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DMA Members Ready for Life After DNC

PALM BEACH, FL — Telemarketers at the Direct Marketing Association's annual Teleservices Conference expressed a willingness last week to put no-call issues behind them and move on.

That was the common sentiment at The Breakers hotel here as attendees discussed compliance strategies and the ongoing constitutional challenge to the national no-call list. Though the American Teleservices Association has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the list, telemarketers here generally sided with the DMA's decision to end its own constitutional challenge and not join with the ATA.

“People in our association stopped looking back and started looking forward,” said Paul Glancy, vice president of marketing at The Martin Agency, Richmond, VA. “We're going to make the best of a challenging situation.”

This year's show is the last under the tenure of DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen, who was not present. Wientzen announced his impending retirement in December, and the DMA expects to name his successor by July 1.

DMA teleservices members have harbored mixed feelings about Wientzen for some time. Industry pioneer Rudy Oetting said Wientzen served the DMA during a time of immense change. In addition to dealing with intense regulatory efforts from the government, Wientzen's eight-year term included the Internet revolution and an economic boom and bust.

Others said they hoped the next DMA leader would give more attention to teleservices. DMA studies put direct marketing sales related to teleservices at an industry-leading $765.9 billion in 2003.

“We all felt like a little bit of a stepchild,” Glancy said. “When they show the statistics on the board, we're always No. 1. We need support commensurate with the power of the teleservices industry.”

Some attendees said this year's show seemed less attended than last year's. Whether that was because of decreased buzz over compliance issues or because of industry downsizing was uncertain. Nevertheless, compliance issues remained the show's focus. Beyond the no-call list, caller ID requirements are emerging as a top compliance problem.

Caller ID presents a host of issues, including whether to send a toll-free or toll number, whether to have the number answered live or by IVR and whether to try to upsell consumers who call in. Telemarketers said they were working mostly without precedent in this area.

Orlando Hampton, vice president for JP Morgan Chase, said his company tested caller ID transmission with a few vendors prior to the implementation date of the caller ID rules. Even so, the company was blindsided by consumers who called into the number left on their caller ID boxes — some of whom were concerned about the number of times the company had called.

Each call to a consumer leaves a “stamp” on caller ID, Hampton said. Telemarketers must consider how many stamps — including call attempts as well as repeated calls — they wish to leave.

List shrinkage because of the no-call list and reduced call volumes from new abandonment rules are another major issue. Each lead has become precious, said Sandy Pernick, president of S. Pernick & Associates.

With list sizes shrinking, telemarketers must think of new ways to keep profits up. Some acknowledged that direct marketers must look to other channels to recoup profits lost because of compliance issues.

“That may sound like blasphemy,” said Maxine Tiger, national telephone marketing manager at Dow Jones & Co. “But we have an obligation not to just look at the telemarketing source but where marketing dollars are better spent.”

Inbound call centers, traditionally seen as cost centers, can generate profit, Oetting said. However, call centers must give more attention to increasing their top line rather than just cutting costs.

Telemarketers need to be smart with upsells and offers and not go after the quick buck, Oetting said. Telemarketing is losing value as a prospecting tool, so the industry must pay more than lip service to retention.

“You're reinforcing the reason the customer bought in the first place,” he said. “Are companies really involving call centers in the CRM value chain?”

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