By Brian Moore, Executive Director, Varolii
New research shows that consumers want more real-time communications from enterprises with whom they do business. However, these rising expectations are on a collision course with federal and state regulations governing how and when companies communicate with consumers.
In a recent survey of 1,000 American consumers commissioned by Varolii, more than 75 percent of consumers said they find automated messages from companies are extremely helpful and welcome. The most valued messages are critical notices – from credit card fraud alerts to power restoration notifications – and reminders to take actions, such as making a payment or refilling a prescription. In fact, a majority of respondents
(70 percent) believe these communications could have helped them avoid issues in the past, including bank account overdrafts, late payment fees, missing a delivery, or waiting too long for a delivery.
Beyond wanting messages, the study also found that nearly eight out of 10 respondents trust the judgment of the companies they do business with to know how and when to contact them. But, federal and state regulations might not. What consumers think constitutes consent and what the rules define as consent are two entirely separate issues.
In fact, more than 80 percent of individuals surveyed say they have given consent to receive automated messages from companies through an online form, via email or over the phone. And, one quarter automatically assume companies they work with can reach out to them.
However, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 dictates that companies cannot autodial or send text messages to mobile phones without the prior express consent of the recipient. And, if the message is a marketing solicitation, consent must be in writing – which less than one-third of consumers say they have done.
Despite this clear mandate from the TCPA for express consent, the majority of respondents (84 percent) strongly believe that if they give their cell phone number as their primary contact to a company, then it is acceptable for that company to contact them.
And, consumers increasingly want these types of mobile communications, regardless of what the rules say. Seventy-nine percent of Americans have given their cell number to a company, with more than one-quarter of respondents indicating they usually or always provide their cell number. While many still value an email or phone call, text messaging is fast becoming the preferred channel of communication for a majority of American consumers. One in five is just as likely to prefer a text message as they are to being reached on their home or cell phone. And, among 18-to-24-year-olds, this number is even higher – with more than 36 percent citing text messages as their preferred form of communication with businesses.
Yet, regulations still dictate that in the vast majority of situations, the consumer must grant specific oral or written consent before a company can contact them on a mobile phone. The only exception to this rule? When a mobile number is provided to a creditor in connection with a debt undertaken by the consumer and they are communicating about that debt.
So what should companies do? How can you protect yourself from TCPA liability if you do need to autodial or message them? Here are a few tips:
· Add consent language to any agreements, along the lines of “You authorize us to call or send a text message to any number you provide or to any number where we reasonably believe we can contact you. These include calls or texts to a mobile or cellular device, and calls using automatic telephone dialing systems and/or prerecorded messages.”
· Update all customer intake forms (credit applications, service sign-ups etc.) to include consent granting language.
· Keep track of the source and type (mobile, landline, business) of the phone numbers in your system of record. Implement a consent status check box for each one with a mandatory note field to document the date and reason for any changes.
· Train your contact center staff to regularly update phone information and verify consent when speaking with borrowers.
· Filter out any mobile numbers for which you do not have consent from your autodialer and messaging campaigns. If you aren’t sure if a number is mobile or not, contract the services of a reliable vendor to scrub against both the assigned and ported mobile number databases.
More than anything, the challenge of various federal and state regulations doesn’t mean we should stop reaching out to customers. It just means that companies must find the right blend of customer outreach that gets information to customers while still adhering to various rules.
About the Author
Brian Moore is the Executive Director of Financial Services for Varolii Corporation, joined the company in 2001 with more than 25 years of experience in collections operations and technology. Prior to Varolii, he was Executive Director of Channel Development for Lucent Technologies CRM Solutions, where he established the Professional Services division to deliver consulting and systems integration services focused on the collections market. Brian is also the company’s resident compliance expert. For more details on contact compliance regulations affecting your business, visit www.ContactCompliance.com.