Molly Weis: Hello, everybody, and welcome to Tuesday Talks, a live discussion series where we bring truth and shed light across the branded identity and communications industry. I'm Molly Weis, the VP of Marketing and Communications at Numeracle, and I'll be co-hosting today's session with our VP of Business Development, Alex Carter. Welcome, Alex!
Alex Carter: Hey, thanks, Molly. It's great to be here.
Molly Weis: It's awesome to have you today. As you know, we've titled today's episode 'Smart Shopping: The Ultimate Vendor Evaluation Checklist." We have an actual shopping list template that we'll be sharing with you all today at the close of the episode.
We asked Alex to come on today and talk to us about this because people reach out to Numeracle all the time, looking for guidance on how to tackle issues related to call delivery in several different areas. Sometimes we're able to provide a solution directly, and other times we're here to share our knowledge of what's possible, what's available on the market, connect you with our partners, other technology providers, consultants in specialized areas, and so on and so forth.
Alex, my first question for you today is to help listeners looking to improve outbound communications but who are not quite sure where to start in terms of selecting that supplier. What would be our typical approach for helping companies get started in the process of finding the right solution to fit their unique set of requirements?
Alex Carter: That's a good question to start with. Since this is a newer type of legislation/issue within the marketplace, many people are in different buying or shopping stages when they come to ask us questions. There are a lot of options to be discussed upfront. What's important is whenever enterprises are connecting with suppliers, that they start out the conversation with level-setting instead of just diving right into a particular process.
You level set things like what you have learned so far and what questions you still have. Have an upfront discussion on what it is they're trying to solve. What is your particular issue? Do you have that honed in or figured out? What are you trying to accomplish? Then establish what your measurements of success are so that when you go from there, you can make sure that the solution providers you're looking at will meet your particular requests.
Molly Weis: That makes sense so far. What would you say is one of the main issues that's initially driving people to look for our solution? Is it that they know, or they think, or they worry that their contact rates may be going down, so they're investigating the many reasons this could be happening? Or are you seeing it's usually a little more specific than that?
Alex Carter: Typically, that is the most common reason that they start their shopping; their answer rates have declined, or their connection rates have declined. Obviously, that results in a decline of whatever their business is, whether it affects their sales growth or anything for that matter. One thing that we like to start out with, and what I think all suppliers typically do a good job of starting out with, is explaining what's going on and what's happening to them.
A lot of times, we'll level set the conversation at the beginning and explain the Know Your Customer Act, which was passed a few years ago. It focuses on where there had been a lot of research done on this problem that is very large, estimating about $30 billion was being defrauded from the American public. We all know we get these types of calls where they're trying to grab your credit card information or they're trying to sell you some fictitious car warranty or things like that. This still is an extremely large problem.
The Know Your Customer Act was passed to work jointly with the carriers to do something about this. What the carriers then ended up doing was using resources in the form of analytics providers that could take a look at phone call traffic patterns. It's intellectual property and kept a secret for a good reason because you don't want the bad callers to know what you're up to. They deployed these resources, which we explain to our customers, which is why you'll sometimes see that when you're dialing from your outbound numbers, they're terminating with a 'Spam Risk' label.
There's also a lot of confusion between STIR/SHAKEN and the Know Your Customer Act. Again, the Know Your Customer Act establishes trust that you are who you say you are and that you own those particular phone numbers. STIR/SHAKEN is an entirely different piece of legislation that helps catch the bad guys from stealing your numbers.
For example, let's say you have a retail operation and you have a website with a telephone number on it. What some of these bad guys will do is go to your website and copy that phone number, and they'll spoof it. I believe this is called Caller ID Pulsing, which is the technical term in the dialer market. They'll pulse it, so it looks like their calling number, and then they'll try to steal that information. They are two different sets of legislation that cover two different topics, and they're not as related as many people think.
Molly Weis: Awareness is huge here. It's about understanding where the problem is coming from so you can establish a good baseline to understand what's happening. Once we've got a general understanding of the issues and the players established, how does a company then build on that to start to define requirements or actual goals they are looking to fulfill?
Alex Carter: Exactly. After we have that first step of the conversation and we're all in agreement, the information matches up, there's upfront education where we help walk them through the how and the why and what's going on. The next step is to hone in and ensure that we're on the same page on what you're looking to achieve and ask what success looks like for them. Is it that they would like to return their contact or answer rates back to what they were previous to this all happening in the first place? Obviously, do they want to increase their revenue or have some type of financial impact?
