Can those calls from 70xxx….. build brands?

“Customer is not dependent on us, we are dependent on him. We are not doing him a favor by serving him; he is doing us a favor by giving an opportunity to do so” said Mahatma Gandhi, in an era of unquestionable government monopoly over the services sector.

But several decades later; banks, insurance companies, holiday resorts, telecom service providers; none seem concerned about their customers. They see nothing wrong in customers getting harassed by pesky calls from telemarketers and seem quite happy that the DNC (Do Not Call) registry – an initiative of telecom regulator to check unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) to consumers, has failed miserably.

In fact, telcos themselves resort to a lot of unsolicited SMS and IVR (playing out recorded messages) for communicating their product/tariff offers to subscribers and do not wish to forego this virtually free medium for promotion. They opposed TRAI‘s proposal for ‘Do Call’ registry (in place of DNC), on the pretext that it would kill a USD 2.5 billion business segment that employs more than half a million people! By that logic, do we let ‘drug trafficking’ to thrive, for the quantum of business it does and people it employs? Certainly not; legitimacy and ethics must take precedence over all other considerations.

For telecom sector, lawmakers probably anticipated the potential misuse of telephones very early and included Section 427 on ‘Illegal or improper use of telephone’ as part of ‘The Indian Telegraph Rules, 1951′. Although that section considers the use of telephone to disturb or irritate any person as ‘illegal’, telemarketers (very often, mobile service providers themselves) seem to be routinely flouting the rule.

Just because only 90 million subscribers have registered for DNC does not mean that other 610 million mobile users can be disturbed at will. Majority of them do not know what DNC is and many are not aware of the process for DNC registration. However, rather than educating those customers about the utility of DNC, telcos only add to non-DNC base by systematically keeping the new subscribers away from it!

Can the larger base of non-DNC users help marketers build brands? Not really. It is common experience that UCCs disrupt executives at work, disturb aged people in the middle of afternoon and often make wrong offers like ‘personal loan offered to the finance minister!’

All these calls directly cost the users if they are ‘roaming’ and indirectly cost everyone – if he/she misses an important call while attending to a UCC or loses a message because phone memory is flooded by promotional SMSes. Moreover, language proficiency and communication skills of many callers (agents), working on low salaries of Rs. 3~5000 pm are inadequate and the daily target of over 100 contacts further worsens the quality of their calls. Therefore, a call or SMS from telemarketer is mostly seen as nuisance.

On the whole, telemarketers can either end up irritating a few potential customers – who have not registered for DNC or hold long conversations with those – who have plenty of time to opt for ‘Do Call’ registry. In either case, telemarketing would not really make a positive contribution to marketing efforts.

Further, TRAI has now recommended a special series for telecalling numbers – starting from 70, blocking of calls from such numbers to DNC subscribers and a hefty penalty on defaulting telemarketers. It is perhaps time for marketers to drop UCC as a promotion tool and evolve better ways of reaching out the consumers.