforcement action where appropriate to ensure that companies comply with the rules on silent and abandoned calls. Within the last year Ofcom have issues fines to Homeserve and npower totalling over £800,000.

 Notes:

  • The Communications Act 2003 grants Ofcom its powers in dealing with abandoned and silent calls
  • Predictive diallers is the technology used by call centres the maximise the amount of time that the call centre agents spend speaking to people. Other technology is used to detect answering machines and may mistake a call recipient for an answering machine and cut off the call without the recipient hearing anything.
  • Predictive diallers are used by many types of company including telemarketing companies, market research businesses and debt collection agencies (DCA's). They work by dialling numbers automatically and upon a connection connect the call centre agent to the call.
  • Live marketing calls (sales calls) are where a business is trying to sell a product or service . A recorded message marketing call is when you here a recorded message about a product or service. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has lead responsibility for enforcing the specific rules set out in the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 that are intended to prevent unsolicited live marketing calls, recorded marketing message calls and texts. The ICO recently served monetary penalties totalling £440,000 on two owners of a marketing company responsible for sending millions of unlawful spam texts over the past three years.It has also listed the ‘top ten’ worst offendersfor making unsolicited calls and is expecting these companies to address concerns about their cold-calling tactics.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Business Continuity and VoIP


Your business has a Business Continuity Plan BCP ready to be rolled out in the event of a business disruption but does it include you’re your phone systems to the same extent that your data is?


As more firms adopt Voice over IP communications it becomes essential that steps be put in place that will protect your business communications in the event of a failure, which can range from internet issues, line failures and power outages at a data centre.

 The causes of VoIP outages can range from loss of power at a data centre to glitches in Internet connectivity through to physical lines cut through by contractors.

Although you cannot rule out connection problems completely by careful planning and some thought you could put options in place that will go a long way ensure BCP.


  •  Create a back-up plan.
  • Set-up automatic diverts to landlines and/or mobiles
  • Ensure that your suppliers are robust by carrying out due diligence in the initial selection stages. 
  • Spares that can be swapped over quickly
  • Robust Service Level Agreements (SLA’s)

A back-up plan
Install a UPS (uninterpretable power supply) to keep VoIP routers and POE phone switches powered on for a period. You will need to ascertain the amount of power required to maintain devices for a determined amount of time. You may decide to have a selection of handsets that remain on during a power outage.

Set-up automatic diverts to landlines and/or mobiles
By setting up inbound call rules on a PBX, you can automatically divert calls to a PSTN line or designated mobiles so that you do not miss inbound calls to the business in the event of an outage. This allows the business to continue as normal, albeit on reduced capacity, until the outage can be resolved. At the same time, it will help to reduce any impact to customers.

Ensure that your suppliers are robust by carrying out due diligence in the initial selection stages
When you decide to change your phone system for the latest all singing and dancing solution it is essential that you carry out the necessary due diligence on your proposed providers. Ensure that they have robust systems in place to ensure that downtime is kept to a minimum and that they have multiple routing options in place so that calls can be diverted quickly via alternative carriers.

Spares that can be swapped over quickly
Equipment can fail at any time and for any reason. If a VoIP router fails then you could be without phones until a replacement has been sourced, set up and installed. This could mean downtime for upwards of 24 hours. By having a redundant router of the same make and model means that you can be up and running in 10’s of minutes. The same applies to switches and phones that can be swapped out with replacement devices within relatively short time frames. BCP is also about being prepared for those events that you can control.

Robust Service Level Agreements (SLA’s)
When negotiating with prospective suppliers ensure their SLA’s go towards protecting your business and minimise damages. Check uptimes with them to ensure that they meet your business requirements. Uptimes in SLA’s tend to be within a range but 99.9% is not an uncommon figure and with proof should give you comfort.

Check that the SLA contains all the relevant notice periods and ‘time to fix periods’ (usually 4 hours) and that they meet with your business requirements.

Monday, 7 January 2013

VoIP and your business

Fed up of being harassed to save pennies on call charges? Wonder how you can do more with less?
The technology is there not just to save pennies but in these hard times it is about working smarter, being agile and doing more with less. So with the advances being made in Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony it is now not just cases of looking at cost savings that can be made on calls but at the features that come with a phone solution that traditional providers bolt on substantial premiums for if you want to use them.
The decision to switch to VoIP telephony is not a hard one to make, as the cost savings are well known. The main problem choosing a system is which one of the many suppliers do you choose and how do you go about it?

To answer these questions there are some basic points to consider when putting together your list of potential suppliers?

Some basic points to consider are:

How easy is the system to set-up?

  • Ease of use/installation should be a major consideration particularly if you are going to provide a level of internal support. 
  • How easy the system to set up and how easy is it to administer. 

Many providers offer a simple ‘plug and play’ solution that is quick to configure and roll out by your own staff. Most VoIP systems are highly scalable, starting with a single user through to multi-site and multi user solutions. System flexibility is of paramount importance so that as you grow your phone system grows with you.

Extensions:

When you are considering your switch to VoIP telephony, it is crucial that you are clear about how many phone extensions and services you will need, what you want to use them for and types of phones i.e. standard phones, executive phones or soft-phones  Some employees may need to have direct dial (DDI) numbers for ease of contact, which will also reduce inbound call loads to the main switchboard. Your business telephony needs may also require the use of other services such as call queues or IVR’s (virtual assistants) to improve productivity.

Expansion/Upgrading

Your new system has been installed, is working how you want it to and your business changes. How flexible is the new system and more importantly can the supplier make these changes for you quickly? Therefore you need to be clear from the outset: can the system respond and how quickly can the changes be enabled and are the required changes part of any agreement or are these costs hidden until you need to make a change?

