Sunday, October 07, 2007

Your Right to be a Pain in the Ass

When the federal Do Not Call registry came into being, it was a long-overdue victory for consumers. While telemarketing trade associations predicted dire consequences if they were not allowed to annoy people who do not want to hear from them and do not want to buy anything from them over the phone, consumers were utterly sick of them, spending money on services like caller ID and anonymous call blocking to keep them at bay, and legislators finally listened.

Well, sort of. Because guess what? If you put your number on the list when it was new, you're about to be dropped from it. You see, when you add a number to the Do Not Call registry, it only stays there for five years. This was, supposedly, in order to keep the list accurate - people move, phone numbers are reassigned, and so on. Except that the list is already regularly purged to remove disconnected numbers.

Of course, nobody's going to remember that their five years are up, and they'll start getting more annoying calls. The FTC doesn't see it that way, but at least one member of Congress is a bit smarter:

"It is incredibly quick and easy to do," Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection, said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. "It was so easy for people to sign up in the first instance. It will be just as easy for them to re-up."

But Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., says people should not be forced to re-register to keep telemarketers at bay. Doyle introduced legislation this week, with bipartisan support, to make registrations permanent.

Sure, it's quick and easy if you know you have to do it. Unless the FTC is planning on sending postcards out to everyone on the list before they're dropped, nobody is going to remember to re-up.

Smart marketers will support Doyle's legislation, because smart marketers don't want to waste their money having telemarketers call people who aren't interested in talking to telemarketers. Unfortunately, this is an area where marketers often aren't very smart.

It's always frustrating to see marketers react to consumer attempts to shut them up by trying to find a way to weasel through. Pop-up blockers? We'll come up with new formats to make you look at our ads. Do-not-call list? Our associations will lobby to make sure names drop off of it. And so on, and so on.

My rule with telemarketing is quite simple: Do not call me, ever. Do not call me if I'm your customer, or if I'm not. Just don't do it. I hate being interrupted by phone calls. Friends, family, and clients can call me. Businesses can if the reason is "we suspect fraudulent activity on your credit card" or "we want to tell you that your order is delayed" or "we are confirming you appointment next week."

I'm a marketer, and I think the legal standard for telemarketing should be opt-in only. And real opt-in, not "by opening this bank account you are telling us we can bombard you with offers by mail and phone."

It doesn't help the phone companies are in on the racket: you have to pay them not to give out your phone number.

I'm skeptical about the new conversational, user generated, only welcomed messages marketing simply because I think marketers kid themselves about what is really welcomed by consumers. Do not call registries with this kind of hole in them are a great example. I'd love to see marketing organizations be good citizens and call on Congress to make numbers on the registry permanent. It's good business and it's just the right thing to do.

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