A "dialer" is a component that can automatically make calls to phone numbers. Generally when a person is reached the aim is to connect to the right employee. A dialer is used to remove the manual work or entering numbers or clicking on numbers and also to take away the need for employees to actually wait to see if a person answers.
An efficient dialer can produce a significant increase in the productivity of a team who need to call up contacts on the phone.
The best of breed dialer products also automate all kinds of business processes that are related to the sales or service function where the dialer is used.
There are many different terms used to describe dialers, for example, predictive dialers, adaptive dialers, power dialers, dynamic dialers, progressive dialers, automatic dialers and auto dialers. These different terms can be confusing and as you'll see if you read on, they are not really very clear or well-defined. The words used do not matter as much as understanding what work flows and processes can be enabled by a particular dialer product.
Jargon buster: predictive vs power vs dynamic etc
What is a predictive dialer?
The word "predictive" is used when the mechanism to decide how many outbound calls are made and when to start making another outbound call is using past call and employee availability data to "predict" how many call attempts are needed to ensure that employees are utilized well.
What is an adaptive dialer?
"Adaptive" is used to describe a dialing mechanism that changes depending on circumstances and past data. So it is also a "predictive" dialer. Any predictive dialer that is useful in practice should of course adapt its dialing behavior if the real number of calls answered or connected to employees changes.
What is a power dialer?
The term "power" dialer is more-or-less meaningless or certainly in practice it tends to just mean that it is possible to set simple controls on the number of outbound calls made per agent. Typically it is used to mean that dialing is automated but no form of adaptive or predictive mechanism is used. It appears that the word "power" was introduced more for marketing purposes. We regard it is superfluous, since we can apply any dialing behavior that is needed and change every aspect of how it works. Also we can have an adaptive mechanism that reduces to a simpler ratio model (e.g. "call no more than X outbound attempts for every available agent"). So there does not seem to be much need for an additional term like "power dialer".
How to choose a dialer nowadays?
For many decades, dialers were separate closed systems just like PBXs and office telephone systems. This meant that dialers were often a sort of siloed system that could not be integrated more deeply into all the work flows and business processes. This was a consequence of the type of technology available at the time and the system architecture limitations that resulted.
That is why there was at the time such a focus on differences in the dialing mechanisms available. Of course, dialer products were created that allowed some interfaces for uploading lists of contact numbers to dial and that made it possible to use the dialer in a real-world sales or service process. But these capabilities were rudimentary.
Nowadays, the "dialer" part is just one component and the majority of the product is actually in the integration and process mechanisms that make it possible to automate and enable all manner of complex work flows. Also a modern product is often not focussed just on call lists. Frequently, tasks other than speaking to a person on the phone also need to be scheduled and distributed to the right available employee. So in many cases, a dialer is actually just a special case of a what can be called an "automated task distributor".
What are the component parts of a modern dialer or task distributor?
A modern task distributor will include the following components: scheduler, availability/presence handler, queuing mechanisms, mechanism to input/upload lists, list ordering mechanisms, task outcome model, event handlers, integration interfaces for other systems, user interface for employees, user interface for administrators, data extraction and data analytics (to produce performance metrics). In addition, a dialer as a special case of a task distributor will have the ability to determine the phone line state for the employees and the ability to dial out through the public telecoms network - note that these last two components are the only part that is related to "dialing" or "calling", all other components are present in any task distributor.
You can find an illustration and description of the logical architecture of how a dialer is used within an overall process here.