Watching the BBC Three docu-soap The Call Centre, you could be forgiven for thinking the outbound telemarketing industry was in rude health. With more than a million people employed in the sector, and worth billions to the UK economy, it looks, as Cilla Black might say, a “lorra, lorra fun”.
After all, the boss in the show, Nev Wilshire, gives out group hugs, encourages practical pranks and has a catalogue of one liners – “Swallow that frown”, “Smile as you dial”, and “S.W.S.W.S.W.N. – some will, some won’t, so what? Next!” – which would put even Alan Partridge to shame.
But Wilshire’s mantra of “happy people sell” would appear lost on the vast majority of the public, who are signing up to the Telephone Preference Service faster than you can say “press one for delete”.
Triggered by millions of calls from PPI and injury claims lawyers, consumers are flocking to the TPS at a rate of about 170,000 a month. There are now estimated to be 19 million numbers on it, out of 24 million total landlines.
Yet suddenly the DM industry’s last line of defence – you can always opt-out – looks farcical following the news that people who’ve signed up for the TPS actually get twice as many nuisance calls as those who haven’t.
So, who’s to blame? The call centres? Johnny Foreigner? The toothless regulators? The Government?
Saldy, it seems, all four. Firstly, like it or not, there are plenty of call centres out there who don’t adhere to the TPS, some British, some operating overseas. Then there is the thorny issue of who regulates the industry, is it Ofcom, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the DMA, the Justice Department? There are even some people who work in the industry who still don’t know the answer to that one.
But is anyone actually going to do anything about it, before it’s too late?
Head of preference services John Mitchison claimed last year that both Ofcom and the ICO – which have the power to impose fines of up to £2m on lawbreakers – have made enforcement of the legislation a priority. Both have started to issue stiff penalties, but British homes continue to be bombarded with unwanted marketing calls.
In Germany outbound telemarketing without prior consent was outlawed entirely in 2009. Unless the UK authorities get their act together – and let’s not forget the responsibility of the telecoms firms either – calls for a similar ban in this country will gather pace…do we really want that?
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