When people that are new to setting up a outbound call center choose a SIP provider for a Vicidial (or similar) based call center, they just choose a SIP provider based purely on the lowest cost per outbound minute. But there are MANY more factors to consider. With many of our customers, we have consulted with them after they have signed a multi-year contract only to find that the provider they have selected won’t fit their needs.
In the following article, we will outline a few of the factors you need to consider when choosing a SIP provider for dialtone for your outbound call center.
True Cost Per Minute
I realize that in the first paragraph it may seem like I said this wasn’t the prime factor, but in fact it IS an important factor. HOWEVER, there’s more to it than just raw cost/minute. An average cost for an outbound call in the contiguous United States (i.e. not Alaska and Hawaii) is $0.015/minute. If you are calculating all your outbound dialing costs on that figure, it would be simple, however you can get better rates for dialing with what is known as “rate deck” plans. That is to say, calling a certain state might cost you $0.008/minute, but calling another state would cost you $0.017/minute. Depending on your target regions – you might be able to save money on your outbound costs by doing a little research.
Additionally, the billing method is important. Some carriers will bill you for the first 30 seconds of a call, then bill you in increments after those first 30 seconds. Others will bill you purely in 6 second increments. If your dialing patterns give you a lot of short calls interspersed with a few longer calls (as most dialing traffic typically is), this is most likely the best option.
Short Call Duration Penalty
One little billing fee most customers are not aware of that exists with many SIP carriers, is what is known as a “Short Call Duration Penalty”. Dialer SIP traffic is unusual. Phone companies don’t make a lot of money from it because the bulk of the calls don’t connect and thus can’t be billed directly per minute (unless its written that way in the contract). For that reason, many non-dialer-friendly carriers impost a the short call duration penalty when the percentage of calls that don’t connect versus those that do goes over a certain threshold. This can add up quickly for larger call centers.
Calls Per Second Capacity
Here’s an area that people who don’t do their research can get stuck in very quickly. An autodialer is designed to send out lots of calls at the same time, and with some dialers, there can be hundreds of calls going on at once, with more being added each time a call gets disconnected. So the maximum calls-per-second, or CPS, rate is important for how quickly a dialer can recover from dropped or disconnected calls thus keeping agents on the phone and a call center productive.
Maximum CPS starts around 1-2 CPS and goes up from there. In call centers with simultaneous calls in the hundreds, this number should be greater than 10 CPS. This is where the smaller carriers fall short. Most smaller SIP carriers can only handle a MAXIMUM of 5-10 CPS (although of course this varies from carrier to carrier).
Call Setup Time
One of the most crucial metrics for a outbound dialing is the time it takes from when the dialer initiates the call to when the call starts ringing on the other end. This may not seem important, but it affects the outbound call center metric known as “drop rate”. If the call takes too long to set up, the dialer may treat it as a failed call, and mark it as “dropped” and move on to the next call. The problem is that this also affects a parameter known as “contact rate” that affects how fast the dialer has to run in order to keep agents on the phone. What does all that mean? Essentially, if the SIP carrier you choose has too high of a call setup time, it will take longer to make sales or cost more to make sales because you have to make more calls than with a carrier that has a lower call setup time.
Often, this occurs with carriers who claim they can give you the “best possible rate” and come back with an outrageously cheap price (I’ve seen quotes of $0.004/minute – that’s less than a half a penny per minute). These carriers can do some funky stuff with the traffic (like send it offshore, and route it back through different carriers, or use funky routing, etc) to get these rates, but consequently they will have much higher call setup times.
The best way to get the best call setup time, is to go with a recommendation from a currently operating call center. Or contact us so we can give you the benefit of our expertise with various SIP carriers friendly to dialer traffic and help you select one.
Inbound Number Availability
Surprising as it may sound, there are in fact a few “pro-dialer” carriers that meet the above criteria swimmingly, but do not have the ability to provide numbers that can be called back and routed back into your call center. This is a major problem because the large majority of outbound calls go unanswered and if a valid number is on the caller ID, the person who was called could call back in and a possible sale could be made.
Focusing on the quality and cost of the outbound calls is important, it is just as important that the people you call can call you back, and that your SIP provider will facilitate that.
Number of Supporting “Backbone” Carriers
Let’s face it, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of SIP providers available today. Each are competing for a share of the dialer market. Some smaller carriers though are “mom-and-pop” operations. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, few have the capacity to hand the traffic that dialers generate. Most often a small SIP provider will have a single connection to a major carrier. The upside is that they can usually get pretty good rates to pass on, the downside is that they can only handle so much traffic. Plus, if that one connection to their provider goes down, that’s it. All their clients loose their ability to make calls.
Some of the better carriers have multiple connections to other providers to avoid this problem. The problem is that many of the carriers they connect to, aren’t what are known as “backbone” carriers (i.e. the “500 pound gorillas of telecom – Level 3, Verizon, AT&T), but instead are just other more regional carriers. They can handle more volume, and are more redundant, but they do have a higher cost factor, and they typically have a much higher call setup time than a smaller carrier.
The best carriers have multiple, direct connections to the backbone carriers (as shown in the image below). They can maintain a high call volume, keep rates relatively low (although admittedly will be higher than the “mom-and-pop” operations), have extremely low call setup times, and have multiple routes for redundancy.
Local Caller ID Presence Numbers
These days, when sales calls are made, the person on the ringing end of the phone can usually see who is calling by use of caller ID. But, as most of us who have received telemarketing calls know, if its a toll free number (800, 844, 888, etc), generally speaking it is a telemarketer or someone you don’t want to talk to. But sales call centers need to reach people to make sales. So what they often do is buy “local” DID numbers that point back to their call center from anywhere in the country. Then, the call center will setup their dialer so that when they call a number, the dialer will send out a caller ID that is “local” to the caller. For example, if the customer’s number is 909-111-1111, when the dialer dials that number, it will recognize the 909 area code, look up in its database of DID’s, and send out the caller ID of a phone number that points back to the dialer (say 909-222-2222 for example). The caller is more likely to pick up, or if they miss the call, call them back. Using this tactic greatly increases contact rates.
NOTE: Vicidial is one dialer that has this capability
The issue is that most carriers require that you purchase INDIVIDUAL phone numbers in EACH area code. With over 290 area codes in the US, that’s a lot of phone numbers to buy one at a time. Not only that, but people eventually will recognize these local numbers as telemarketing numbers and start blocking them, so you would have to buy new numbers every few months. So while it has benefits, if not done properly this approach can be costly.
A good dialer SIP provider will have a “local presence” DID package (name of the package varies by carrier) that will provide local phone numbers in each area code. Some providers even include FREE minutes with each number. Additionally, some providers will allow you to “refresh” this package a few times a year to get new numbers to keep them working.
When choosing a SIP provider for your dialer call center, remember that cost is only one factor. Multiple factors contribute to the proper interoperability of a SIP provider and a call centers and all these factors should be considered when making your choice.