Contract Terms:

Review the contract terms offered by potential suppliers. Do they tie you into long inflexible terms or do they offer short duration contracts such as 30 rolling days where you can leave without penalty.

Call Charges:

There are many types of calling options/plans available ranging from pay for every call you make to unlimited calling plans. Before committing yourself to a calling plan it is vital that you ensure you are not going to pay for more than you use. If you are a high consumer of calling minutes and are considering an unlimited plan ask any potential supplier to provide an analysis of your current calling profile. Furthermore ask them to demonstrate if there is a benefit in paying for an unlimited package or paying for every call you make (and any options in between).

Voice-mail:

The ability to have voice-mail messages sent directly to your email address either on a PC, smartphone or tablet is now a common service that can improve business/client response times portraying the image of efficiency. Remote dial in to your voice-mail is also a handy service for mobile workers.

Fax to email/email to fax:

In the era of unified communications the ability to send and receive faxes via the internet enable employees to become more responsive to client needs. It also aids productivity by having a fax delivered directly to an inbox where it can be actioned promptly. Make sure your VoIP provider will allow you to continue to send faxes over the internet without the need for a dedicated land line.

Call Conferencing:

If you have staff working at various locations in the country or internationally and you need to have regular department or team catch ups, then easy conference calls is an especially useful service. Check to see if a conference bridge can be provided so that clients and staff can dial in as required. Can conference calls be held on “the fly” without the need for a conference bridge? A bonus for the business is that because internal calls are held via the VoIP telephone system they are free. If you have a need for conference calls with clients ask for a dedicated direct dial number.

Smartphone integration:

With the continual advancement of smartphones and the roll out of high-speed mobile internet, businesses with mobile work forces can harness the power of VoIP telephony to push the company phone system to the employee’s handset giving them access to voice-mail  colleagues and clients while at the same time giving you control over quality by using call recording.

The right choice for your business:

When embarking on a replacement phone system, be it a premises based product or a hosted VoIP solution, it is imperative that you are clear about your requirements for what a new system will do for your business. By looking at your current call flows, how the existing system works and what you would like to achieve in the future, you should be able to find a suitable supplier that will assist in reducing your call costs, improve your business productivity and offer a better overall experience to your customers existing and new.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Ofcom sets out proposals to tackle mid-contract price rises

‘Exit without penalty’ rule proposed to better protect consumers

 Ofcom has today launched a consultation on how to protect consumers from price rises during fixed contracts for landline, broadband and mobile services.

Of the options put forward, Ofcom’s proposed approach is to intervene to allow consumers to exit their contract without penalty if their provider introduces any price increase during the term of the contract.

Alongside this, Ofcom would expect providers to be clear and upfront about the potential for price increases and of the consumer’s right to cancel the contract in the event of any price increase.

The consultation follows an Ofcom review into the fairness of certain contract terms.

This review and Ofcom’s analysis of consumer complaints has identified issues concerning the clarity and effectiveness of current rules* which has led to consumer harm.

  • *Under current Ofcom rules (General Condition 9.6), communications providers are required to give customers a minimum of one month’s notice of any change to their contractual terms that is likely to be of ‘material detriment’ and customers must be able to withdraw from their contract without penalty following such notice.

Ofcom’s proposed approach

All communications providers must follow a set of Ofcom rules called General Conditions. Ofcom proposes to modify one of these rules (General Condition 9.6) to allow consumers to withdraw from a contract without penalty, if providers increase prices during the contract term.

While it would allow communications providers to increase prices during a fixed-term contract, consumers would be free to leave the contract if they did not wish to accept the rise.

This proposed change would address consumer concerns that it is unfair that providers are currently able to raise prices, while they themselves have little choice but to accept the increase or pay a penalty to exit the contract. Under the current rules, the exception is where a provider agrees that the price increase would be likely to cause ‘material detriment’.

Ofcom would also expect providers to be transparent about the potential for price increases so consumers can make an informed choice when entering the contract.

Other options for consultation


The consultation also considers three other possible approaches to address price rises in fixed term contracts.

One option considers whether consumer harm could be addressed solely by tackling the current lack of transparency around the potential for price increases. This is considered alongside the possible need for guidance on how providers should interpret and apply both Ofcom rules and general consumer protection laws when making price increases.**

A further option considers whether consumers should have to actively ‘opt-in’ to any variable price contract. Ofcom also considers the implications of maintaining the status quo.

At this time, Ofcom’s view is that these three options are unlikely to be sufficient to address the consumer harm identified. Ofcom’s reasoning for this provisional view is set out in its consultation.

A complete ban on price rises in fixed contracts has also been considered. However, Ofcom does not think this would be consistent with the European legal framework, so it is not presented as an option for consultation.
  • **To date, Ofcom has not issued any guidance on what is likely to constitute ‘material detriment’, leaving it for Communications Providers to consider the matter on a case by case basis. This has resulted in different interpretations of what constitutes ‘material detriment’ by providers and when the obligations under General Condition 9.6 are triggered.

Consumer Complaints

During the course of its review, Ofcom examined 1,644 consumer complaints made to the regulator about changes to terms and conditions during the period September 2011 to May 2012. The analysis shows many consumers complained that they were not made aware of the potential for price rises in what they believed to be fixed contracts.

Some consumers felt that communications providers should not be able to impose price increases during the life of a contract, and, if they do, the consumer should be able to exit the contract without penalty. Others complained specifically about the amount of the price increase and how it would affect them.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “Many consumers have complained to us that they are not made aware of the potential for price rises in what they believe to be fixed contracts.

“Ofcom is consulting on rules that we propose would give consumers a fair deal in relation to mid-contract price rises.”

Next Steps

Ofcom is inviting stakeholders’ views on all the options put forward for consultation to address this issue.

The consultation closes on 14 March 2013 and Ofcom expects to publish a decision in June 2013.