Identifying Exposure Points in DNC Regulations

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For telemarketers, 2003 was a year for reflection. It was a time to audit compliance processes, review campaigns and re-evaluate the business model. The national no-call list, supplemented by new restrictions on predictive dialers, forced marketers to look at themselves through the eyes of the public.


However, regulations such as the Telemarketing Sales Rule revisions only outline broad expectations. They fail to reveal solid procedures for enterprise-wide compliance. To use a cliche, "the devil is in the details."


Many exposure points exist in complying with federal and state regulations, particularly involving no-call requests. Here are questions to ask yourself as you consider your current operations:


Campaign development. Does your campaign fall under any exemptions like business-to-business, political, market research or fundraising? Are there limitations to your exemptions?


For example, the Federal Trade Commission exempts calls to consumers who bought from the marketer in the past 18 months. But some states define an established business relationship in more restrictive terms. Review these states' rules: California, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Tennessee. These states recognize an established business relationship in six- or 12-month increments. Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey and Wisconsin maintain no exemption in this area.


Similarly, in market research, verify how the data will be used. If responses are used to directly market a product or service to the individual, the research call would have a non-exempt commercial purpose.


For a BTB campaign, have you vetted your list source to ensure all records target businesses? For example, if you're cold calling other businesses - where you lack an established business relationship protection - are you sure no home phone numbers are on the list? Though the FTC is unlikely to chase marketers whose intent is to reach businesses, it is best to be cautious, particularly with consumer antagonism at a high.


If you are following up on an inquiry, do you have evidence proving the consumer made initial contact or gave permission to call?


Who is responsible for scrubbing your calling list against the federal no-call list? State lists? Your in-house list? Other lists, such as TPS and Private Citizen? What processes have you established to ensure none of these lists is missed?


Who is responsible for downloading quarterly updates from the FTC? Is the same person responsible for integrating quarterly updates from states like Wisconsin or Louisiana, which are not included in the FTC list? Is that same person responsible for pulling active calling lists and scrubbing them against these quarterly updates? For established business relationships, do you pull records nearing the exemption cut-off and re-scrub them as the list ages? Who oversees and documents this process?


If you are calling established business relationships, have you flagged all records with a federal or state match? Have you developed customized scripting that addresses the no-call issue before you proceed further into the call?


If you outsource, do your contracts spell out which party is liable for federal and state violations? Do they spell out which party is responsible for replying to inquiries?


Agent training. Have your agents been trained on your no-call procedures? Is that training in writing? Has follow-up training been done to reinforce your expectations? Have you kept track of who was trained, to hold your staff accountable?


Do your agents know why a particular campaign is exempt? Do they have written rebuttals to address complaints? Are the rebuttals customized for a particular campaign or exemption? Have you monitored to confirm your agents use these rebuttals correctly? Do you have an escalation policy? What information is included in the escalation notice?


Resource allocation. Who is the central point of contact for handling regulatory complaints? Are all touch points aware of this person's responsibilities? Does this person have quick access to all phone and data records, campaign specifications, scripts and training materials? Do you have a succession plan for handling complaints in your contact person's absence?


What is your turnaround for replying to regulatory or personal requests? Do you have a process for tracking either consumer or regulatory complaints?


Have you audited your processes to ensure all no-call requests are added to your in-house list? How quickly are these requests incorporated? Is this list being bumped against all subsequent calling lists? Are you re-scrubbing active lists against new requests?


If you are a service provider, are all no-call requests being escalated to your clients? How often are these requests returned? Are your clients aware these personal requests must be honored for 10 years?


Caller ID. Do you have live agents - or a voicemail system - ready to handle return calls made to your caller ID number? Have you tested your caller ID number to ensure it is answered?


If you have live operators, do they have the tools to resolve complaints in one call? If you have a voice messaging system, how often is it checked? Who is accountable for checking the system and removing all no-call requests from active lists?


How quickly can you remove inbound requests from your system? What is your process for tracking down and removing the consumer's phone number, if you manage multiple lists? If you're a service provider, do you also add inbound requests to your internal no-call list?


Further considerations. Have you reviewed your no-call policy recently? Determine your archiving procedures and know where you store old scripts and training material, electronic files, employee information, telephone logs and tape recordings. How long do you store them?


Do you get no-call requests from other sources such as letters, e-mails and the Internet? Who is responsible for collecting and adding these requests? Is every applicable department aware of procedures for managing no-call requests?


Do your scripts include all applicable disclosures in areas such as permission to record, price, pre-acquired information, refund policy and product conditions and restrictions? Do you include this information on products you upsell or cross-sell, in both your outbound and inbound environments?


Do your scripts include unique marketing propositions, such as sweepstakes, negative options, continuity plans or free-to-pay conversions, that require additional disclosures?


Have you monitored your agents to ensure they present your offer accurately and disclose all required terms and conditions? How often are they monitored? Are your calling campaigns tied to other marketing mediums such as e-mails and faxes? Do these pieces also include required federal and state disclosures?


Have you earmarked funds for maintaining federal and state registrations? Have you budgeted for accidental violations? Have you honored annual registration requirements with states like Tennessee, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Louisiana?


Do you have daily (FTC) and monthly (FCC) reports set up to track abandoned calls? What about reports specifically for California? Who gets these reports? What information is included on each abandon? Have you clearly identified which calls are true consumer contacts, to ensure an accurate abandonment rate? Do your supervisors have immediate access to abandonment rates?


If you have to abandon a call, what will you say in your message? Where will you direct a return call? Are you scrubbing your calling lists against cellular phone blocks?


Complying with federal and state no-call rules takes an enterprise-wide commitment. It involves buy-in from various departments and locations. More importantly, it requires a process that undergoes constant review and documentation. The devil may be in the details, but so are the solutions.


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