“Who’s calling and should I bother answering?”

Imagine if every email you received would show you only the IP address of the computer that sent it - no sender email address, no subject line. No other context to advise you if this email is going to be worth your time to open and read. 

That’s essentially what we still do with phone calls today. The voice calling system is the only modern communication network where senders don’t identify themselves by default to their recipients. Other modern communication networks – email, social media, messaging platforms – were born in the fast-moving internet era. Internet-era technology is built with user experience and innovation in mind. Every party taking part in a communication exchange is informed and can choose whether and how to engage.  

Furthermore, that phone ring is special.  It gives the caller the unique ability to grab a person’s attention, without asking permission and without knowing how disruptive it will be.

This is an opportunity and a challenge.  People want calls that are relevant and valuable, and a majority of callers — good callers — respect that.  But, increasingly, people don’t trust calls when they don’t know who is on the other end of the line or why they’re calling – in fact 87% of consumers believe unidentified calls may be fraudulent. 

So, how could the voice network actually support the recipient and help respectful callers?

Voice callers need the opportunity and the encouragement to identify themselves, to make themselves known to the network and onward to the call recipients. Provide real context to the recipient, and they will have the information they need to decide whether or not they want to engage with the caller.

Since callers aren't obligated and encouraged to give this context about themselves and their calls, the telephony industry has been doing it for them. For a long time, the only innovation in this space has been Caller Name (CNAM), an unreliable attempt by the telephony industry at giving recipients more context on the caller - generally without the caller being involved. And more recently, carriers have been working with analytics or call protection services to add context at least for the risky calls. These make up too large a percent of phone calls today, and in many regards are the real reason why this entire communication channel has to change.

New technologies on the horizon such as Rich Call Data (RCD), caller branding, and call authentication services are going to be the platform to launch a truly “recipient too” experience for the phone call. This will improve the effectiveness of the phone call in a world of many alternative communication networks that give the recipient far more information and control.

A ringing call should give the recipient context

The objective of the telephony network should be for carriers to enrich every phone call with information that provides valuable context for the call. This could mean a number of different things:

  • Reason for calling: Like the subject line of an email, what is the goal of the caller? Explain to the recipient why they should answer, don’t just assume that they will.
  • Caller name: An accurate, meaningful, and hopefully familiar caller name makes it clear to the recipient who they will be speaking with, if they choose to answer.
  • Type of caller: More generic than the exact caller’s name, identifying the type of call (e.g. “Local business” that’s actually local, “Banking/finance”, “Charity”, etc.) often gives insights into both who is calling and why, if a name is unavailable or unfamiliar.
  • Call risk: Similar to call type, labels that indicate whether a call is suspicious can advise the recipient if the caller has their own interests as the first priority of the call. Telling the recipient that a call is likely a survey or telemarketer, or even fraud, gives them a chance to decide how important this call might be for them.
  • Nothing: If a caller is likely illegal, trying to aggressively push a sale or scam a victim, the right information to provide is none at all - because this call shouldn’t even be permitted to ring.

All of this context, whether provided by the caller themselves or derived from services like spam analytics by the carrier, helps to put the recipient in control of their phone. The stronger the context, the better the experience: Advising the recipient a call is from a telemarketer is helpful, but advising them it’s their local window company calling with a quote on window replacement tells the recipient precisely what they need to know. It tells them the sort of information they already expect from email or other communication channels.

The technology to do this exists today, or is on the immediate horizon. But it begins first with a change of perspective: suspicious callers do not have anonymous, unfettered access to the pockets of their recipients. Callers should be encouraged, perhaps even obligated, to make themselves known, both to the telephony industry and to the recipients, so phone calls stand independently on the merit of their own value to the recipient. Carriers should deliver the most useful information available to consumers on all calls – which means including caller identity whenever possible. 

If all calls blend together in a sea of context-less ten digits, it doesn’t mean all of them are important - it means none of them are. The scammers have seen to that. It’s time to get people wanting to answer the phone again.

Jonathan Nelson
Jonathan Nelson, Director of Product Management

As Director of Product Management at Hiya, Jonathan leads Hiya's caller ID data intelligence, including both person/business identification and spam call detection. His team works with billions of data points globally every day to provide the most accurate caller information and protection against unwanted caller adversaries.

The editorial staff had no role in this post's creation.