January 25th, 2021

Keeping Government Agile During and After the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has skyrocketed unemployment, undercut tax revenues and states’ budgets, and increased demand for government services. The economic disruption is likely to continue until most of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19.

State and local government (SLG) agencies need to be nimble and efficient to deliver the services that will help dampen the worst social and economic consequences of the pandemic. Those services span a spectrum of public health needs, from contact tracing and vaccine outreach to administering Medicaid services and facilitating applications for government benefits.

Efficient outreach underpins delivery of these public services. Inefficient outreach degrades SLGs’ abilities to deliver services that are vital to saving lives and livelihoods and returning our economy and lives to stability.

Key takeaways

  1. Four legacy challenges sap SLG contact centers’ operational efficiency and right-party-contact (RPC) rates: Calls are blocked or mislabeled as spam; callers do not know the best time to reach out; callers lack complete, up-to-date consumer data; and consumers mistrust unrecognized callers.
  2. The solutions, proven in many major private call centers, hinge on restoring carriers’ and consumers’ trust in legitimate outbound calls.
  3. When SLG contact centers are better able to make contact efficiently and effectively, consumers receive the services they need, operational efficiency and productivity improves, and SLGs preserve budget for mission fulfillment.
  4. SLG contact centers’ effectiveness and efficiency rests on the ability to reach the intended person on the phone number they actually use at the time they are most likely to answer.

Factors degrading efficiency of public health outreach

Despite the recent proliferation of self-service options and the increased popularity of digital touchpoints with consumers, outbound calling remains an essential customer service capability. A commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Neustar (Why Consumers Won’t Take Your Call, July 2019) found that the voice channel was the most important for meeting customer service goals, with 63 percent of study participants saying it is “critical”—almost double that of email. Outbound calling remains relevant because it is used to initiate and continue high-priority customer interactions, which the pandemic has generated en masse. While navigating the turbulence wrought by COVID-19, outbound dialers must contend with several legacy challenges (see figure from Forrester’s study below) that sap operational efficiency and RPC rates: Calls are blocked or mislabeled as spam; callers do not know the best time to reach out; callers lack complete, up-to-date consumer data; and consumers distrust unrecognized callers.

Calls and texts are blocked or mislabeled as spam

To combat the years-long rise of unwanted call volume, many carriers have implemented free call-blocking services and developed applications to block spam. Carriers may activate these initiatives by default on behalf of their customers.

Legitimate callers’ numbers—especially those spoofed by criminals—may be errantly identified as spam by more aggressive call-blocking tools. Inaccurate call blocking and spam mislabeling happen when call number reputation and calling behavior are mistakenly flagged by call management systems. Five percent of outbound calls are flagged according to Neustar’s Robocall Mitigation carrier deployments. In many cases, outbound dialers are not even aware that their calls are being blocked or tagged as spam.

The consequences of these missed calls compound the pandemic’s impact. For example, consumers seeking unemployment insurance could be forced to wait longer for financial support and slip into hardship. Rural citizens waiting for subsidized broadband internet may choose to postpone medical care until they can take advantage of telehealth opportunities. Consumers often suffer when outbound dialers’ calls do not get through.

Callers do not know the best time to reach out

Consumer records lack the days and times when individuals are most likely to use their phones, which creates a tremendous impediment in organizations’ outbound dialing strategies. Some consumers are most likely to answer their phones on Saturday mornings. Others may be unreachable outside of weekday afternoons. An outbound call center that applies a one-size-fits-all dialing strategy will only contact the segment of consumers that happen to fit the parameter. With their agents working remotely or temporarily moved from other functions to meet demand—or freshly hired—outbound call centers may incur unnecessary costs if scheduling practices do not align with consumers’ idiosyncratic phone behavior.

Incomplete or out-of-date consumer data

Every year, approximately 75 million people change their phone carriers and 45 million change their phone numbers. On average, between 5 and 15 percent of typical CRM records go out-of-date in a single month. Widespread financial hardship may cause consumer contact information to change faster, either from consumers moving residences or changing phone information.

Multiple phone numbers and email addresses may appear in a consumer record. Some may be associated with an employer. One or more may no longer be used by the consumer at all or, in the case of phone numbers, may have been reassigned. Without knowing which is most active, agents or systems will waste outreach effort.

Email addresses tend to be more stable. However, consumers collect email addresses over time, so knowing the primary email address is important. An email sent to a primary address is 14 times more likely to be read than one sent to a secondary address.

Because of the constant changes in consumer data, millions of dollars are wasted every year delivering the wrong message to the wrong consumer. Continuous changes in consumer identity make it challenging for traditional CRM and data management systems to keep up, creating gaps and inconsistencies throughout consumer records.

Forrester’s study found that over 60 percent of respondents believe resolving “lack of contact data” was “critical” or “important” to addressing challenges in contacting consumers. Almost half of respondents’ firms experienced increased operational costs, and 43 percent lost productivity due to these challenges. Inaccurate consumer information wastes scarce staffing resources.

Consumer mistrust of calls and texts from unrecognized numbers

In Forrester’s study, 64 percent of respondents said, “that customers are not picking up because they cannot identify who is calling (the ‘unknown caller’ problem).” Respondents believe consumers do not answer calls from unrecognized numbers for fear of fraud (50 percent), call spoofing (48 percent), and robocalls (35 percent). All of these problems increased in 2020, giving consumers even more reason to distrust calls from numbers whose caller ID appears in problematic ways, including:

  • Blank
  • A phone number with no caller name (e.g., “UNAVAILABLE”)
  • An incorrect caller name (e.g., showing as a different organization)
  • An inconsistent caller name brand display (e.g., slight variations on the organization name)
  • Labeled as “Number Unknown” or “SPAM Likely”

Consumers are less likely to trust and answer calls displaying these messages on caller ID. Over 80 percent of Americans say they do not answer calls from unknown numbers.

