When Does Telemarketing Invade Privacy?

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It seems that once a month there is a story on television or in print about how one or another telemarketer has invaded someone's privacy.

I am a telemarketer, and I have been one for many years. So, it might sound a bit strange when I say that telemarketers should never seek to invade consumers' privacy.

I may not be making this assertion for completely altruistic reasons. Invading privacy is just plain bad business. It alienates the consumer, and in this day of customer relationship management, that is the last thing a marketer should want to do. Instead, today's marketers must do all they can to nurture and build customer relationships.

Let's explore a few scenarios:

• Scenario 1: A long-distance carrier calls you during dinnertime to ask you to switch carrier services. Is this person invading your privacy? You bet he is.

• Scenario 2: An outbound telemarketer calls you to talk about a terrific new protein supplement that will enhance the results you gain from an exercise machine you just purchased. Is this person invading your privacy? No, he is not.

Why is the first person invading your privacy and the second one is not? As opposed to the first scenario, the consumer in scenario two, who received the protein-supplement call, had a pre-existing relationship with the company and opted in to receive information concerning new products and services relating to his initial product buy.

When a relationship is already in place with the consumer, whether it is from a purchase or a completed questionnaire, the outbound telemarketer is providing a service for the consumer.

If a consumer had purchased an outdoor wildlife video, it would be of value to the consumer to receive a call from an outbound telemarketer advising that consumer about an opportunity to buy three more outdoor wildlife videos and get a fourth one free. Building and maintaining customer relationships are what outbound is all about.

The rule is simple: Create a relationship with your customers. Do not sell their names for a few cents, a move that will alienate consumers from direct marketing. Hold onto their names and nurture them for the long run - after all, as a direct marketer, you have spent a lot on media to get those names.

A call from someone you do not know is intrusive. A call from someone with whom you have a pre-existing relationship is welcome.

Professional outbound operators are trained salespeople. When they make calls, they know what the consumers bought. They remind consumers of the purchases and make sure they are still happy with the products. If there are any problems or concerns, the operator seeks to find a remedy. If consumers are satisfied, the outbound salesperson will advise them of a new product that would be a perfect fit for their previous purchases.

Once your media builds your list, once you make that first sale, that name can very well have significance to you for a long time to come. And remember, you invested in media only once for that name.

For the direct marketer and the telemarketer, it is not about invading privacy; it is about building an ongoing customer base.

If a customer previously purchased a product and expressed enough interest in a product category that he agrees to receive follow-up information, a relationship exists, and ongoing calls do not represent an invasion or intrusion.

Interestingly, many consumers have categorized telemarketing calls as customer service contacts. Essentially, these consumers are correct. Oftentimes calls begin with the question, "Are you happy with the product?" A positive consumer response will then result in the query, "Since you are pleased with the product, we'd like to introduce you to this product, which can enhance its effectiveness."

While it is clear that a sales exchange is occurring between the caller and consumer, it is also true that the consumer likes the original product and finds the follow-up contact to provide a valuable service.

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