There are a lot of interesting and different goals too, for example, we get a lot of delivery companies. It's not that they're necessarily having problems with the revenue, but that they've got drivers that need to show up at a specific time to make their deliveries, so if that call is marked as 'Spam' and that person is not around to answer the phone, it results in a missed opportunity. That will cost them more money because they'll have to return the goods and services.
Another example that's often not thought about is a simple doctor's appointment reminder. With healthcare appointments, many of the larger systems use automatic dialers to do simple appointment reminders and things like that out to their patients to make sure that they simply remember to come in for their appointment or as a medication adherence reminder. We've got companies that will use that process to keep people on plans for taking their medications.
If you're uncertain of the problem and what the scope of that problem is, we need to dig a bit further. Most people, by this time, have got a pretty good idea of what they're looking to accomplish.
Molly Weis: Then it's all about matching up what exactly they are trying to do with all the various different options on the market to fit whatever it is that you're trying to accomplish. Make sure that you are on the same page with your supplier to set a baseline for where you're starting from and what you want to do about it, so you can set baseline metrics to see and track where you're trying to go and if you actually get there.
Let's say that where you've determined that you would like to start is by at least getting a better understanding of how you're being impacted. Let's start there. You want to start monitoring your phone number reputation. What do these monitoring platforms typically provide?
Alex Carter: There's a variety of suppliers that have popped up to help tackle this problem and help enterprises figure it out. Of course, there's a variety of options to meet specific needs. For example, if a company feels like they don't have that big of a problem and they have tested their dialer and their phones and decide they're relatively okay, there are some very simple solutions on the market that only offer monitoring and visibility capabilities.
Those types of solutions will periodically check your numbers and give you a certain allotment that you can run them through. They provide a screen for you to monitor toll-free numbers, DIDs, or numbers showing a spam label, and it will tell you which networks they are on. There are also companies and suppliers (like Numeracle) that will offer that same monitoring and visibility approach, but they'll also include remediation, which is where they'll handle the support and service of those numbers going forward.
Molly Weis: What's typically possible with the remediation? Is this a one-and-done kind of thing, or is this ongoing? How long does it last? What do I have to do? What success should be expected here?
Alex Carter: For suppliers that offer remediation, which we strongly encourage these types of solutions, if your business is finding that the spam labels are quite problematic and happening frequently, this would be the solution to dive into with remediation. What can happen is when you sign up with these remediation solution providers, you and your numbers get vetted, all the spam numbers get cleaned up, and everything is okay.
But what many people don't understand is that, by design, the analytics companies frequently manipulate the algorithms that score calls with those labels. They're obviously doing their best to try to keep fraudsters blocked or shown as 'Spam Likely' because those are the calls you want to be blocking. I certainly don't want to answer those calls, so if it says 'Spam Likely,' I'm definitely not going to answer it.
But what can happen is that those algorithms can catch good enterprise numbers, like their DIDs or toll-free numbers, when they make certain algorithm updates or changes. What's great is that the solution providers that offer remediation are linked with those analytics companies and get notices about rating changes weekly. They are working on making those more frequent, but right now, the standard for those companies is every week. By the end of this year, they should be more frequent.
Anyway, the suppliers will get that information automatically placed into their platform, and an alert will immediately go out to the enterprise. If there's a particular distribution group or anything, we can set that up at the beginning, and then the remediation will take place. What that really is, is the supplier, on behalf of the customer, is going back to the channel where the number needs label remediation because it may not necessarily be all three vendors. It may just be one particular where a number needs fixing and returning it back to normal.
Typically, that process takes about a day or a day and a half, and we've got about a 96% success rate at doing this. This method really keeps your numbers clean. The benefit is you're always dialing with appropriate numbers that are not showing up as 'Spam' or being blocked altogether.
Molly Weis: You mentioned different reports and alerts, so let's dive into that a bit more. With this feedback loop, or maybe lack thereof, is there a lot of time that needs to be invested within an organization? When you're thinking about building it versus do I buying it and unsure of what to do, how much is invested in needing to sort through analytics? Are there various options out there to streamline any of this?
Alex Carter: Again, you have to level set. It really depends on the complexity of the problem you're experiencing. If it's simple, where all you need is some monitoring, it's a very quick turnaround time and is easy to set up. Even with the vendors that offer remediation, you're only looking at a three to four-week set-up time, and there's no deep integration you need to do.
All of us suppliers are typically integrated up at the analytic or carrier level. That's something important to look at when you're shopping for a solution too. Ask who the suppliers partner with or who they're integrated with because that will quickly tell you whether or not they have direct relationships and the appropriate access to fix your problem. Something we like to mention is everybody works really hard on their phone scripts, they work really hard on trying to call at the right time of day, and they've got all these different calling strategies.
