California Utilities Commission Proposes 1% Abandonment Rate by Jan. 1

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A draft decision by the California Public Utilities Commission would set the maximum allowable abandonment rate for predictive dialers used in outbound telemarketing to 3 percent as of July 1, and reduce that limit to 1 percent starting Jan. 1, 2003.


The decision must be approved by a vote of the commission before taking effect, a spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission said yesterday. The issue is on the commission's agenda for its June 6 meeting, and the commission will receive written comment from concerned parties about the draft prior to the meeting.


The draft signals a change from the commission's previous proposal, which would have set the acceptable abandonment rate in California to zero. Such a restriction would negate any efficiency benefits gained from the use of predictive dialers, telemarketing experts have said.


Most responsible telemarketers are already at or near the 3 percent abandonment rate, according to the draft, and would have six months to make needed changes in programming and personnel to meet the 1 percent requirement.


"We continue to believe that abandoned calls -- that is, calls that are answered by an individual and then disconnected by the dialer because no agent is available -- are a nuisance (at best) and the cause of fearful apprehension (at worst,)" the draft decision stated. "On the other hand, we also recognize that responsible companies strive to avoid abandoned calls since they represent lost sales opportunities."


According to the draft decision, the commission will require telemarketers to keep records of how many calls they abandon. The records will be used to enforce the rule.


Workshops with industry representatives will be held 90 days from the date of the final decision to help determine the final form of the record-keeping requirements, according to the draft. In the interim, telemarketers will be required to keep a record of the date and time of all abandoned calls and as well as a tally of the total number of outbound calls made each day.


While the draft appears to be a compromise, telemarketers may not be happy with a 1 percent abandonment rate. The Direct Marketing Association believes that its own member guidelines, which require an abandonment rate as far below 5 percent as possible, are reasonable, said Lou Mastria, DMA spokesman.


"At a time when we're trying to pull ourselves out of a recession, the last thing we should be doing is further regulating this industry," Mastria said.


The full 57-page draft decision can be viewed online in PDF format at www.cpuc.ca.gov/word_pdf/comment_decision/15312.pdf .


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