Is Inbound Calling the Next Legislative Target?

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On March 11, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Do Not Call Implementation Act, also known as the Do Not Call (DNC) Act, authorizing the Federal Trade Commission to collect fees for the implementation and enforcement of the National Do Not Call Registry. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was charged with creating the rules that protect consumers from unwanted telemarketing calls. Despite several challenges to the DNC legislation in court, the constitutionality of the DNC Act was upheld, and by October 1, 2003, telemarketers were prohibited from contacting numbers on the DNC registry. Outbound call centers began scrambling to ensure compliance, the 64 million people registered on the DNC list began looking forward to mealtimes uninterrupted by unwanted telemarketing calls, and the collective inbound call-center industry breathed a sigh of relief. As we progress through the middle of the decade it is becoming apparent that that feeling of relief for incoming contact centers may have been a bit premature. Over the past year legislation has been introduced by high-profile politicians that specifically addresses inbound contact-center operations. Sen. Hilary Clinton (D.-NY) introduced legislation that requires notification that an overseas call center is receiving your call. The spirit of the bill is to protect private data by ensuring that offshore call centers are not gathering private information from U.S.-based callers without their expressed consent. Sen. John Kerry (D.-MA) also introduced a bill requiring an announcement during a call that informs the caller of the location of the call center being reached. Taking Sen. Kerry's bill one step farther, Rep. Ted Strickland (D.-Ohio) has introduced a bill that requires notification of the location of the call center and provides the caller with the option of rerouting the call to the United States if he does not want to speak to an offshore agent. The American Teleservices Association (ATA) has been closely monitoring the apparent refocusing of Washington's interest in the contact center industry from outbound to inbound, and has expressed concern. ATA Executive Director Tim Searcy says, "The FCC has planted the flag indicating that they're starting to look at inbound call centers as closely as they're watching outbound call centers. Washington appears to be getting a second wind, and is focusing a great deal of activity in this area." Today, cross- and upsell activities are considered a normal part of inbound contact-center activities, but these activities may also soon be the target of legislative action under the provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Now is the time for the inbound call-center industry to start looking at these activities. Action now may prevent reaction in the future. As ATA's Searcy puts it, "If the inbound industry doesn't start taking immediate steps to consider the issue of consumer irritation, which is causing congressmen to get phone calls, it may find itself in the same position as the outbound industry. The time for self-regulation is now." Paul Stockford is chief analyst of Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers and customer service. Contact him at pstockford@saddletreeresearch.com
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