Telemarketers Prepare for No-Call Deadline

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The national no-call list has been available on the Web for two weeks, and telemarketers have been busy with final preparations for compliance when enforcement begins Oct. 1.


Last week, the Federal Trade Commission said the number of copies of the list that have been distributed was unavailable. However, telemarketers said they have been preparing for the national no-call deadline for weeks and were ready to quickly download the list when it went online.


In general, the bigger a company is, the easier time it has complying because these firms employ list managers and compliance specialists whose job it is to take care of national no-call issues, said Sandy Pernick, a consultant for telemarketing clients and president of Pernick & Associates, Chicago. Now that they have the list, these companies are checking how many of their present customers are on it, she said.


That could be an issue because the FTC lets companies call consumers who made a purchase in the past 18 months or an inquiry in the past three months. However, just because those calls are exempt doesn't mean people will be glad to get them, and companies are preparing rebuttals and answers for agents to give when such customers ask why they are receiving a call.


Many telemarketers already have experience with this problem, Pernick said. When registration for the national no-call list opened at the end of June, some consumers mistakenly expected calls to stop immediately, and telemarketers needed to have rebuttals prepared.


Responsibility for acquiring the list falls mostly on telemarketing clients, though service agencies are playing a role. Telemarketing service agencies can acquire the list on behalf of their clients, but each client must register and pay for its copy on its own.


D.J. Cannava, vice president of client services and general counsel for Miami-based agency Inktel Direct, said his agency was working closely with clients to ensure no-call list compliance. Some prefer to handle list issues on their own, while others asked Inktel to take the lead, he said.


"It depends on what the client is capable of doing, what they're comfortable with doing, and their own internal policies," Cannava said.


Pernick said she recommends to all her clients that they take care of no-call compliance themselves and not wait for their service provider to do it for them. Service agencies don't necessarily specialize in compliance, and no one wants to be the subject of the first no-call complaint to cross the FTC's desk.


"The government is looking at our industry with a real microscope," she said.


While the industry prepares for list enforcement to begin, the American Teleservices Association still seeks an order from a federal judge in Denver to push back the Oct. 1 deadline. The ATA wants a delay while it pursues its constitutional challenge to the national list, a case that is likely to be in court for years.


Last week, the judge in the case canceled a hearing on the ATA's request for a delay. ATA executive director Tim Searcy said he expected an answer on the association's request soon but declined to speculate on the outcome.


In another sign of the no-call list's imminent launch, last week the FTC issued a report to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on its no-call regulations. The report, which was mandated by the congressional bill approving funding for the list, details the FTC's efforts to coordinate its regulations with the Federal Communications Commission.


Of the discrepancies between the FCC and FTC regulations mentioned in the report, the most glaring concern call abandonment and predictive dialers. Under the FTC rules, telemarketers must limit abandoned calls to 3 percent per day, while the FCC limit is 3 percent per month.


According to the FTC report, measuring abandonment rates by the month would let telemarketers use high abandonment rates for certain segments of the population, then drastically lower abandonment rates when calling valuable demographics to even out the monthly score. If such problems become common, the FTC and FCC should work together to eliminate the discrepancy, the report said.


In another discrepancy, FTC rules require telemarketers to play a recorded message giving their identity when they abandon a call. But under the FCC rule, if a telemarketer abandons a call to an established relationship but plays a recorded message, the call is not considered abandoned and does not count toward the telemarketer's maximum abandonment rate.


The report again suggested that the FCC and FTC work out the discrepancy if problems arise. The FCC is required to release a discrepancy report of its own to Congress.


The recorded-message requirement also takes effect Oct. 1, as does the 3 percent maximum abandonment rate.


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