Do-not-call list

30/09/2008

Canadians can now limit the number of unwanted telemarketing calls they receive. Legislation to create a do-not-call list was passed in late 2005. 

It's a familiar scene for many Canadians: the phone rings, but instead of hearing the welcome voice of a friend or relative, they're interrupted by a telemarketer who is selling a product or service and is reluctant to take no for an answer.

But, under the newly launched do-not-call list, Canadians can now limit the number of unwanted telemarketing calls they receive. Legislation to create a do-not-call list was passed in late 2005.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is organizing the do-not-call list. It has awarded a five-year contract to Bell Canada to operate the list. The CRTC is currently seeking a third party to investigate complaints. In the meantime, the CRTC will address and investigate consumer complaints.

Nancy Webster Cole, senior manager of telemarketing regulation for the CRTC, said in February 2008 that the regulator has received thousands of calls from Canadians who are annoyed by telemarketing calls.

The national do-not-call list will help to resolve that frustration by giving Canadians some choice over who contacts them, she said.

"The whole regime comes into effect September 30th, and we expect there will be a lot of growing and learning," said Webster Cole.

How it will work

The process is fairly simple. If you don't want to receive calls from telemarketers, you will be able to register for the do-not-call list by calling a toll-free number or going to a website.

You'll be able to register a land line, a cellphone number or a fax machine, to a maximum of three numbers per person. Once you're on the list, if you receive a call from a telemarketer who is not exempt from the list, you will have 14 days from the date of a call to file a complaint with the third-party investigator. The date of the call and nature of the call, along with the number of the telemarketer, will be required.

The third-party investigator will assess the complaint, and if substantiated, the CRTC may issue a notice of violation and impose a fine of up to $15,000 per call.

Telemarketers, for their part, will be required to subscribe to the list and pay the third-party investigator an annual fee that has yet to be determined but is expected to be about $100. Telemarketers will have a grace period of 31 days to update their lists.

Registration on the do-not-call list will be valid for three years. It will be up to consumers to re-register if they want to when that period runs out.

Exemptions to the registry

Webster Cole said the CRTC will try to make it clear to consumers that they will continue to receive some unwanted telemarketing calls because there are exemptions to the list.

The exemptions include:

• Registered charities.

• Political parties.

• Political candidates.

• Opinion polling firms.

• Market research firms conducting surveys when the call does not involve the sale of a product or service.

• And general circulation newspapers (but not magazines).

Also exempt are calls based on an existing business relationship with a consumer. Businesses are allowed to call you if you have purchased goods or services from them within the past 18 months or have made an inquiry about a product or service within the past six months.

Organizations that obtain "express consent" from consumers will also be able to make telemarketing calls.

For example, a consumer would be considered to have given consent if she fills out a ballot at a trade show and indicates that she is willing to receive calls for telemarketing purposes and provides a phone number. Businesses can obtain consent orally, in written form or electronically. However, consent can be withdrawn at any time by contacting the company directly or telling the representative when he or she calls.

As well, organizations that are exempt from the national do-not-call list will be required to keep their own lists, based on people telling them directly that they don't want to be contacted.

"Our biggest challenge is educating consumers that even though you sign up for the list, people can still call you," Webster Cole said.

As well, once the do-not-call list is in operation, new CRTC telemarketing rules will take effect to govern the business of telemarketing further. They will restrict calling hours from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. The rules will also require telemarketers to identify themselves and explain why they are calling at the very start of a call.

Telemarketing generates billions in sales

Telemarketing is big business in Canada. In 2006 alone, $4.1 billion was spent on telemarketing in Canada, generating $26.1 billion in sales and creating 155,000 jobs.

Hundreds of thousands of businesses in Canada engage in telemarketing every year, according to Wally Hill, vice-president of public affairs and communications of the Canadian Marketing Association.

But Hill also acknowledged that telemarketing is the most intrusive form of marketing in Canada. He said the association received so many complaints about telemarketing that it finally increased its security at its front doors.

"Telemarketing is far and away the leading source of calls and complaints about marketing that we receive at our organization," he said.

Many telemarketing calls annoy Canadians, he said, calling the national do-not-call list a "consumer choice vehicle" that should ease some of the anger generated by telemarketing. Hill said he thinks it will also improve the business of marketing because it will lead to campaigns that are focused more on existing customers.

In 1993, the CMA set up its own do-not-contact program, and CMA members risk being expelled from the organization if they do not comply.

But Hill said it was not a "comprehensive solution," and that is why the CMA urged the federal government to set up a national do-not-call list.

U.S. do-not-call registry a major success

National do-not-call lists have been set up in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and India.

In the U.S., for example, the national do-not-call registry established in 2003 by the Federal Trade Commission is considered an overwhelming success. As of Oct. 5, 2007, it had 145,498,656 telephone numbers registered.

Since the registry launched, the FTC and the Department of Justice have filed 34 law enforcement actions against individuals and companies alleged to have violated the registry provisions.

In total, the two agencies have collected more than $16 million in civil penalties — the largest of which was $5.3 million from satellite television provider DirecTV in 2005.

"Consumers have made clear that they greatly value the do-not-call registry, and they must be able to depend on its privacy protection," said trade commission chairman Deborah Platt Majoras on Nov. 7, 2007.

"By bringing enforcement actions, … we will ensure that the small number of bad actors pay a price for not adhering to the law and respecting consumers' privacy requests."

 

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