Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Abbey National fined £30,000 by Ofcom & the future of Outbound in Financial Services

Interesting news last week from Ofcom, the UK communications regulator.

Back in 2007, Ofcom began investigation into Abbey National making 'silent calls' to customers and issued a formal notification in November. Last week, Ofcom ruled that Abbey had breached the rules on outbound calls and fined them £30,000. The announcement is here.

For those not familiar with outbound calling (and Ofcom rules), it's probably best you have a look at a past post of mine like "Outbound, an explanation of the technology" or "Outbound - industry reputation, branding and regulation".

The Ofcom rules are relatively straightforward. If you are dialling more calls than you have agents to speak (as you assume that some of the dialled numbers will not be answered, be answered phones, etc...), then only 3% of those outbound calls can be silent in a 24 hour period. A silent call is where a customer answers the ringing phone but the call centre finds it has already allocated calls to all its agents. I'm not a fan of this use of predictive dialling as I feel it's an effective way of bringing a firm into disrepute. The cost of re-building a brand is huge in comparison to the sales that cold outbound calling could generate. Doing this to existing customers is just a fast way of irritating customers for whom the organisation has already paid an acquisition cost. It's also the case that while a fine of £30,000 is not a huge cost for a firm the size of Abbey, the cost of compliance going forward (running reports every 24hours for Ofcom, extra management costs, etc...) are quite significant.

The problem with incidents like Abbey's is that consumers will ask the TPS (Telephone Preference Service) to add them to a 'do not call' list. The pity of this is that legitimate and useful uses of outbound, such as companies may well be restricted calling to alert their customers of problems with (say) their bank account, or a new product that they legitimately feel will be of interest.

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