If you haven't yet learned about efforts by carriers or software providers to block or label automated calls to consumers, you soon will. Or at least you certainly should. When you dig in, you'll learn that there are more than 500 application (app) providers, which consider themselves 'editorial services,' and four major carriers (though there are many more smaller ones) which have recently been given permission by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to a) not deliver certain calls and b) provide their customers with the ability to opt-in to additional blocking/labeling services to help avoid fraudulent or unwanted calls.
All of this has left the heads of legitimate call originators spinning. Recently, Verizon posted guidance for these firms on its website. The carrier suggests the following best practices, which can help avoid being blocked or inappropriately labeled.
Follow practices known to constitute good call center hygiene.
- Provide a consistent, real, and user-dialable telephone number with every call you make. Calls with a calling party number that is invalid or not assigned to the caller are often associated with spam. You may want to consult your account representative at your service provider if you are unsure about this best practice.
- Do not "random wardial" and do not call unassigned numbers frequently. Unreasonable answer and completion rates are often associated with spam.
- Align the context and content of your calls to a specific traceable calling party number for the duration of that number's assignment to a particular campaign. Avoid using the same telephone number for multiple purposes. For example, using the same number for marketing, surveys, and support callbacks would typically increase the likelihood of being categorized as spam. It is recommended that numbers that are re-assigned for other purposes or allocated to other providers go through a 45-day waiting period.
- Avoid unusual spikes in traffic volumes, and follow and document your expected and normative call pattern description (e.g. 10,000 caller per day).
- Comply with "Do Not Call" lists and other TCPA requirements, and provide a number / contact information that called parties can use to prosecute or report any alleged violations of law.
- Provide and document a consistent Calling Name profile that matches the context of the calls you are making and your callback information.
Use common sense to minimize the risk that consumers report your calls as spam or file complaints about you with government agencies.
- Legitimate calling parties should never use abusive language, call too frequently, have perceptible delays in the quality or reliability of connection, or make unsolicited calls at odd hours.
- Legitimate callers should always provide clear identification of the calling party, along with clear-and-easy opt-out directions.
Also of note is that Verizon recently announced it was the first to release robocall screening assist for landlines. (emphasis added)
As Amy Perkins -- Chief of Content for insideARM -- shared in her recent article, Call Blocking/Labeling: Big Impact, But Little Understanding, this matters to collection and recovery leaders because:
- If you contact customers via the telephone, you will be impacted (the impact may have already started).
- If your calls are inappropriately flagged as spam calls, they may be blocked by carriers or by mobile phone apps.
- If your calls aren’t blocked, but are mislabeled (the analytics companies will decide how legitimate calls are labeled) on the caller ID, you may not get through to your customers.
- If you take no action, there’s a high probability you will see a sharp decline in RPC rates and your customers will be in the dark.
Most legitimate collection operations likely already comply with most of the above recommendations (although some of us in the industry have also been working to educate carriers and app developers about the nuances of calling patterns in collections). However the toughest challenge may be the last item - "Legitimate callers should always provide clear identification of the calling party..." ...except if you are a debt collector whose name might give that away.
Regulators, please take note: the requirements of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (from 1977) says that collectors may not communicate about a debt with a third party, except in limited circumstances. The definition of "communicate" has been very broadly defined by the courts over the years and has led to volumes of litigation related to leaving voicemail messages (among other things), because standard voicemail technology required a consumer to listen to a recording in the open, where others might hear.
So, consumers are demanding to know who is calling them and why. Carriers and hundreds of software companies have jumped into the fray to help -- with the full encouragement of the FCC and other regulators. But providing this information to consumers in the case of debt collection is likely considered a violation of the FDCPA (there's a HIPAA issue too, as it relates to healthcare accounts, but we'll leave that for another time). It's time to revisit this broad definition of third party disclosure and give consumers the information they want.
By Stephanie Eidelman