On 11 March 2003, the President of the United States signed a bill to create a Federal Do Not Call List and empowered the Government to enforce the mandate. By 27 June of that same year – only three months in force – there were around 48 million consumers who had registered their phone numbers. Today in the US, almost half the estimated 300 million phone numbers or about 132 million numbers are registered.

Since then I have led more than a dozen workshops to carefully walk through and review the various legislative requirements for the direct marketing industry and help prepare those most affected by the Do Not Call Register. The feedback and comments from participants have helped all interested parties (including ACMA – the government body charged with managing and policing this legislation) identify the many grey areas remaining to be defined.
While the scheme is already in full operation – for more detail, see the preceding article, ‘Do not call (until you’ve read this)…’ – at the time of writing there remained some grey areas to be defined.

Education of business and consumer
The first weakness has been in communications. Not enough has been written or created to give consumers or business a clear idea of what the Do Not Call Register means for them. What we do see are editorial pieces appearing in the news media – perhaps more often designed to create excitement or drama than to help either consumers or industry gain clarity about the changes.

One thing is certain: the consumer thinks all annoying phone calls will stop. This is far from the truth and for me this is the most significant issue lying ahead of anyone who proposes to use the phone to do business in the future.

Up to 70 percent of calls consumers list as ‘annoying telemarketing calls’ will be permitted. The exemptions include calls to residential and dual-use phone numbers of consumers and SOHO businesses, whether on the Do Not Call Register or not, such as calls:

  • to customers who have given express consent to being contacted
  • to customers with whom the business has an ongoing business relationship (still to be more clearly defined)
  • from charities (if they supply goods or services)
  • that can be classified as social research calls (which may include all marketing research calls)
  • from government bodies
  • from registered political parties
  • from independent members of parliament
  • from electoral candidates
  • from religious organisations, and
  • from educational institutions.

Plus, some calls are now designated not to be telemarketing calls and can be freely made and, during any of these types of calls, a company can make any sales and marketing offer as well. They include calls:

  • for product recall
  • for fault rectification
  • to reschedule appointments
  • to remind people of appointments they already have, and
  • relating to payments (bill collection and setting up new payment schemes).

Finally, there are the untold numbers of calls that come from offshore that are functionally too difficult to try to stop.

Yet, the consumer thinks by having their name on the Do Not Call Register they will no longer get annoying calls at dinner time. If you use the phone in business, no matter what type of organisation and no matter what kind of phone calls are being made or taken, your staff will urgently need additional training, management, support and monitoring as consumers take out their angst about anyone who calls them for any reason (even the right reasons).

Database issues: a potential ‘Mini Y2K’
After running half a dozen workshops, we discovered someone in attendance who wasn’t a marketer, but a technical person responsible for specifying a company’s database. He was a last minute stand-in for a marketing person.

We weren’t sure he would appreciate the material, but soon saw the colour drain from his face as he realised how profound the seemingly easy requirements for managing the Do Not Call Register requirements would be for businesses.

Small and large businesses alike will be required to either have express or inferred consent (see the preceding article for definitions) to make telemarketing calls or will need to submit their lists for washing against those who have registered.

In respect to the National Privacy Principles, only the phone number will be accepted. There can be no identifying names, addresses or any type of customer code.

It is imperative to ensure all phone numbers washed against the Do Not Call Register are date stamped in your own database. For some organisations making new fields to record the consistent and accurate date of washing the lists or managing the changed list of phone numbers back into their database may prove difficult because most databases aren’t yet set up to accommodate these requirements.

Turnaround, contingency and costs
Service Stream, the company charged with the task of managing the lists of those wanting to have their phone numbers on the Do Not Call Register, is required to wash 90 percent of all lists submitted within 24 hours and the rest within three days. Many organisations waited until the last week of the deadline to wash their lists against the Do Not Call Register and much testing by many of the larger organisations doing or managing telemarketing initiatives ran a variety of capacity tests to ensure the robustness of the Service Stream systems before they launched.

We know, however, the site went down early on from too many organisations trying to submit their phone lists for washing at the same time. With only one organisation responsible to handle the tasks without at least one back-up organisation to support contingencies this causes concerns.

It seems that big files will be left until last and, although there has already been one organisation that has successfully washed all 11 million of its phone numbers, it might be more time and cost-effective to submit smaller lists as required.

We know of one organisation that has made the decision not to bother washing its lists against the Do Not Call Register list, but certainly it is always better to be safe than sorry. And with fines of up to $1.1 million per day for calling those who have put their names on the register, it is a risk to be carefully considered if your organisation does outbound calls.

What is a ‘customer relationship’?
Defining ‘ongoing business relationship’ is still a grey area. And one significant part of this is who owns the database. Who is responsible for washing lists in a large organisation or when an organisation is decentralised, has many separate and distinct entities or is a franchise?

For instance, if you are a motor car manufacturer and have dealerships and warranty registrations who ‘owns’ the relationship (database) with the customer? Where does the customer think they have a loyalty? Car dealerships have always been rather independent from the manufacturer as have service divisions tied to dealerships, but in some cases the manufacturer believes they also own the relationship.

A sad tale
A large telco has been calling my home every night for months now at about the same time – sometimes up to three times a night (I suspect from overseas). I became so tired with the calls I stopped long enough to exercise my rights and ask that my name be taken off their telemarketing list. What a surprise it was to have the representative tell me that to do that, all I had to do was to call the Do Not Call Register number and they would ensure I didn’t get telemarketing calls into the future.

Nothing could be more foolish than to instruct staff to do than this. Many times customers are reacting to the moment they are in or the company who is calling them. It is imperative to train staff to ask customers requesting not to be called if there is a reason for this because it could be they don’t want a call about certain types of products your organisation offers, not all calls.

The number of customers we can call is shrinking and will continue to shrink if we don’t make a clear and budget-supported business decision to:

  • comply with the Do Not Call Regsiter
  • train and support phone staff during this transition time
  • support your industry associations, especially ADMA (www.ADMA.com.au) and the ATA (www.ATA.asn.au) as they continue to fight the fight to keep our businesses safe, and
  • make efforts to keep the press and public informed of the truth about these issues and your determination to do the right thing in telemarketing.

The best advice there is for this changing time in our industry is to think like a customer again.