January 27, 2021

Contact Tracing Efforts Hampered by Unanswered and Blocked Calls

Controlling the spread of COVID-19 has challenged governments around the world. Contact tracing should provide an effective way to inform people when they’ve come into contact with someone infected with the virus. Unfortunately, unanswered calls and blocked calls create more barriers to safety.

Blocked Calls Hamper Contact Tracing Efforts

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contract tracing slows the spread of disease by:

  • Telling people they should get tested for COVID-19 after a possible exposure.
  • Asking people to self-isolate after coming in contact with someone affected by the virus.
  • Letting people know of possible exposure so they can monitor their health for symptoms of the disease.

The vast majority of these communications happen via phone. Unanswered calls and blocked calls, therefore, make it nearly impossible for government agencies and doctors to prevent asymptomatic people from spreading COVID-19.

Given the gravity of the situation, it’s important for everyone involved to discover barriers and explore solutions that make it easier for information to reach the right people.

Many Call Centers Aren’t Properly Staffed or Equipped

As of the beginning of 2021, about 22.96 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States. The number grows daily. With so many people getting exposed to the virus, governments and healthcare organizations must rely on volunteers for contact tracing.

Volunteers often fail to connect with contacts because they do not have the right training to use call center technology and speak with members of the public about such a sensitive subject. Without the right experience, they can make contact tracing more difficult.

Umesh Sachdev, CEO of a company that works with call centers around the world, points out that people in some parts of the country have little experience with the technology used during contract tracing. In some places, people aren’t used to talking to people during cold calls. In other areas, residents aren’t accustomed to voice-enabled systems.

The solution needs to involve a flexible system that matches the experiences of volunteers and residents.

It doesn’t help that many call centers rely on legacy equipment that slows the efforts of volunteers and professionals. Without auto-dialers, instant access to contact information, and phone number reputation monitoring, call centers cannot reach everyone.

Many Call Centers Have Inaccurate Information

Americans don’t like giving their private information to anyone, including the government, businesses, and nonprofits that want to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing worked well in South Korea because most people felt comfortable providing their names and phone numbers. With that information, contact tracers could reach out to anyone suspected of coming in contact with the virus.

Many Americans worry that handing out their information will lead to civil rights violations. They don’t want the government to track them, so they either refuse or provide false information. Paranoia has led to a predictable result: it’s incredibly difficult to contact people who won’t provide accurate information.

Additionally, about half of Americans are afraid that unknown numbers come from people attempting to commit fraud.

Call Center Regulations Contribute to the Difficulty

Federal law prevents call centers from contacting U.S. residents outside the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. The average person spends most of those hours working. Even people working from home don’t want to get interrupted by a phone call. Of course, they don’t want to answer calls from unknown numbers outside of work hours either, because they want to spend the time relaxing or doing chores.

The situation gets even worse when you consider that:

  • People move and forget to update their information.
  • Financial hardship has forced millions of people to cancel phone numbers or change carriers.
  • People make mistakes when providing their contact information.

These factors contribute to the difficulty of running an effective contact tracing program.

Not All Call Centers Register Their Phone Numbers

When you receive a call on your smartphone, you make a split-second decision whether to answer. The information on your screen plays a critical role in your decision. If you see a number you don’t recognize, you’re more likely to hang up. You might even report the number as spam to your service provider or call-blocking app.

If you see a number and name, you’re more likely to answer. For example, an incoming call that says, “San Francisco Health Dept.” inspires some trust in people living in the Bay Area. You answer because you don’t want to miss important information about your health or the health of a loved one.

Call centers often purchase thousands of phone numbers at a time. They don’t take the time to add names to every number. Even more concerning, some numbers they buy may have already been flagged as spam. If the previous owner used the number to spam consumers, the bad reputation can follow it to the new call center. Blocked calls could occur from numbers that have been recently purchased.

Actual Spam Calls Make Contact Tracing Very Difficult

It’s a truly sad thing to admit, but it’s also true: people who commit fraud will take advantage of disasters to steal your money and information. Every disaster from Hurricane Katrina to the COVID-19 pandemic has given greedy criminals a way to steal from good-hearted people who want to help those in need.

Americans know that scammers try to take advantage of people during disasters, so they’re reluctant to answer calls from unknown numbers. Even when people answer calls, they often avoid giving the information needed for call centers to confirm their identities.

The rampant spread of spam and robocalls, in other words, has created a situation much more dangerous than anyone could have imagined. By undermining faith in phone calls, they’ve undermined faith in contact tracing.

Outgoing Numbers Get Blocked or Flagged as Spam

Suspicious residents may unknowingly contribute to the difficulties of contact tracing. With dozens of apps making it easy to mark calls as spam, reporting unknown numbers has become a habit. As more people report the numbers, service providers and call-blocking apps start to take the threat seriously.

It doesn’t take long before call center numbers never reach people because apps prevent phones from ringing.

Unknown numbers present a safety issue that concerns people. In fact, consumers should take the threats seriously. Phishing schemes affect millions of people. Overzealous reporting, however, makes it harder and harder for call centers to protect the population with contact tracing. With erroneous flagging, blocked calls begin to hamper attempts to get in touch with residents.

Get Better Results by Equipping Contact Tracing Call Centers

At this point, it may sound increasing difficult for call centers to implement effective contract tracing protocols. Adopting the right equipment, however, solves many of these issues. With modern equipment and techniques, call centers can:

  • Use faster dialing technology that helps them reach more people per day.
  • Register phone numbers so the name of your organization appears on caller ID.
  • Train agents to identify themselves and explain the importance of contact tracing.
  • Teach volunteers to empathize with people worried about scams.
  • Scan numbers to avoid those that have been flagged.

Caller ID Reputation makes it easy for you to scan your phone numbers for flags and blocks. The software monitors phone numbers and highlights those that look suspicious. When a number gets flagged, stop using it until its reputation recovers. Regular reputation monitoring will reduce blocked calls and make contact tracing much easier by improving call management and encouraging more people to answer your calls.

Contact Caller ID Reputation today to learn more about how reputation monitoring can improve the success of contact tracing. Making the smart choice could literally save lives.

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