Power to the Consumer

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For more of the April 2009 edition of CRM magazine, please click here.

In its efforts to ease tension between telemarketers and their unsuspecting prey—that is, consumers—the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) often restricts callers. The right to make automated, recorded calls, for example, has long been limited to instances of an established business relationship between the calling company and the consumer recipient. A new regulation, however, further restricts the use of these messages.

According to the new Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR), any recorded message must provide the recipient with an interactive means to opt out of future calls, at any time during the message. (The system may be dual-tone multifrequency or speech-enabled.) Even automated callers leaving a voicemail—today’s systems can adapt to answering machines and voicemail services—must include a phone number for opting out.

Soon, however, the game will change completely: An established business relationship won’t be enough to allow the use of automated calls. As of September 2009, prerecorded messages will only be allowed in calls to consumers who have “expressly agreed in advance to receive them,” according to the FTC-issued statement.

Some FTC-compliant offerings already exist. Ifbyphone, for example, a provider of hosted voice applications and platforms, has introduced enhanced tools catering specifically to the TSR, according to Todd Curry, the company’s vice president. The enhancements include a default recording of the required opt-out message, the ability to customize, and a prepackaged solution for accepting—and maintaining a list of—opt-out telephone calls. “If you’re a relatively unsophisticated voice marketer,” Curry says, “you might not be aware of the law, how to comply, or what tools [are necessary].”

The TSR affects some more than others. At automated-notification provider Varolii, for example, only approximately 1 percent of what the company does is in any way impacted by the ruling, says Brian Moore, the company’s executive director of collections solutions.

But what about Varolii’s customers? “Companies and consumers alike may be confused by what is and isn’t legal,” Moore says. “We’ve had numerous calls with our clients that were concerned…about the impact [the TSR] would have. While we don’t provide legal advice, we do work closely with the companies’ compliance officers and…do what we always do—act as a trusted adviser.”

At SoundBite Communications, a provider of multichannel communications products, opt-out has been built in since Day One, says Mark Friedman, the company’s chief marketing and business development officer—primarily because it’s just good business. Now, he says, simply adding a procedural checkpoint will ensure 100 percent compliance. “The best approach is to give [recipients] the ability to opt in and out of communications,” he says. “The consumer preference is being met and [that] lays the basis for a long-term relationship.”

That long-term relationship is what provides real value, Moore says, and it should be everyone’s goal. “Many companies now are welcoming new customers and introducing this method of communication,” he says. “There are situations in which they should provide a service to that customer to communicate on a proactive basis…. [With] stolen credit-card numbers, unauthorized charges, flight changes…outreach is absolutely appropriate and appreciated.”

The hope is not that automated calls die out—but, rather, that legitimate ones remain. “The [TSR] will help organizations that really have valuable messages to deliver,” Friedman says. “It will help break through the clutter people are used to receiving.”

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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