E-Mail Can Minimize Do-Not-Call Woes

With recent passage of the Do Not Call Registry, over 50 million people said, “Don’t call me.” Outbound telemarketing firms and their clients have no choice but to comply. As much as $20 billion spent on unsolicited outbound calling needs a new home. Is it enough to say it will be redirected to other media, including digital, direct response TV (DRTV), and direct mail? Will outbound telemarketing be a thing of the past? Although some loopholes exist, including certain entities that may continue to call, there are plenty of prospects telemarketers need to reach.

There’s an opportunity to use email and the Web to identify people who don’t mind being called, at least for specific products and services. Smart companies will look into this immediately.

Unsolicited phone calls can be classified into two categories, much like email: those I want, which are requested and/or relevant; and those that are unsolicited and irrelevant. Many outbound telemarketers make assumptions when making calls that are right for some and wrong for others:

  • Everyone in a certain town is a candidate for the local newspaper sales pitch and therefore shouldn’t object to a call.

  • Everyone who owns a dog is a target for the grand opening of a new pet store or the introduction of a new pet food.
  • Anyone who’s ever invested in the stock market is ripe for a call from a stockbroker.

In each case, and thousands more like them, some folks will welcome the calls and many won’t.

Here’s how email and the Web can help. In the same way we preach the concept of permission as related to email, why not use the Web and email to obtain permission to call?

Why not test populating email and landing pages with copy such as:

  • We’d like to tell you more about [product or service”. Give us your phone number and tell us the best time to call.

  • Click this button and our representative will call you back at the time you request. [Push-to-talk technology is widely in use.”
  • We’d like to update you on new products related to what you just purchased. How would you like us to tell you?
    • E-mail

    • Phone
    • Fax
    • Mail

  • Regular service on [product” is important. Would it be OK with you if we called once a year to remind you?

  • Enter the [name” sweepstakes, and we’ll call if you win.

Such efforts can result in people requesting you contact them by phone or email. You’ll have proof of that permission, too.

Just how long is this permission valid? Is it a short-term or 18-month relationship? No one knows the answer right now.

One way to circumvent the issue may be to request permission, with time limits:

  • May we call you every September to remind you about cleaning your chimney?

  • May we call you periodically, but no more than three times a year, about new investments?
  • How many times per year may we call you about your [product or service”?

Finally, you may want to start phone calls resulting from these efforts by saying something like: “Mr. Smith, last month you requested via email we contact you about your purchase. That’s why I’m calling today. Do you have a moment?”

Respectful, appreciated, relevant calling is sure to be appreciated by most consumers. But won’t this technique be abused? Probably, and here’s how:

A transparent approach would be a sweepstakes entry. Because entrants gave quasi-permission to be called, they might be called even if they don’t win. Clearly, there’s a line between what I’d call “real” permission (the above examples) and “inferred” permission (the sweepstakes example).

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is certain to conduct further examination of the issue. Some or all of these approaches could be found unlawful. In the meantime, proceed cautiously, and do what makes sense for your business — not necessarily what gets the most phone numbers. Carefully state your intent in a privacy statement in the email or on the landing page, and retain all consumer data, including date, IP address, and the opt-in to avoid future problems.

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