The Erosion of Trust in Voice Calling

The Erosion of Trust in Voice Calling

January 28th, 2019 - Telecom, Identity and Protection

For anyone who owns a smartphone, it will come as little surprise that nuisance robocall volume increased 13% in 2018. Mike Schinnerer, Vice President of Product Management at TNS, explains how regulators, legislators, telecom providers, and the industry are working feverishly to develop policies and technologies to better protect consumers and businesses from robocalls.

The stakes extend far beyond the nuisance factor however, as bad actors have polluted the voice channel for the legitimate members of the ecosystem. At the same time, many consumers are now conditioned to not answer the phone unless they know who is calling.

While unwanted and annoying robocalls have eroded trust in voice calling, they are in fact part of the evolution of voice calling, as unwelcome as this may be. Restoring trust in voice calling will require that stakeholders accelerate this evolution towards branded calling and trusted calling to begin unwinding the damage robocalls are exacting on consumers, businesses, carriers, and others.

Robocalling may accelerate the evolution of voice

If you go back roughly ten years, Alcatel deployed the first mobile caller ID solution (City ID) that identified the City/State of the caller. Shortly after, T-Mobile was the first carrier to deploy a caller ID solution to identify callers by name. Verizon extended caller ID marking a leap forward for person-to-person (p2p) and business-to-person (b2p) communication – allowing users to set their personal “brand” with caller name and picture information, while businesses could deliver their “corporate brand” through customer names, numbers and corporate logos to people they call. All of this provides further value to consumers so call recipients could “trust” the call, yet that trust has started to erode.

The evolution of voice calling over the past few years has been disrupted by the emergence of a third type of communication: spammer/spoofer-to-person (s2p). Bad actor s2p robocalls threaten to undermine the relationship that businesses have with consumers, as well as the relationship between carrier and subscriber. As a result, stakeholders mustevolve voice calling and usher in the next significant evolution in voice communications: Branded Calling.

Branded Calling

Unwanted robocalls have unintended consequences for legitimate businesses that use automated calls to communicate with customers and consumers. A pharmacy needing to verify personal information when filling a prescription or any business using robocalls in an above-the-board way suffers if these calls are mislabeled as spam or simply ignored because consumers don’t answer the phone. Enter Branded Calling.

At its most basic level, Branded Calling (for example, a Walgreens logo that appears on your phone when the pharmacy calls to say your prescription is ready) is not a new concept. Branded Calling not only provides this helpful identification on the incoming call screen but allows the brand to provide additional information – pharmacy location, hours of operation, nearby doctors offices – imagine how helpful some of this information might be if you’re on vacation.

A key aspect of Branded Calling is enriching the call and user experience and b2p relationship through better interaction and engagement. Brands can create lasting interactive experiences with Branded Calling and contextually relevant engagement triggered by a call event with their customers. Staying with the pharmacy scenario, if the user declines the incoming call the brand can leverage Branded Calling to post a notification with an option to “chat with the pharmacist” which might be more appealing to a consumer than calling the brand back.

Ensuring “trust” with Branded Calling

Branded Calling can improve the customer experience when engaging with a brand, but it doesn’t guarantee that the brand logo a user sees on his/her phone corresponds to the call originator. An incoming call might display your bank logo, but doesn’t eliminate the possibility the call could be originating from an overseas call center or a scammer with bad intentions. This is an opportunity for mobile operators to help preserve and if necessary rebuild trust in voice calling.

Evolving to more trusted calling requires multiple developments in the industry, and addressing several challenges:

  • Verifying legitimate robocall campaigns – Businesses that rely on high volume automated calling will have an increasingly difficult time connecting with customers or reaching new consumers. The industry must continue to work with carriers and regulators on solutions that enable brands to authenticate legitimate campaigns so that these calls can get through.
  • Tapping into data analytics – Effectively discerning between bad actor and legitimate robocalls must rely heavily on advanced analytics that come from analyzing massive volumes of call events each day to identify patterns and emerging bad actor robocall tactics. There will be a need for advanced machine learning methods for blocking robocalls using real-time Artificial Intelligence (AI) in combination with big data gleaned from telecom networks to address the constantly changing identities of robocallers.
  • Leveraging crowdsourced feedback – Users are frustrated with the volume of robocalls and are increasingly taking proactive steps to voice that frustration – such as providing feedback to their carriers. Meaningful steps to better capture crowdsourced robocall data can be taken to ensure that legitimate robocall campaigns don’t run afoul of best practices and compliance, as well as what exactly is being said (or not said) by bad actor robocalls that users answer.

It is clear that stakeholders across the policy, telecom, and industry arenas are highly engaged in addressing the robocall challenge, recognizing that the erosion of trust in voice calling threatens a vital communications medium. Restoring trust in voice calling is core to these efforts.

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