In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) adopted an amended Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) citing consumer protection against unwanted marketing communications. As of Dec. 1, 2008, all prerecorded telemarketing sales calls must provide an automated, interactive opt-out feature for consumers. More significantly, beginning Sept. 1, 2009, automated sales communications can only be delivered to those recipients who have provided their express written consent to receive them.
Having an existing business relationship (EBR) will no longer suffice as sufficient approval for organizations to attempt to sell a good or service via an automated, prerecorded message. The FTC’s telemarketing amendment is a unique opportunity for organizations because it combines both critical and strategic issues: the urgency of a time deadline (that is, they must obtain permission by September 1, 2009) and a strategic opportunity that can impact long-term success by enabling more targeted, effective marketing.
The FTC’s amended TSR is a game changer. Organizations need to act quickly to maximize the percentage of consumers that they will be able to cost-effectively reach via automated calls to sell their goods and services.
Customer communications and brand loyalty
Companies establish a brand impression with their customers; the better and stronger the brand impression, generally the more profitable the relationship for the organization. Customer communications plays a major role in forming that brand impression. Yet how many organizations really know how each one of their customers prefers to be contacted? And under what circumstances?
For example, if you are running a special sale on an item your customers might be interested in purchasing, would they prefer to find out via e-mail? Voice message? Text message? Direct mail? Some combination of these? What if you wanted to make a special offer to members of your loyalty/reward program; how would your customers want to hear about this offer?
Each consumer has his or her own communication preferences. Some consumers want to receive e-mails; others would prefer voice or text messages, and still others would prefer to be called on their mobile phones. And many would prefer to receive communications through a combination of channels. It is important to ask consumers directly how they want to be communicated with so that you can develop a communication strategy that encompasses their preferences.
Communications are all about getting consumers to act. And here’s the point: if you know in advance what their preferences are, you will be in a much better position to have your communications break through and be acted upon. This will mean more market share, more revenue and more profit.
Once an organization determines the individual communication preferences of its consumers, it can then secure express written consent (that is, their permission) from these consumers. As a result, organizations will be well positioned to deliver relevant information to consumers who have expressed an interest in their goods or services.
Creating a Preference and Opt-In Program
Creating a preference and opt-in program
Seize this opportunity and create a formal “consumer communication preference and opt-in program.” The requirement to gain permission by September 1, 2009 creates an urgency to do so, while the value of understanding consumer preferences should create a strategic drive to do so as well.
Here are eight questions organizations should be asking themselves in order to comply with the amended TSR:
1. Do we have contact information for our customers and prospects?
2. Is this contact information complete and updated, for mobile phones, e-mails and land lines?
3. How do we keep contact information updated?
4. Do we understand our customers’ communications preferences? Do they prefer text messages, e-mail, voice messages, direct mail and/or live agents?
5. Do our customers’ communications preferences vary by the situation? Service reminder versus special sale offering versus loyalty program update versus fraud notification?
6. How do we track and update our customers’ evolving communications preferences?
7. Can our entire organization access our customers’ communications preferences?
8. What’s our organization’s plan to handle the September 1, 2009 TSR changes?
Those organizations who act swiftly and with purpose in creating a formal customer communication preference and opt-in program will have a head start in building a targeted, qualified list of customers who will welcome their communications. After all, it’s all about customer choice, so be sure to deliver your communications to those who want to receive them-in the manner they want to receive them.
Mark Friedman is the Chief Marketing and Business Development officer for SoundBite Communications. Mark has more than 20 years of experience in a range of marketing, sales and business development positions, with leading companies such as IBM, Lotus Development, Epoch Systems/EMC and Dragon Systems. During the six-year tenure as vice president for worldwide marketing for Kenan Systems (acquired by Lucent in 1999), Friedman played a major role in boosting the company’s sales from $20 million to $1.1 billion.
Most recently, Mark served as CEO of Peppercoin, a provider of card-based merchant loyalty programs that was acquired by Chockstone, Inc. in April 2007. Mark holds a degree in Systems Science Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, a B.S. degree in Finance from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a Masters in Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management. He can be reached at [email protected].