Auto dialer terminology (or, Wow, this is confusing)

Ever wonder what the difference is between an auto dialer and a predictive dialer? Can’t keep your robo calls and your outbound IVRs straight? It’s all very confusing.

In designing Impact Dialing’s website, I spent a lot of time researching what search terms people actually use in the world of making lots of phone calls. I chose the the terms below based on this research and my own experience.

The term “auto dialer” is the most confusing phrase of them all, and a good starting point because of its generality. I did a Google search for auto dialer and came up with a few excerpts from its snippets:

  • “Software for broadcasting voice message by phone”
  • “…an automated phone dialer for voice message broadcasting…”
  • “An autodialer will call one or more programmed phone numbers…”
  • “… allows for hands-free calling…”

There are a lot of terms and ideas thrown around here. About the only thing they all have in common is that they involve automatically dialing a list of phone numbers. At Impact Dialing, we refer to all of our services collectively as “auto dialers“, to reflect the different meanings that different people attach to the phrase “auto dialer”.

So if auto dialer is a vague, nebulous phrase relating to anything that automatically dials a phone number, then what are concrete examples of auto dialers? One term that showed up a few times in the above Google search is “voice broadcasting”. Voice broadcasting is a kind of auto dialing in which a pre-recorded message is played when somebody answers the phone (or is left on an answering machine). Voice broadcasting messages are also sometimes called “robo calls“. Pollsters often use robo calls to survey people, by asking them to press a keypad on their phone corresponding to different choices: for example, “Press 1 if you play to vote for the Democrat, press 2 if you plan to vote for the Republican.” Sometimes people call these robo surveys, but they are more commonly referred to by a more technical name. Gathering information from pressing phone keypad digits is called Interactive Voice Response, or IVR. When it’s used on outbound calls (as opposed to inbound systems – “Press 1 for Sales, 2 for Support”), it’s sometimes called an “outbound IVR system“.

Our Google snippets showed us that people also use the term “auto dialer” for a system that connects answered dials to live people. The most common term used for live phone calls is “predictive dialer”; when a predictive dialer is offered as an online service, rather than as a piece of hardware, it’s called a hosted predictive dialer. Some people also use the term “power dialer” to refer to an outbound dialing system. Although sometimes “power dialer” and “predictive dialer” are used interchangeably, the more technical distinction is that a predictive dialer uses real-time analysis to determine the optimal time to make dials (see this blog post for details), whereas a power dialer simply dials a pre-set number of lines (often 1, which is how we do it) when a caller finishes the previous call.

So, in summary:

  • Auto dialer: anything that automatically dials phone numbers
    • Voice broadcasting: when somebody answers, play a message
      • Robo calls: another name for voice broadcasting
      • Robo surveys: press a keypad button to provide feedback
      • Outbound IVR system: another name for robo surveys
    • Predictive dialer: when somebody answers, connect them to a live person, and use realtime analytics to determine when to dial again
      • power dialer: use a simple ratio when somebody finishes the previous call

This is not an exhaustive list, but it touches on some of the most common terms and hopefully provides some clarification.

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