If it seems hard to get prospects to pick up the phone, you aren't imagining it. Thanks to an influx of unwanted robocalls in recent years, Americans developed a resistance to answering calls from all unknown numbers, including those from legitimate businesses. As of June 2021, a protocol called STIR/SHAKEN is expected to change this — and many sales teams are wondering how it will impact legitimate cold calling.
What is the STIR/SHAKEN Protocol?
Take a look through your missed calls list. Chances are, you see plenty of calls from unknown numbers, or those your phone flags as possible spam. Some of the numbers look suspiciously like yours, and the callers typically don't leave a message.
These are some of the many robocalls swamping Americans' phone lines — an average of 159 million per day in early 2021. That's almost 175 robocalls per American every year!
The problem has been ramping up for some time. A 2019 bill called the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act required telephone service operators in the United States to implement some form of call authentication. The goal? To reduce scam robocalls and restore people's faith in Caller ID.
STIR/SHAKEN developed from this request. On a technical level, it's an exchange of data that telecom providers use to verify legitimate phone calls. For the users, it will ultimately provide visual authentication that the number calling them belongs to a real person or business.
Is There a Difference Between STIR and SHAKEN?
STIR/SHAKEN is a two-part process. Each stage has its own acronym:
STIR: Secure Telephony Identity Revisited
SHAKEN: Secure Handling of Asserted information using toKENs
The first stage, STIR, assigns a digital signature to the person making a phone call. SHAKEN is the way in which this signature deploys across phone networks.
How Does STIR/SHAKEN Work?
STIR/SHAKEN authentication works for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) calls. This may include calls made over a WiFi connection or via cellular data. Smartphones and many enterprise phone systems use IP calling, which is why STIR/SHAKEN may be so effective.
Here's how it works:
- You place a call to another phone number.
- Your service provider gets a piece of data known as a "SIP Invite."
- The service provider attempts to verify the call in one of three ways. Depending on the result, the call is assigned an attestation level similar to a letter grade:
- The service provider can confirm that the caller is a registered subscriber authorized to use this phone number.
- The service provider can confirm that the call originated from a registered subscriber, but cannot verify the phone number.
- The service provider confirms the call originated on their network, but cannot verify the source of the call.
- As a result, your service provider then packages up this attestation grade and identification info, sending it to the recipient's service provider.
- The recipient's service provider then checks the data.
Ultimately, the recipient's phone will display some type of indicator when a call is authenticated. The final form this attestation standard will take is still unknown. Some U.S. service providers are experimenting with a small badge that appears on smartphone screens — not unlike Twitter's blue checkmark for verified accounts.
What Does STIR/SHAKEN Consider a "Bad Call"?
STIR/SHAKEN is meant to reduce phone calls from scam companies running automated robocalls with "spoofed," or fake, caller IDs. It is not intended to stop legitimate businesses from making cold calls to prospects.
Think about it like this — you can send cold emails to prospects without winding up in SPAM filters, right? That’s because there are protocols in place to help email service providers filter scam emails out from legitimate ones. STIR/SHAKEN works similarly, but for spam phone calls.
What is the Difference Between Robocalls and Spoofed Calls?
Robocalls are automated calls — like a doctor’s office reaching patients for appointment reminders. Robocalls may or may not be spoofed, which is the practice of calling from one number and having another appear on the recipient’s caller ID.
There are many valid uses of number spoofing, such as having all outbound calls show up as a centralized customer service line rather than individual employee extensions. Bad actors, however, use “neighbor spoofing” to show a number that appears to be local or very similar to the recipient’s — aiming to lull them into a sense of security so they’ll pick up the phone.
Unfortunately, there’s currently no way for call recipients to tell if an unknown number is legitimate or not. STIR/SHAKEN attestation aims to change that.
How Can Businesses Benefit From STIR/SHAKEN?
As verification badges begin to rebuild Americans' trust in answering calls from unknown numbers, we expect many businesses will find that STIR/SHAKEN helps them connect with prospects via phone.
The technology may also help protect businesses from scammers using their identity or number illegally — the phone equivalent of when an email scammer runs a phishing scheme meant to look like it’s coming from a well-known and trusted brand. Troublesome calls are more common than you may think, too. Out of the three to five billion robocalls made every month, as many as 40% may be scams. That's up to six scam calls per month for every American.
Are Businesses Responsible for Implementing STIR/SHAKEN?
No. Telecom service providers, not business owners, are responsible for implementing STIR/SHAKEN. It is important to note, though, that there are a few exceptions.
If your company utilizes a very small service provider with less than 100,000 subscribers, then your carrier may not be required to implement STIR/SHAKEN until 2023. A similar issue could potentially arise with network resellers like Google Fi, who utilize larger companies' phone networks.
AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and large enterprise VOIP services (Ringcentral, Nextiva, 8x8, Bandwidth and others) are already implementing STIR/SHAKEN. If you're not sure of your provider's size or timeline, it's worth reaching out to ask them about it.
Additionally, STIR/SHAKEN only works on VOIP networks. If your enterprise phone service involves any legacy, non-IP systems, it's time for an upgrade.
How Can I Be Sure My Business Numbers Are Verified?
Even though your phone service provider is responsible for implementing and utilizing STIR/SHAKEN, there are a few steps businesses can take to make sure the numbers they use for calling are given the highest possible attestation grade.
First, if your business uses spoofed numbers for a valid reason, talk to your service provider and confirm your account is set up to have all calls using that number verified at the "A" level.
Second, discourage employees from making calls on personal cell phones or transferring calls between company and non-company devices. While personal cell phone use already comes with security risks, STIR/SHAKEN adds another layer. If your employee's phone is associated with a small network that has not implemented STIR/SHAKEN, you may have varying levels of attestation occurring on business calls. Similarly, transferring to non-enterprise numbers may impact attestation.
When Will STIR/SHAKEN Take Effect?
Even though STIR/SHAKEN implementation is ready at the network level, carriers are still figuring out how, exactly, attestation will look to call recipients.
Remember that your prospects have been burned by a heavy amount of spoofed, scam robocalls for years. Until a consistent, visual form of verification is in place, prospects may still be hesitant to answer the phone. Continuing to implement any existing best practices for cold calls — and pairing them with cold emails — can help you increase connections with leads while trust in cold calls rebuilds.
If your cold calls aren't returning the results you want right now, take this time to build up your sales effectiveness. It'll help your startup achieve better results right now — regardless of how things are coming along with STIR/SHAKEN.
Not sure where to start? Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with Vouris and we'll help. In this call, we'll analyze your sales data, pick out three key insights that can help you grow, and show you exactly where to focus first for the most impact.