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Should telemarketing be banned?
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February 17, 2005

Insensitive and rampant soliciting of customers on the phone may hurt the brand being marketed, but banning it altogether is not a solution either.

Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc

Neha wakes me up at 2 am in the morning in Boston.

Uma shakes me out of a deep slumber in Frankfurt at just about half past three. I wake up in a sweat both times. My mobile is never switched off -- my work is thus.

Ban unsolicited phone calls, urges PIL

Working in different geographies means being able to stay in touch. Neha is from Stanchart (or so she claims, as most outsourced operatives do) and wants to know if I want a draft on loan. Seema is from Citibank, Chennai. She wants me to take a Diner's Card. Never mind that I have one now for the past 20 years.

I get an average of six calls every waking day. Someone either wants me to own that "absolutely amazing timeshare" in Timbuctoo, or it is my time to be "the lucky winner of an experience of a lifetime". I am tired of all this.

The Supreme Court's mention on telemarketing in response to the public interest litigation filed on the subject is the ultimate recognition of this menace. It's time to put a stop to it and get going with processes that seek to protect the privacy of the consumer. I am a marketer at heart but my soul is that of a consumer. Each of us is a marketer and a consumer at the same time. The consumer in me cries out to stop this menace.

Let's remember that marketers who think like the consumer does are more in touch with reality than the ones who get carried away by the potential of the medium of telemarketing altogether. Let's look at some of the issues. Marketing evolves. But it must evolve with the consumer's want and need.

Just as the consumer have wants and needs in the realm of products and services that they want to use and partake of, they are also are capable of expressing their needs, wants, desires and aspirations of how they want to be communicated to.

Ask the savvy consumer in the marketplace. If the marketer can be a savvy entity by the process of his education in the realm of marketing and his diverse experiences, the consumer is savvy as well. She has been marketed-to for a long time.

The savvy consumer is fed up of the way she is spoken to. The communication has been top-down for far too long and the marketer is just about waking up to communicating at level terms with the consumer.

A time will come when the marketer will communicate bottom-up and the consumer is really begged to, to buy. Today, however, the consumer is tired of the calls that pester than placate a need and want.

We started in the good old days by marketing 1:1. Selling, marketing and advertising happened one-on-one. When this became difficult, marketing assumed the easier and more practicable route of going 1: many. Here, mass media like television played a big role.

While branding seems to work here, nothing else does. Mass marketing is too mass-driven. Wanting to solve this problem, direct marketing of the 1:1 kind happened in many markets of the developed world. Direct marketing such as the mailer kind happened. And so did telemarketing. And both killed the goose that had the potential of laying the golden egg, by insensitive and rampant use.

Telemarketing is an excellent tool if used sensitively and with caution. Marketing is, however, a democracy. It is exploited by everyone till consumers cry out in pain to stop. Direct marketing of the insensitive-mailer kind had the US market scream in pain. And telemarketing had the US, Europe, the UK and Japan scream in anger.

The kind of telemarketing we practice in India is insensitive and intolerable. I believe this is the time to put an end to it. We need a national register of "Do not call" numbers. And if Sneha still calls, it's time to claim that $11,000 compensation from the insensitive company she represents.

Let's remember, the onus to find out which is a DNC number lies with the court of the telemarketer.

From the marketer's perspective, it would be wise to remember that the equity of your brand is exposed to the risk of being sullied if your ill-trained, insensitive and mechanical readers of the telemarketing script continue to irritate the high-net worth consumer in the market.

H N Sinor, Chief Executive, Indian Banks' Association

The Supreme Court has recently admitted a PIL that seeks the Court's intervention against calls made by telemarketing agencies claiming that these calls invade the customers' privacy.

While the PIL hearing process will take its due course, the attention seems to be focusing on the telemarketing agencies/ direct sales agents.

Before we pass any judgement against these agencies, their role needs to be seen from a different perspective, particularly in relation to the evolution of the consumption-driven economic growth of the country.

The current economic boom has resulted in higher spending by the usually-conservative Indian consumers. According to the ministry of statistics, the private final consumption expenditure has risen by 8.3 per cent during 2003-04 in comparison with the previous year, and this is the highest growth rate in 23 years.

A rise in PFCE growth rate also suggests a rise in the income in the hands of the customer. Considering that this component forms 60 per cent of the GDP measured by the expenditure or demand method (as compared with the GDP by economic activity, which divides the GDP into agriculture, industry and services), it suggests that most of the rise in the GDP is coming from PFCE growth.

One of the main reasons for the PFCE growth has been the banks' ability to extend their retail services at the consumer's doorstep. The banks have achieved this through the services of the direct sales agents or the direct marketing agents. The DSAs are entrepreneurs who employ agents and have ability to offer personalised service to the end customers.

These agents provide scale and cost efficiency that gets passed on to the end consumer. The growth of these intermediaries has also created new employment opportunities and has further fuelled consumerism.

Currently, about 15-20,000 young men and women are employed by direct sales agents of banks as telemarketing agents and field sales personnel.

The agents bring convenience, comfort and speed in today's fast-paced life of the customers by offering door-to-door services. The customer gets personalised services and the service providers are able to offer this service only because of the efficiency that the agents bring to the delivery channel.

This is evidenced from the fact that 40 to 50 per cent of cards and upto 25 per cent of retail loans are sold through telemarketing, which translates into at least 300,000 cards a month.

Pro-active sales initiatives by banks have improved consumer awareness and knowledge of products exponentially over the past five years. This has benefited consumers by way of lower annual fees, lower rates of interest on retail loans, improved service, and so on.

Telemarketing enables banks to significantly reduce sales-related expenditure that is being passed on to the consumers, which may not be possible under a direct sales approach. As a measure of cost dynamics, tele-sales is at least 40 to 50 per cent more economical than other sales options.

The advent of mobile technology has further enabled the banks widen the net of "anywhere banking". What is, however, needed is an urgent need on the part of the banks to put in place a self-regulatory mechanism that is designed to protect customer privacy.

The Indian Banks' Association is highly sensitised towards this need and, in conjunction with the Reserve Bank of India [Get Quote] and the constituent banks, is taking concrete steps to put in place a self-regulatory mechanism in the form of a fair practice code to be followed by the banks, a model code of conduct for the DSAs involved in the banks' business, and an effective consumer redressal mechanism to address consumer grievances.

Several measures are being considered to handle unsolicited calls from telemarketers. One such proposed solution is the institution of a "Do not call" registry mechanism, which will help the customer avoid unwanted telephonic solicitation calls by placing their contact details on this common registry.

Another measure could be the setting up of a ring-tone that will advise the caller that it is a sales call. This service can be activated by the consumer when he does not want to be disturbed. These methods are technically possible and our telecom service providers should offer them to customers.

Any approach to ban promotional and marketing calls will deprive the customers of the benefits and be a severe hindrance to those who are open to receiving information about various products and services. The solution is to empower the consumer and give him the choice of receiving a call rather than banning the activity altogether.

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