For years, outbound dialers’ operational efficiency and RPC rates have suffered from errant call blocking and spam mislabeling, ignorance of consumers’ phone behavior and current contact information, and consumers’ distrust of calls from unrecognized numbers. Complications and uncertainty introduced by COVID-19 may depress contact rates further, degrading the efficiency of SLGs’ outreach efforts and hampering delivery of vital government services. Adhering to traditional outreach strategies and technologies erodes outbound dialers’ ability to adjust to emergent circumstances.

Government contact center leaders are stepping up to lead in the face of these challenges and meet the historic demand for services. Adapting to changes in caller behavior and expectations will help to improve performance and efficiency at scale. The solutions, proven in many major private call centers, hinge on restoring carriers’ and consumers’ trust in legitimate outbound calls.

Restore trust in outbound communications

To communicate important and timely messages to consumers, outbound call centers should focus on establishing their validity, so that consumers can trust the calls enough to answer. Some organizations are turning to trusted call solutions for help. Forrester’s study states, “While teams look internally to solve operational issues, many firms are turning to technology partners to help get more consumers to pick up the phone. 28 percent of survey respondents say [technology] vendors are critical to solving these challenges, while another 39 percent say they are important.” These new technologies work to mitigate the challenges described above.

Correct mistaken call blocking and spam mislabeling

In Forrester’s study, over 70 percent of respondents said addressing spam mislabeling and call blocking was “critical” or “important” to resolving challenges in contacting consumers over the phone channel. To prevent inadvertent call blocking and spam mislabeling, agencies should ensure that phone numbers used for outbound communications are included in an authoritative list of registered business numbers. Phone numbers used for inbound calling only — Do-Not-Originate (DNO) numbers — can be added to authoritative block lists. Organizations that mitigate mistaken call blocking and spam mislabeling improve their RPC rates and operational efficiency.

Reach out at the best day and time, while using the best number

Efficient outbound call centers adjust dialing schedules according to the periods of the week when consumers are most active on their phones. Their operations account for the widespread pandemic-driven disruption to consumers’ daily routines, the presence of multiple phone numbers in each consumer record, and the probability that some consumers will change phone plans due to financial hardship. Insights into phone behavior support optimization of workforce scheduling, reduce resource costs, and increase RPC rates.

Keep consumer intelligence up to date

Given the increased possibility that consumers will move residences or change phone plans due to economic hardship, proactive call centers must implement strategies that ensure that phone numbers in each consumer’s record are up to date, accurate, and scored by their contactability. The goal is to prioritize pools of contacts for more effective communication strategies. A better understanding of consumer data streamlines outbound dialing processes and increases RPC rates.

Convey the purpose of the message

Due to advances in mobile caller ID, dialers can now represent themselves more faithfully by displaying organization information as part of the caller ID, including the organization’s full name, logo, and reason for calling. Increasing consumer trust in calls drives up answer rates, making call center agents more effective. Almost 90 percent of consumers say they are more likely to answer a call if they can be certain of the other party’s identity.

When SLG contact centers address errant call blocking and spam mislabeling, layer phone behavior intelligence into their dialing strategies, and invest in branded caller display, they are better able to contact consumers efficiently and effectively. Everyone wins: Consumers receive the services they need, increasing their satisfaction and trust in government; operational efficiency and productivity improves, supporting mission fulfillment; and SLGs preserve budget for operational costs. These outcomes are even more important now, when the pandemic’s prolonged economic disruption has compounded some consumers’ needs and undercut tax revenue sources.

Effectively connecting with consumers during uncertain times

With so much disruption to consumers’ lives and businesses’ operations, it is critical that government outbound organizations establish trusted connections for important conversations. Neustar Outbound Communications Solutions has established similar trusted connections in the private sector for years.

Neustar Phone Behavior Intelligence helps outbound dialers reach consumers at the best time of day and day of week for each individual consumer. By leveraging unique relationships with telecom providers and powering over 90 percent of caller ID in the U.S., Neustar provides predictive phone behavior insights not found anywhere else. When a consumer’s record lists several phone numbers, Neustar scores the quality of each number according to the likelihood of it being answered. Also, Neustar appends up to five additional phone numbers for each consumer record, including information such as phone type and in-service indicator. This reduces wasted calls for outbound dialing organizations by an average of 16 percent.

To restore consumers’ trust in calls from unrecognized numbers, Neustar Caller Name Optimization mitigates mistaken call blocking and spam mislabeling. With direct relationships to more than 850 voice service providers and caller ID apps, Neustar ensures accurate and consistent caller displays over landline and mobile phones and registers outbound calls so that they are not errantly blocked or mislabeled as spam. When consumers answer their phones, agencies can resolve consumers’ matters in less time, increasing agent productivity and saving operational budget. Organizations that use Neustar Caller Name Optimization report improving their RPC rates by as much as 19 percent.

During the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic disruption, effective and efficient outreach to consumers is essential. Consumers receive the services they need to survive the pandemic’s disruption. Governments fulfill their missions to their constituencies and lay the groundwork for post-pandemic recovery.

A citizen-centric focus is an important element of functioning government, even under normal circumstances. But these are not normal circumstances. Government contact centers must be prepared to adjust rapidly in response to unforeseen developments. Such flexibility rests on the ability to reach the intended person on the phone number they actually use, at the time they are most likely to answer. Neustar allows agencies to deliver on their mission and operate with needed flexibility.

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