Wientzen: Predictive Dialers Threaten Telemarketing Industry

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People are signing up in droves to put themselves on the Direct Marketing Association's name-removal list, said H. Robert Wientzen, DMA president/CEO to attendees at the association's 1999 Government Affairs Conference earlier this month. He cites telemarketers' recent abuse of predictive dialers.

The total number of households in the telephone preference service file was 2.5 million, which is significantly higher then the 900,000 households counted earlier this year, Wientzen said.

The recent increase means the TPS file is growing faster than the association's mail preference service file, which is currently at 3 million and which, "for many, many years was considerably bigger than the TPS file."

The reason fewer people are less tolerant of telemarketing calls, according to Wientzen, is because they panic when they receive calls and no one is there. This occurs when direct marketing service companies set their predictive auto dialing equipment --which initiates outgoing call attempts from a predetermined list of phone numbers based on a computerized placing algorithm -- at such a high rate that they don't have operators available. Then, when the phone is picked up, if there is no operator available, the equipment automatically disengages, leaving a dead line.

"Elderly people, particularly, are afraid," Wientzen said, "They think someone is calling their home to case it for a robbery and so forth"

"They are writing to us, they are raising the number of people on these [TPS] lists, and they are saying 'Oh, by the way, also take me off mailing lists,' It's bad for business and its bad for eroding public trust."

Leading auto dialer equipment vendors include Davox Corp., Melita International and EIS Computers Inc. But the ultimate responsibility is with the clients, he said, even though there may be an agency doing work for them that has set the dialer higher than it should be without their knowledge.

In an effort to assuage some of these concerns, last January the DMA's Board of Directors approved new guidelines for users of predictive auto dialer equipment. They include:

* Setting a company-wide standard that requires that every effort is made to have a live operator converse promptly with a consumer of answers the telephone. Abandoned calls should be kept as close to 0 percent as possible, and in no case should exceed 5 percent of answered calls per day in any campaign.

* If a live operator is unavailable to take any calls generated by the dialer, abandon the call and release the caller after not more then two seconds

* Not abandon the same telephone number more than twice within a 48-hour time period and not more than twice within a 30-day period of a marking campaign

* Allow the predictive dialing system to ring at least four times or for 12 seconds before disconnecting.
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