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Article : Legislation – It Doesn’t Have To Be Restrictive

The Telemarketing and Call Centre industry has been the target of several legislative changes that have affected the ways companies in the US, the UK and Australia conduct their day-to-day business. These changes were deemed necessary given the high volumes of unsolicited commercial calls consumers received every day, which predominantly took place during mealtimes, late at night or at the weekend (whether this was because the caller targeted that time for a response, was ringing from a different time-zone, or simply didn't care!).

Regulatory bodies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), OFCOM, the Australian Communications Authority (ACA), and the Direct Marketing Association, have enacted new regulatory guidelines that place limits on abandoned call rates, guard against cold calling, and impose adherence to National Do Not Call lists. Each of these rules has substantial impact on the way contact centres are managing their operations and contacting consumers, whether by voice or email.

To a great extent, telemarketing companies are responsible for this trend, as initially there were no guidelines in place to regulate them. They were expected to self-police themselves but failed to do so effectively. The onslaught of cold calling ensued and over the course of several years has reached such epic proportions that legislation has now been put in place to regulate the market.

From Guidelines To Legislation
The clearest indicator of community support for mandatory register is the number of consumers who have added their numbers to National Do Not Call lists. In the US for example, by mid 2005, over 90 million people had registered with the Federal Trade Commission Do Not Call Registry. This is consistent with opinion polls indicating that many consumers regard telemarketing – particularly at home and during mealtimes or late at night – as intrusive. Do Not Call methods – like spam regulation schemes – have a national basis. They enable consumers who wish to avoid telemarketing calls to register any residential telephone numbers, including wireless numbers, to directories that restrict cold calling campaigns.

The introduction of these methods and regulations has impacted greatly on telemarketing companies' outbound operations and forced them to scale down considerably on such processes, which continues to have a domino effect on inbound practices.

One way organisations have responded to the introduction of new legislation has been to outsource contact centre operations to locations such as India, South Africa and increasingly Eastern Europe; whereas US, UK and Australian governments are finding it difficult to enforce their initiatives, particularly in those localities using VoIP. In such cases, there is in effect little that governments can do to stop international offshore telemarketing.

In order to combat this, the UK passed a ruling on the Consumer Protection Distance Selling Act in 2000, which stipulates that callers (and suppliers) must specify from the onset the reason for their call by providing clear and concise information to the consumer. These rules are clearly outlined and agents are under obligation to comply with them.

Another way organisations are dealing with the 'erosion' of their outbound operations is by transforming them into inbound processes. This involves re-tooling systems and software to support new functions and re-training front-line agents to incorporate a more sales-oriented approach to previous service-based offerings – proving quite challenging for many companies.

Nonetheless, this takes service provision to a higher level. It becomes a more complex offering whereby agents might be required to inform callers of additional products, once they have dealt with their query.

Reducing The Impact Of anti-Telemarketing Laws – And Looking Beyond Compliance
There are several ways in which organisations can ensure they are complying with telemarketing legislation:

  • Matching a contact centre's list to the Do Not Call registry and filtering out the names that shouldn't be contacted. In order to be effective, however, this process should be undertaken every 90 days to keep lists as up-to-date as possible, and customers as happy as possible.

  • Implementing call recording systems can help organisations and employees conform to new rules and regulations for inbound or outbound sales transactions. Given existing stringent requirements for companies to keep conversations, customer interactions and all marketing material on file for a period of at least two years, investing in such a solution is essential.

  • Having quality assurance teams who monitor calls, service quality and ensure that agents are complying with industry rules and regulations

And more importantly:

  • Knowing exactly what the legislation stipulates in the first place! It is important that organisations understand what the rules of the game are and investigate their internal processes.

Under new legislation though there is a three-month window during which time contact centre agents are within their right to make outbound calls to a company's new customers – a window, however, that can be reduced by consumers choosing to register on Do Not Call lists. Nonetheless, the three-month window allows companies to solidify their relationship with customers and offer them additional product information they might not have otherwise been aware of. In reality, most contact centres are not organised enough to take advantage of this opportunity.

Companies should look beyond initial compliance obligations, and investigate ways in which they can use call recording to unlock real benefits in terms of improved service levels, customer satisfaction and operational performance. Recorded calls, for example, can serve as evidence for communication with customers, rather than force agents to take time-out to document interactions. With some recording solutions, calls can also be combined with the latest speech analytics software that can provide organisations with in-depth analysis of opportunity and improvement areas, as well as the ability to identify any customer trends that are driving call volumes into the contact centre.

There have been huge in-roads into quality management systems of late, with organisations benefiting from closed-loop suites that enable them to record, evaluate, analyse and learn from customer contacts, as well as ensure their agents and supervisors understand what the legislation is and comply with it. This also implies that in order to benefit from such an approach, companies need to look at all aspects of their operations, including their people, processes and technologies – each having critically important roles to play. Huge benefits are to be achieved where effective steps are taken to ensure compliance and drastically outweigh the costs of non-compliance, which can bring about severe penalties. The FTC in the US for example has carefully defined what constitutes a nuisance call, and has put some teeth behind the legislation to ensure it is taken seriously.

Telemarketing legislation and methods like the Do Not Call Registry have attracted attention across the globe, reflecting consumer unhappiness about intrusive telemarketing and the example of national legislation. Most reputable organisations have responded to this by allowing customers to opt out of further calls, implicitly maintaining in-house Do Not Call registers (albeit registers that are sometimes ignored by their agents). However, the approaches taken are simply building blocks rather than a total solution. Some organisations have made commitments to industry codes of practice, trusting that there will be meaningful sanctions against breaches by their peers, but others have simply ignored concerns. This has fuelled demands by consumers for mandatory Do Not Call registration – a reality that is not helped by the fact that most necessary schemes feature substantial exclusions because consumers encounter calls made from offshore call centres and automatic diallers.

At this stage regulation is only targeted at B2C operations and not B2B ones. However, first signs of this are starting to appear and might prove as challenging and problematic as the measures that are being enforced with B2C operations at present.

About Oscar Alban:
Oscar Alban serves as Principal, Global Market Consultant for Witness Systems. He regularly speaks at industry trade shows, conferences and customer sites worldwide, where he focuses on the mission critical aspects of optimizing workforce performance – including improving workforce planning and agent effectiveness, capturing and leveraging customer and competitive business intelligence, analyzing enterprise performance and applying learning.

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Published: Monday, May 15, 2006

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