Let’s Hope Nuisance Calls Are Making Their Long Goodbye

What do you think about a company that is prepared to phone you on a withheld number between 1.00am and 6.00am in order to sell you a burglar alarm?

Now think how much worse that experience would feel like if you were in your last few months of life or recently widowed and by yourself.

I’m sure our combined expletives would feature nicely in one of those edgy Channel 4 chat shows!

This is what the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) does for a living. Listens to consumer complaints on this stuff and enforces legislation through naming, shaming and fining. A righteous way to make a living for sure.

It has to be said that the type of businesses who find themselves in the ICO’s spotlight are the usual suspects. PPI claims, solar panels (a modern version of the double glazing stereotype?) and personal injuries. Some even have a go at selling nuisance call avoidance solutions!

The methodology has not changed in a generation. Diallers are loaded up and cranked to max then unleashed to perform a sales funnel numbers game. From the perpetrator’s perspective, repeated calls to the same prospects don’t worry them. Silent calls don’t worry them. The fact that opt-in is seldom granted by the prospect as a conscious choice, if at all, does not worry them.

Grinding out a result is all that matters. I’m not sure I’d even grace them by describing their approach as poor customer experience. They don’t even get on the chart in my books.

So why are we even talking about them? Clearly you the reader belong to a reputable brand and are personally infused with customer centricity. ‘They might, but I certainly wouldn’t’. I hear you.

So here’s the thing. Nuisance calls are thankfully now looking like an endangered species. The burden of proof has dropped from ‘serious damage and distress’ to being a ‘nuisance’. Just that boosted ICO fines threefold in 2015. This year they are closing the loop on anonymity. Any outbound call has to provide caller identification. So consumers can more easily report those nuisance calls.

This might be news to you. Even running a reputable ‘warm call’ operation, artfully triggered through marketing automation scoring and any other smart technology to make your inside sales team sing, you will still need to ensure that your organisation’s identity is clearly promoted.

That’s the easy bit.

The bigger issue is the degree to which your prospect list meets the ICO's expectation for being fully qualified, based on conscious opt-in consent.

The ICO recently fined an online pharmacy for reselling customer data to third party brokers. This still might be an example where you feel it’s easy enough to ‘tut, tut’ disapprovingly. Selling customer names without their permission is not on.

But how about this? Here is the standard suggested by the ICO.

“The clearest way to obtain consent is to ask the customer to tick an opt-in box confirming they are happy to receive your marketing calls, faxes, texts or emails”.

How do you know every name that might eventually qualify for an inside sales call meets that standard? Does your website make it so clear? Many do not and instead expect the customer to notice that they need to opt-out of any future contact. It’s sneaky but commonplace.

For that matter how do you know that the lists you keep buying to bulk up your CRM universe are up to scratch? Right now can you evidence that you have made reasonable efforts to ensure customer opt-in was consciously obtained?

One day the ICO might send you a letter asking you to demonstrate that you are Data Protection compliant in your prospecting lists. That’s not a remote possibility. 1,000 such letters were sent last November. In the current climate I doubt they will be the last.

We are entering a world in which a new mindset about customers' right to data privacy is being demanded. Data theft, subsequent fraud and monetisation of user profiles on social platforms have caused individuals and governments to call time and demand change.

For instance, individuals are on a grand migration away from pubic social engagement back to the security provided by 1:1 messaging. Wechat, WhatsApp, Messenger and Viber are all becoming customer engagement platforms.

Governments are reacting as well. Even in concert. The EU is about to deliver a hammer blow to brands who assume they own customer data and are free to do with it as they please. Marketers are starting to quake in their shoes at what this means regarding their ability to crank out pseudo personalised lead generation campaigns that still choke everyone’s inboxes every day.

When the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) finally arrives in 2018, the top fine for misuse of consumer data rises to €20 million or 4% of global turnover, whichever is higher. This makes the £500,000 potential fine for a nuisance call look like small change.

In this new regime, here are the competency benchmarks you can expect to be tested against.

  • Notice- those whose personal data is being collected should receive notice.
  • Purpose- the collected data should be used only for the purpose(s) provided.
  • Consent- disclosure or sharing of personal data with third parties may only be permitted if data subject consents.
  • Security- personal data that’s collected should be kept secure from potential abuses.
  • Disclosure- those whose personal data is collected should be notified as to who is receiving it.
  • Access- data subjects may access their data and correct any inaccuracies.
  • Accountability- data subjects will be able to hold data collectors accountable for abiding by these seven principles.

In other words the scope of use becomes severely restricted. Brands will have to really work at earning your trust and permission in this new regime.

Here’s Forrester’s well-phrased take on the implications.

“At Forrester, we strongly believe the new privacy is all about context. We define contextual privacy as ‘a business practice in which the collection and use of personal data is consensual, within a mutually agreed upon context, for a mutually agreed-upon purpose’. It is really about creating a dialogue with consumers and being clear on the data you will use, not use and what for.”  (source: Thomas Husson, principal analyst at Forrester Research)

So while it currently remains pretty easy for most brands to avoid the pitfalls and consequences of being branded a nuisance caller, the reason why we are probably seeing the last chapter in that particular poor practice is that it is being finally eliminated through a wholesale transformation of attitude and practice regarding customers' right to privacy and right to dictate who has usage of their personal data.

4% of global turnover ought to make most organisations sit up and take note. What happens then? Will the new EU legislation create the type of tension that we see in compliance-driven contact centres in which the customer experience is subordinated to tick box conformance?

It would be a shame if the drive for real time, personalised engagement loses its mojo as the lawyers take over.

I guess we shall find out soon enough.

Download our whitepaper to find out more about...

  • How the laws have tightened around nuisance calls and what they mean for you
  • What you have to do to ensure you stay the right side of the law
  • How expensive a breach of the regulations will be
Martin Hill-Wilson
Martin Hill-Wilson

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