Wientzen: Research Shows Consumer Dissatisfaction with Telemarketing

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WEST PALM BEACH, FL -- The teleservices industry might be providing much-needed customer service to the Internet economy, but consumers still consider outbound telemarketing to be the same old-economy annoyance.


That was the message H. Robert Wientzen, president/CEO of the Direct Marketing Association, gave to the 16th annual DMA Telephone Marketing Conference yesterday.


The DMA recently commissioned a study in which 52 percent of consumers said telemarketing calls were "always intrusive" and "never offered opportunities," he said. Only 10 percent of the survey's respondents had favorable things to say about telemarketing.


During a recent 35-day period, the DMA received 3,789 complaints about telemarketing, representing almost 22 percent of the total number of calls the association received.


Wientzen noted that the DMA's do-not-call list, the Telephone Preference Service, contains 3.1 million numbers of consumers who have requested not to receive telemarketing calls, an increase of 1.5 million over 1997 levels. DMA members are required to eliminate those numbers from their calling lists.


Telemarketing is also closely related to the growing consumer concern about privacy.


"People are very curious -- and they're increasingly irritated -- about how we got their phone number, as well as other information we seem to have at our fingertips," he said.


An attendee, an executive with a large direct marketing company who asked not to be identified, predicted that the increasing consumer and legislative backlash against telemarketing will soon begin to erode the outbound calling industry.


"What we are doing at [our company] is moving toward a situation where we are pulling consumers in, rather than pushing out to them," he said. "We're going to be doing more and more things to get consumers to call us or come to our Web site, rather than us calling them."


He also said the high level of calling done by some companies, particularly bank card issuers, to their customer base is harming the industry. He said companies that call their own customers repeatedly are shrinking the overall customer base for other telemarketers, because those customers are being driven to register on DNC lists, or are simply becoming less conducive to other offers.


However, despite the increasing outcry against telemarketing, the industry continues to grow. Wientzen said outbound telemarketing sales are expected to hit $585 billion this year, up about 8 percent over last year's sales of nearly $540 billion. Sales are projected to surpass $800 billion in four years, he said.


Patti Winkelman, a marketing manager at Aegon Financial Services Group Inc., was at the event to see how other companies are incorporating call center functions inhouse, and to see what technologies are available for doing so.


Although the insurance marketer, which specializes in health and life insurance, uses outsourced call center services for its outbound calling, she said the company was seeking to develop more inhouse call center capabilities as it prepares to offer more insurance services through the Internet.


"We're trying to get into the Internet now, and that's why I'm here," she said. "I'm looking to see what technologies are out there, and to find out what other people are doing with [interactive voice response] and other technology."


Winkelman said Aegon envisions making its insurance Web site a "one-stop shop" where new customers can obtain insurance and existing customers can access their policies and obtain additional services.
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