FAQs – Answering Machines

  • About Answering Machine Detection
  • What is answering machine detection?

    Answering machine detection is the name for the process that a predictive dialer system uses to decide whether a call that has been answered was answered by a live person, or by an answering machine or voicemail system.  Predictive dialing campaigns often hang up on calls that are detected as answering machines, and only pass the "live" calls out to the phoners.

    Answering machine detection is not an exact science.  The dialer listens to the sounds as the call is answered and analyzes things like the amount and type of background noise and the sound qualities of the voice on the other end, to make a judgment on what type of answered call it is.  This means that when you use answering machine detection, there will always be some answering machines that are passed through to the agents, and some live calls that are hung up on by the dialer.

  • Why do you recommend turning off answering machine detection for some of your phoning?

    The biggest challenge facing campaigns that are phoning voters today is that fewer and fewer people are willing to answer the phone, especially when they do not recognize the name or number that is calling them.

    When the dialer is detecting answering machines, the dialer itself listens to the first couple of seconds of the call before passing the call to a phoner.  By now, most people hear complete silence (the dialer listening), followed by background noise (the call has been passed to a phoner) and realize that this is a call coming from some kind of call center.  At that point, many people just hang up.

    Without answering machine detection, as soon as the dialer detects that a call was answered, the dialer passes the call to a phoner.  The silent pause at the beginning does not happen, and for the person you are calling, the call feels like a normal phone call.

    We have analyzed the results of thousands of campaign calls, those using answering machine detection and those without it.  The results are clear.  Campaigns that do NOT use answering machine detection are able to contact a significantly higher percentage of the list.

    One good option is to start with answering machine detection OFF, for the first part of working your list, and then turn it ON after you have made at least one full pass through the list.  This can help you reach more people, without requiring that your phoners handle all answering machines, all the time.

  • But wait - won't that mean that our contacts per hour will be much lower?

    Many people wonder if turning off answering machine detection will hurt their productivity numbers.  After all, isn't screening out answering machines the reason why we use dialers?

    The speed advantage that comes with using a predictive dialer doesn't come from excluding answering machines.  Using a dialer, your phoners do not have to dial numbers, listen to ringing and wait for calls to be answered, hang up on unanswered calls, busy signals, and recorded messages about disconnected numbers.  With a dialer they handle only the answered calls, and that is true even when you turn off answering machine detection.

    Yes, they will handle significantly more calls when you turn off answering machine detection.  Those calls will be very short - a second or two to hear that it was a machine, a click on the "Answering Machine" button on the screen, and back into the queue to handle another call.  The dialer will make up for the time spent on those calls, because the dialer is able to go significantly faster - shorter wait times between calls - when there are a lot of very short calls.

    We have analyzed the productivity results of campaigns that tried phoning with answering machine detection both off and on, and the productivity numbers were basically the same.  Campaigns that turned off answering machine detection also reported that once they got used to it, their phoners actually preferred working with detection off, because the pace of the work was faster.

  • I'm using PDI. What is the default setting for answering machine detection?

    The default setting in the PDI/PDI-Q integration is to turn ON answering machine detection. You can change this setting in the "More Settings" area of the dialer campaign creation in PDI.  You can also change it after you create a campaign, in the dialer admin system.

  • How do I turn answering machine detection on or off in an existing campaign?

    In the dialer admin system, on the Performance tab, right-click on the campaign name and choose "Modify Campaign". (You need admin-level access to do this. Contact us if you do not have this access and we can make the change for you.)

    In the lower-right corner of the campaign settings screen, choose the setting you want in the "Detect Mchn" section, and then click on "Save & Close". The dialer will ask if you "want to Modify ivr?" - you have to click Yes for the change to take effect.

    Important - when you change the answering machine detection setting, you also need to change the speed of dialing. See the "How do I adjust the dialer's performance (speed)?" section, under Advanced Admin.

    With answering machine detection OFF, you need to dial slower - use a lower line ratio. 2:1 or 5:2 are typically good choices with answering machine detection off.

    If you turn answering machine detection ON, you will want to speed the dialer up. 4:1 is a good starting point.