Tim Macer investigates Voxco's Pronto and the value of predictive dialling

Phone rangers

If you are under pressure to get CATI interviews done for the cost of web or self-completion interviewing, then installing, or finding a site that uses Voxco’s Pronto telephony system could help you close the price gap through some pretty dramatic increases in efficiency.
Pronto sits between Voxco’s comprehensive windows-based CATI solution, Interviewer Suite, the phones on the interviewer’s desks and the exchange lines to the outside world. Unlike some CATI telephony solutions, it operates as a telephone switch, so you don’t need a separate PBX system or worry about compatibility with an existing one. At present, you have to use Voxco’s CATI solution too, though there are plans to create an open interface in the future.
Three dialling modes are available: predictive, power and auto-assisted, where the number is displayed on screen and the interviewer controls the whole dialling process. In power and predictive modes, Pronto screens the call prior to presenting it to the interviewer. Unlike its rivals, Pronto also screens for fax and answering machines.
Also unusual is the way the three dialling modes can interplay. The system will take an interviewer out of predictive dialling automatically to handle, say, an appointment. This way, interviewers can make personal appointments that will come back to them and them alone: something other systems struggle to do. Once the call is finished, the interviewer rejoins the predictive pool.
Down-stepping is also used to handle the sensitive issue of calling back respondents that have already received a nuisance call. When a dropped call is recycled, an interviewer is automatically taken out of predictive mode, and the call is dialled while the interviewer waits. If the high moral ground is your natural home, you could even start the call with an apology for the previous intrusion!
The dialling part of the system is so automatic and self-contained that there are few controls to master. The nuisance rate is easy to track, and a simple control allows you to increase or decrease the ‘aggressiveness’ of the predictive dial process until the ‘drop’ rate assumes an acceptable level.
Voxco: Pronto
Pros
  • Do more interviews in less time
  • Improves resource planning and allocation
  • Reliable and easy to use
  • Many advanced features

    Cons

  • Currently only works with Voxco's own CATI system
  • Some DOS menus still

Up-to-date information on sample use, call outcomes and the activity on the dialler, per survey, is presented on a series of screens. For the time being, they are still DOS-style displays, so are not as easy to navigate as they could be. It is also a pity that you have to keep monitoring these screens - it’d be nice if Pronto alerted supervisors to critical events such as a rapid rise in dropped calls or wait times, which the supervisor mightn’t notice while monitoring interviews.
While other systems claim that you need around 24 interviewers for PD to be effective, Pronto has been used at sites with as few as eight stations. I observed one live project with just five interviewers working and a drop rate of less than one call per hour: though there was 50 second wait between each call. On another, with six working, with the wait almost nothing, the drop rate was much higher. With small-scale deployments, there’s inevitable trade-offs. Adding more interviewers balances it out.
Pronto integrates very tightly with the Interviewer Suite, which makes many management and supervision tasks an order of magnitude easier. Every call is logged and the outcome scientifically recorded. It also means a seamless tool for the supervisors to control their work and monitor interviewers. Uniquely, the system incorporates tools to create a graphical representation of the call centre, showing positions of workstations.
Simply moving the mouse over a workstation icon reveals current status information on each interviewer. Double clicking directs the interviewer’s and respondent’s voice feed to the supervisor’s headset and pops the CATI screen to the monitor. It couldn’t be simpler or more intuitive, and is typical of this elegant,
well though out system. The next version’s plans include ‘coaching’, - letting supervisors speak to the interviewer without the respondent hearing.
Lutz May, manager at CMR, a research agency in Mannheim, Germany, runs a 32 station Pronto CATI system. “Even without the dialler, this is a very good CATI system. But commercially, it is really important for us to have the dialler. The biggest benefit is efficiency - working with less people and doing more interviews. Plus, it’s all done accurately. The interviewers don’t have to think about anything but the interview. I think we are probably three or four times faster as a result.”
The gains are impressive. Recently, one 500-case study was completed in a week with just six interviewers assigned. The quality of the management information from the system makes it easy to predict incidences and to have the courage to deploy such small numbers of interviewers and still hit the deadline.
Today, there is intense pressure on fieldwork margins in Germany. As May explains: “Our cost continue to rise, but if you say to a client you have to pay one pfennig more, he doesn’t understand it. With this system, we are better in price and we are fast. For us it is no problem to turn a job round in two days. We have the flexibility to plan very well, thanks to all of the information it gives us on productivity. For us it is really a big deal, financially.”

Voxco: www.voxco.com

Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist in software for market research. His website is at www.meaning.uk.com

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, December 2001, Issue 427.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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