As the number of automated marketing telephone calls made to individual householders is on the increase, E RADAR's Will Roebuck looks at what can be done to improve the relationship between business and consumer. He also looks at the role of the Telephone Preference Service and asks whether it is still fit for purpose.
Am I another of a growing number of consumers annoyed at the number of automated telephone marketing calls received at home?
Yesterday I counted 10 calls altogether, the latest one being 22:30. Thankfully, the irritating man-voice didn't get me out of bed this morning. Perhaps telephone marketers don't have to get up that early - they've no need to when computer software does all the work!
I'm irked by this invasion into my own personal space. Clearly the organisations behind automated marketing don't get the fact that I will never buy from them. First, there's no trust in an automated voice. Second, I don't know what malware nasties they may unleash down my poor phone. Third, I'll probably get charged for calling them back - at a premium rate!
Thinking my grumpiness was beginning to sound like my father - now long-gone, I asked the neighbours what they thought. Thankfully, they'd been getting nuisance calls too and felt the same way.
But, the number of automated calls is not the only issue. Sometimes, when I've replaced the receiver the telephone line goes dead, often for several minutes. This denial of service could potentially prevent more important calls from getting through to me.
According to the UK's privacy regulator, automated marketing calls should only be made when a person has previously agreed that the organisation can make these calls. But, I've never agreed to them. And, if even if I had, I wouldn't know which organisation was calling me to stop them. Automated callers never leave a company name and the telephone number they dial from is usually untraceable.
That's a flaw in the Information Commissioner's complaints procedure for reporting concerns about nuisance calls and messages. If we don't know who they are we can't report them. So, the regulator's hands are tied and we just have to continue gritting our teeth. The problem is mine are now so worn down with frustration that I may have to sue the Information Commissioner for a set of dentures.
Telephone Preference Service
Over 18 million householders and businesses in the UK have joined the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) in order to prevent unwanted direct marketing calls. But, is the TPS still fit for purpose? Whilst I'm sure it does a grand job to help screen out potential telephone marketing calls from reputable organisations, disreputable marketers simply don't care about following the Telephone Preference Service's Code of Practice. It is a voluntary code after all, with no regulatory clout.
And the TPS cannot deal with those calls which originate from outside the UK!
— Will Roebuck (@ERADARtweet) July 23, 2014
Automated telephone marketing compliance
As individuals, we need to have more control over how our personal data is being processed by way of automated systems. Short of banning automated calls altogether (the preferred option), I'd at least like to see Parliament requiring organisations to identify themselves when the call is answered. The law should also require marketers to provide a non-premium rate telephone number linked to the operational site where the calls are being made.
Automated telephone marketing calls are a nuisance. It's all a numbers game for the marketers with software allowing them to target potential hits easily. But, we are getting smarter about knowing our privacy and consumer rights, and more discerning in choosing products and services from those suppliers we trust. The businesses now getting real competitive advantage online are the ones taking time to engage more personally with customers, understanding their needs, delivering solutions backed up by efficient customer service, and providing effective dispute resolution processes should something go wrong.
Must go - another call to answer!