Really, the first impression is when you look at your ringing phone, does it say 'Spam Likely' or does it have a legitimate DID? The way to do that is for your suppliers to have a direct agreement with those analytics companies, which are First Orion, Hiya, and TNS.
Molly Weis: This brings up another good topic, relationship-wise. Are there pros and cons of working with the supplier acting as an aggregator, who either covers all or part of the calling ecosystem with the carriers and the apps and the analytics, versus working directly with each of these carrier-partnered analytics providers? How does that shake out?
Alex Carter: That's a great question. It's a bit of a trade-off too, so I'm glad you asked. Enterprise businesses are certainly welcome to call up Hiya, which works on the AT&T network, First Orion, which works on the T-Mobile network, or TNS, which works on the Verizon network. Again, they're the ones that are trying to protect us from hazardous or fraudulent calls. You can establish a direct relationship with each of them.
The pro of that having a direct relationship with the relevant carriers. They have some nice reporting tools that will show you some unique metrics, like call duration or changes in answer rates, that isn't quite facilitated down to the aggregate level yet, although that's being discussed and worked on. They can slice and dice a little bit more, but the challenge with going directly to each of those providers is then you have three contracts to manage yourself to fix your numbers.
Let's say you have one DID and you want to brand that number, you would have to do that three different times, once for each provider. Well, four different times if you want to use it on Google Pixel devices as well. Any time you want to make an update or change or add numbers, you're going to have to do that four different times. The pro of going with an aggregator approach like us, or a supplier that has agreements with all four solution providers, all you have to do is submit a support ticket for that DID one time, and the aggregator takes care of that across the board.
Molly Weis: When we're structuring this all out, how about flexibility when we're looking at these solutions too? We've got multiple different pathways we can take. Is it easier or better to look for a supplier who's going to roll some solutions together, like predefined options that are probably going to help you out? Or is it more important to go in and really build your own customized solution? What guidance would you give us there?
Alex Carter: I would say that flexibility is key within this space. When you're looking for different vendors, have them cover the different options that they have depending on where they are in their maturity lifecycle because this is a fairly new product, and you have to keep in mind that this has only been for sale for a very short amount of time. Everyone is working on upgrading but what businesses are finding is what they need most is to use this tool strategically.
They want to be cost-conscious when they're using things like branded call displays and have the flexibility to determine which particular DIDs have which particular features and which need 'Spam' labels removed. Again, if you're having that type of complex problem, you need to have vendors that will show you their software, show you their flexibility, and how easy it is to load information one time so that you can remain on cruise control.
Molly Weis: How about a more sophisticated solution outside of reputation management? Shift into some branded calling conversations, we'll start with technology questions to evaluate as you're shopping for a solution. With the call branding that will be displayed on smartphones, is that the same thing as CNAM? Is it different? Is it better? Do they accomplish the same thing? Do I need both of them? Do I need only one? How does this all work together?
Alex Carter: This has become a super confusing point in the market because things are always moving and changing. There are two ways to put a name, like a brand or a name, on a particular Caller ID on a phone call. There's CNAM, which stands for Caller ID Name, which is a legacy technology and has been around for some time. How this technology works is through a set of databases that are disparate and spread throughout the carrier networks and even physically located.
Those databases and CNAM technologies need to be updated to reflect the DID and the name right next to each other; that's how that technology works. That way, when an enterprise pushes its calls, it checks those databases for a name listed with it. Since there are so many databases, if they aren't updated frequently, there could be some room for some error.
Typically with this legacy product, we'll see anywhere from 30-35% branding efficacy when that technology is used. Then, a few years ago, rich call data (RCD), in our slang what we call branded calling, is a different type of technology. That only works in the mobile arena because it works as a push. Those same analytics engines that our suppliers partner with in this space can push a brand instead of having to check a CNAM database to push information down to the terminating phone. So that drives the efficacy rate.
Primarily for this, let's stick to just caller ID names because some solutions and networks of them do have some graphics (logos) and custom call reasons. The most consistent component is the name replacing the phone number, and there's about a 99% efficacy rate on pushing that. Many people are leaning more towards this solution because it gives them much more control by using a rich call data approach versus a CNAM since they don't have to go find the databases and constantly update them.
Molly Weis: It probably depends on the type of business you have, the type of people you're trying to call, and which types of devices they are on. If it's likely that they are on mobile devices and we're talking 99% efficacy with RCD calling, it sounds like a great new technology. Let's talk about how we get this all set up. It sounds like there are multiple players in place. There are multiple different networks, platforms, and different devices that we're looking to push a caller ID name to.
