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Outlawing Nuisance Calls Presents New Opportunities for Smart Operators

26 September 2018

A law that will ban unsolicited nuisance calls from contact centre agents keen to sell you their products and services is a few steps away from taking effect.

New legislation to protect personal privacy will make it illegal to cold call, SMS or email people who haven’t specifically agreed to be contacted. While consumers will welcome the upcoming law, and will no doubt exercise their right to take legal action against companies that still annoy them, it also presents new opportunities for progressive contact centres to increase their sales.  

The legislation to curb cold calls comes in the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popi), which was signed into law way back in 2013. The final regulations are still being drafted, and its enactment is also the subject of an on-going discussion between the regulator and the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMSA), which argues that numerous jobs will be lost if cold calling is banished.

The DMSA is opposed to Section 69, which states that companies can only send electronic direct marketing messages to people who agree to receive them. In other words, people must specifically opt in, rather than the current situation where companies will contact you unless you specifically opt out. The DMSA wants that clause postponed for three years to avoid job losses.

Given the sophistication of modern technology, the stance taken by the DMSA suggests a slight reluctance to adapt, and, more importantly, to see the ability to use current contact centre infrastructure in a more effective manner. The smartest companies have already realised that cold calls are not only highly inefficient but can also damage their reputation by annoying the people it is trying to obtain or retain as customers. 

Nuisance calls are more irritating than spam email or junk leaflets, because a phone call is more invasive. If your time is wasted by an unwelcome call, its intrusive nature is annoying. At the moment, cold calling is so cheap that the expense is justified by the tiny fraction of people who actually buy whatever is being sold.  But what a wasted effort – especially when cold calls can be crafted intelligently to become a powerful sales tool, rather than an annoyance.

Achieving that requires switching from a shotgun approach to aiming at the ‘market of one’. That means creating effective engagements by targeting the right person with the right message to achieve the right result. For example, calling someone who rents a single room to offer them a gardening service is a waste of time for both parties. But the same service might appeal to someone who you know has recently bought a house. 

To do that, a business must take the various data sources it holds about each customer in its customer relationship management (CRM) system and integrate it with out-bound diallers in a contact centre. The system will then display details about each customer, allowing intelligent scripting to compose a personalised message. An agent armed with a personal message can shift the call from a nuisance into something the customer appreciates by offering them timely and relevant content. This generates a better return on investment as the information is welcome and adds value to the customer. Many of today’s more sophisticated contact centres and sales-oriented websites already use integrated data systems to boost their business, such as Amazon, which recommends more books to buy based on what you like to read. 

If that isn’t a convincing enough reason to up the game, the other imperative is for legal compliance. Once consumers get used to better privacy protection, they will lash out against organisations that abuse the regulations. That has already begun in Europe, where the European Union introduced the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May. The GDPR requires organisations that process personal data to protect its privacy and flouting the law can incur a fine of up to €20m or 4% of the organisation’s worldwide turnover.

The UK company Keurboom Communications has already been fined £400,000 for making almost 100 million automated calls in 18 months, leading to more than 1,000 complaints. 

In South Africa, Popi will enforce similar rules. Instead of fighting that, smart companies can pre-empt the new law to increase their sales and improve their relationship with customers, turning this challenge into an opportunity. Many consumers think nuisance callers obtain their details from other companies that sell their data. That is often the case, but not always. Entering a competition, joining a loyalty scheme or subscribing to a service also gives companies all the details they need to pester you. Even placing an advert on a site like Gumtree puts your information into the public domain, ripe for harvesting. Popi’s explicit opt-in regulations should prevent companies from using that information to contact people, unless they actively tick the opt-in box agreeing to further contact. 

Once Popi is in force, consumers who agree can expect to receive more personalised offers or information likely to interest them. But this also poses a different risk to privacy as technology becomes ever smarter. Personal contact could escalate into ‘hyper personalised’ contact if a company knows too much about you, your family, your movements, your likes and dislikes and your finances. 

The vast amount of data being gathered by some companies threatens to become intrusive by over-familiarity. That is already sparking a significant backlash from concerned consumers, making it crucial for companies to define an ethical line between aiming for sales and spooking their customers.

Tele-sales is an art, not a science, and turning a potential nuisance call into a valuable interaction will increasingly require an experienced blend of business savvy and technological competence.