European Union Directives Place More Demands On Call Centers

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Planning to move into Europe? If you have followed the news recently, you will have read a number of articles on new data protection legislation. There is that and more to consider related to European legislation as it may affect call centers.


First, a word of warning. Despite the much flaunted "single market," the countries of Europe are still sovereign states, each with their own legislation, some tougher than others. "European legislation" is in truth a series of directives agreed to in Brussels (capital city of EU) with varying degrees of obligation on member states to follow them. So some countries can have other (usually stricter) legislation than that "common to Europe."


There are two primary areas of focus:


* Data protection, consisting of two directives.


* Consumer protection, consisting of a directive already agreed to for all except the finance industry, and a separate directive under discussion for the finance industry.


Data protection. The basic requirement is that information about individuals -- regardless of whether they are private consumers or at work -- should not be registered unless they are aware that data is being processed, and aware of the reason why. How the information is used should be compatible with the reason it was collected in the first place. If the information is to be passed on to a third party, the individual "data subject" must be informed about this before it happens for the first time. The transfer of information may not take place if the data subject objects.


Data subjects have the right to refuse to allow the information about them be used for direct marketing -- leading to a requirement of in-house suppression lists, and telephone preference systems that work across Europe (coordinated by DM organization FEDMA in Brussels -- e-mail: info@fedma.org).


These requirements put considerable demands on call center agents who must inform prospects/customers what they will do with data, and ensure the data subject's suppression wishes are noted and respected.


Automatic Number Identification does not work between countries, originally as an agreement between carriers but now supported by this legislation. As of May 2000, monitoring and/or taping may not be carried out unless both parties are aware that it is taking place.


Apart from telephone preference systems, there is a requirement that individuals who do not wish to be contacted be able to note this with an asterisk in the phone book.


And finally, information may not be transferred out of the EU to another country unless it is considered that the standard of data protection is "adequate." It is regarded as debatable whether U.S. data protection standards meet this requirement.


Consumer Protection. European legislation has far reaching demands -- in the Distance Contracts Directive to be implemented in 2000 -- as to the information that must be given to a consumer when a contract is concluded at a distance, including a requirement that consumers receive written confirmation of salient information (specified in the directive) before the contract is to be regarded as concluded.


Inertia selling is prohibited, as are unsolicited faxes and phone calls using automatic dialing equipment without human intervention.


General Cautions. There is no agreement as to whether the legislation in the country of the caller or that of the call recipient takes precedence, where calls are between countries. Nor is it clear how the directives regulate the situation where the consumer is within the EU but the call center is in another country.


In an article of this nature only the broad outlines of legislation are included -- and the author is a marketer not a lawyer. If this is an area of concern you would be well advised to talk to the DMA or to FEDMA, to get the full texts of the directives, or to talk with a lawyer competent in this field.


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Philip Cohen, is an international call center consultant based in Sweden and chairman of FEDMA Teleservices Council in Brussels. His e-mail is philco@pilipcohen.se.
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