What are some of the considerations when deciding how to best set a solution up across all these different options, whether it be establishing those multiple different supplier-type relationships or if we're looking more at an aggregator-type model? What's important to think about?
Alex Carter: The most important thing to think about is your own business's time and resources and how much it costs to employ somebody if you would like to do a lot of this work yourself. Everyone has different rates depending on what the company is doing.
We've found that some companies want to stick this in their wheelhouse because they have the resources to do some of the specialty builds and whatnot, but most companies see managing this as out of the league because there are a lot of FTE costs involved. It's probably a better route if you go with an aggregator with a portal where you can load up numbers and assign which ones need to be branded and which ones don't so you can set everything on cruise control.
You'd dive that aggregator or supplier go ahead and take care of all the spam removals, unblock any of the mislabeled frauds, and then add branding on particular numbers or campaigns. Again, the flexibility of these suppliers' platforms has really grown to allow enterprises to get fairly strategic with how they use their branded calling options with very minimal setup or time spent in the portal.
Molly Weis: With branding, this is a whole new level of campaign management structure that businesses will have to think about now. It's something that hasn't necessarily been folded into the strategy in the past, and there are many different ways to set these up. If we're in a campaign mindset from inside a contact center, what would you say are some of these must-think-about items for an overall strategy to ensure you're aware of how it all works?
Or to make sure you're not being locked into anything like maybe too much or too little usage based on any minimums or maximums that are going to be typically set? Is there anything that you should keep in mind when you're building this overall strategy while thinking about this element of flexibility and how to define these campaigns?
Alex Carter: Yes, the most important thing to do is to have a good handle on what type of volume you want branded versus not branded. Let me give you an example. Keeping it generic, we have a couple of clients that have a subscription service where they're reaching out with a five-call strategy attempt, and they'll brand on attempt one, attempt three, and attempt five and not brand the other two attempts. That's a cost-conscious decision for them to play the odds on because the fee structure works every time a branded call is terminated, and there's a per-event charge, just like you have now with your dialers when you make calls.
Again, this technology is in its infancy, so the price points are still a bit on the decent side, but it does have a significant ROI from that standpoint if done right. You really should consider your budget, and how many calls you're making so you know how much the solution will cost. Then go ahead and choose a strategy that will fit these metrics that won't break your bank and will give you a good return. All the suppliers you talk to should be able to help you through that and give you an idea of what you're looking for.
Molly Weis: That's super helpful to think about. Before we add more into the mix, we'd like to share our downloadable evaluation guide. It's essentially a blank RFP template with a checklist of the shopping questions we've covered today, and it should be used as a guide for anyone doing an evaluation on reputation management and/or branded calling solutions to help guide those conversations across the various suppliers you're considering.
As a closing thought, what advice would you leave to those trying to get started in this process who are maybe considering more than one different solution, are perhaps feeling overwhelmed, or don't know where to start? What tips can you give them?
Alex Carter: The good news is there are solutions to tackle this and to get this pain of the spam blocking or spam notices removed. The best news to share is that there are a good handful of suppliers, and we would be absolutely happy to point you in the right direction, even if not it's a fit with Numeracle. I mean, our motto at Numeracle is to have transparency throughout the entire process and ecosystem and to let you know what all your options are as well as suggest alternative options if you're just looking for only a little bit of visibility and you don't necessarily need branded calling or remediation.
There are solutions out there, so don't be shy to go shopping for them. You don't need to sit here and suffer under poor contact rates when there are providers willing to scrape this off. It's all about trust. What the government, carriers, and everybody are trying to do is make sure that consumers are protected.
Taking this extra step to validate your identity puts trust back into the system because they know it's you calling. You have a digital identity assigned to you via the suppliers, you've got your phone numbers protected, and that allows for the free flow of communication because everybody knows it's a trusted call. Always remember that's what the preface of all of this is about; it's delivering trust into the whole communications network.
Molly Weis: That's awesome. Thanks, Alex. We'd like to thank you for joining us on Tuesday Talks. It was great to have you today, and I'd like to thank all of our wonderful listeners for joining us as well.
We hope to see everyone again in our next live session on Tuesday, August 30th, where, in the first Tuesday Talks takeover of its kind, we've invited Eric Priezkalns of the Risk and Assurance Group and Commsrisk.com back to interview Numeracle's very own Pierce Gorman for part two of our conversation on global call authentication domination. We hope to see everybody there!