Nuisance calls – Action required from all angles

Nuisance calls have become a real talking point in the media recently. The issue has now earned ‘plague level’ status, with around 100,000 individual complaints made to the ICO last year. But cleaning up the industry will require the right actions from all parties, whether they be call centres, recipients of the calls, network operators, or the regulator. To clear things up we’ve suggested what we think is required from each angle in order to put an end to nuisance calls for good, and change the communications industry for the better…

The Recipient

For recipients of multiple nuisance calls, emotions can be running high. It’s not always possible for the number to be called back, leaving the victim scouring the internet to find someone responsible for their annoyance or distress. We’ve set out 4 definitive steps below, that you should take if you receive a nuisance call.

  1. The first step should ALWAYS be to contact the company who called and ask them to add your number to their do not contact list. The company will then be legally obliged to comply with your request.
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  3. If you haven’t already, take practical action by registering your number with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). No company is permitted to make sales or marketing calls to TPS registered phone numbers for which consent has not been given.
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  5. Depending on the type of call you’ve received, report the issue to the appropriate organisation. For live sales calls report to the TPS, for silent/abandoned calls complain to Ofcom, for automated spam report directly to the ICO, and for any kind of immediate threat you should contact the police.
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  7. If you continue to receive calls having taken the steps above, contact the ICO by directly and explain your situation.

As a recipient of nuisance calls, it’s important that the actions above are followed, and that the right avenues are taken to resolve the situation. The ICO is the UK governmental body assigned to regulate nuisance calls, it’s not the responsibility of communications networks or other organisations to enforce the rules, but that doesn’t mean they should sit back and do nothing to help clean up the industry…

The Network Operator

Network operators, although not directly responsible for policing the calls that occur on their networks, should feel a desire to help legitimise the industry by promoting good practice on the part of their customers. This promotion of good practice should happen right the way through the customer relationship. Customers should be offered useful guides about complying with regulations or provided with links to the ICO’s web pages.

Network operators should also do what they can to help with nuisance call complaints that they receive directly from the recipient. Complaints will often be directed to the communications provider if a nuisance call recipient has searched the internet for the number that called them and been lead to the provider’s website. In this case, the provider should have a thorough process in place to try to identify which of their customers is responsible for the nuisance call and ask them to resolve the issue as soon as possible. This will boost the provider’s reputation, helping them to identify rogue companies and promote good practice.

Many communications providers offer cleansing services, but these services do not alway promote compliance with sales and marketing regulations. Providers should consider offering a TPS cleansing service if they don’t already do so, as this can remove the hassle for customers worried about making sales calls to TPS registered numbers.

The Call Centre

With the nationwide nuisance calls crack down gaining momentum, it really is in the call centre’s best interest to comply with regulations. The ICO can now issue fines of up to £500,000, and the rules around sales and marketing calls are getting stricter. If a call centre’s moral standards don’t force them to ensure they’re compliant, the hefty fines and tougher regulations will. But there’s something important here – the call centre can and should operate in a moral and ethical way, and most do, but the nuisance calls problem is also about looking at the bigger picture and seeing the benefits that can come from improving the industry as a whole. Imagine a world where call centres are portrayed by the public as helpful organisations, able to solve customer issues and contact them with offers that they genuinely want and need.

But how can you be sure you’re covered?

In short, get up to speed with regulations. There is excellent guidance provided on the ICO’s website, and we strongly recommend campaign managers and other call centre professionals get familiar with it. But the first step is to ensure you have valid consent to contact the individuals on your marketing lists. If you make a sales call to a number registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) without prior consent, you will be breaching regulations. Some communication networks provide TPS cleansing services as part of their offering, and this can even be free of charge.

Another key requirement is good training and education for call centre agents. Being the staff on the front line, agents need to have a full understanding of the rights of the called party, and how to follow the correct procedures when an issue arises. Recently, a £90,000 fine was issued to Kwik Fix Plumbers limited, who “failed to ensure that employees had a good understanding of the regulations regarding sales and marketing calls”. Agents should know exactly how to react to opt-out requests from a called party.

The Regulator

The ICO is the body responsible for enforcing the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations. This means they are responsible for ensuring rogue companies are not able to abuse electronic communications networks by making nuisance calls and text messages to those who do not wish to receive them. However, the ICO cannot do all this on its own, and required co-operation from all other parties. The ICO is working with the government to make the consequences higher for companies that break the rules, by increasing fines that can be issued, and tightening their grip on the offending firms.

Continuing their efforts to stamp out the issue by recommending the appropriate changes to the law and carrying out investigations in response to complaints should have a significant affect on the number of complaints received in the future. But again, action will be required from all angles to put an end to the nuisance calls issue for good.