In their continual drive to engage consumers, marketers barrage people with unwanted texts and phone calls. More often than not, that steams those who get autodialed on their home phones and infuriates people who get such calls on their cellphones. Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, has called the robotic "Rachel from cardholder services" public enemy No. 1.
Now, responding to consumer complaints, the Federal Communications Commission has modified telemarketing regulations to better align with FTC rules for prerecorded marketing calls. If your company uses telemarketing to reach consumers, you'll want to make sure your business processes and IT systems adhere to the new regulations. Failing to do so could cost you. For a company that makes prerecorded marketing calls to consumers without explicit permission, the statutory damages are now $500 to $1,500 per text or call. Noncompliant marketing campaigns could rack up millions in fines.
Marketers must now obtain "prior express written consent" from each person that they contact via residential landline or cellphone with prerecorded messages or autodialed texts. This rule, effective since Oct. 16, 2013, eliminates the exception for "established business relationships" that allowed telemarketing messages to existing customers and others who provided their phone numbers. Strictly informational robocalls and texts (school closings, notifications of potentially fraudulent banking activity, etc.) are still OK.
How do you acquire the necessary permissions? First, realize that "prior consent" means permission must be granted before the first call or automated text message. The permission-granting document must include a "clear and conspicuous disclosure" that the signatory will receive advertising from the named company.
Signatures may be obtained on paper, but it is more common to follow the provisions of the E-Sign Act and collect electronic consents. E-signatures can be received through texts, websites or social media. All signatures must conform to federal law or state contract law.
Beware: Consent to contact people is not transferable among a company's multiple brands. In other words, Diageo might get someone's permission to contact him with information about Johnnie Walker, but it would need a separate consent from the same individual to contact him about Smirnoff.
Companies will also have to take steps to allow consumers to easily opt out of unwanted communications. People should be able to opt out of receiving texts by responding with "stop" or "end." And robocalls should include an "opt-out" menu option at the beginning of each call that can be accessed throughout the call. Once a consumer selects that option, the call should be terminated, and he should receive no future calls.
But you should consider offering multiple levels of opting in or opting out, which allow for more closely targeted marketing campaigns. Consumers are more willing to provide personal information if they expect to receive communications that are truly relevant to them, so tailoring several layers can be worth the extra effort.
All this will likely require changes to websites, databases and robocall menu options. In addition, IT systems must track permission status and changes, forwarding timely notifications to corporate databases. Allocate resources now!