Consumers expect a certain level of communications and real-time updates on all aspects of their lives. From doctor’s appointment reminders to missed payment reminders to flight delay notifications, consumers want proactive updates from the companies they do business with. However, considering the multitude of state and federal rules that govern how and when businesses can contact consumers, meeting these expectations is no easy task.
What’s Your Purpose?
It’s most useful to think about the purpose of your communication first, as that will determine which regulations will apply. For example, the Telemarketing Sales Rule applies to, you guessed it, telemarketing. The same goes for various state laws – there are more restrictions placed on marketing communications than on purely informational messages.
When it comes to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, this think purpose first approach is critical. For instance, the rules will vary based on whether the call is for telemarketing, collections or informational purposes. If the communication is for telemarketing purposes, the rules are much stricter than if they are for informational purposes.
Beyond purpose, rules also vary based on what channel the business plans to use. Under the TCPA, a company must have prior express consent from the consumer before contacting them on a mobile device using an autodialer, recorded message or SMS text. And the consent must be written if the purpose is marketing. For collection agencies, there is also the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and regulations in most states to pay attention to when it comes to how you deliver a message.
For example, take the issue of leaving a message on an answering machine. The FDCPA requires collection agencies to make it known that just about any communication they initiate is an attempt to collect a debt. But, when they instead reach an answering machine, they find themselves between a rock and a hard place.
That’s because the FDCPA also prohibits disclosing to a third party (someone who is not the debtor) that a communication is an attempt to collect a debt. Since the agency can’t know who will listen to the message, they are at risk of violating the FDCPA if they do disclose why they called and if they don’t.
State vs. Federal – Competing Regulations
On top of federal regulations like the TSR (News - Alert), TCPA and FDCPA, there are state laws that may conflict with federal regulations. For example, the TCPA allows telemarketing (when it allows it at all) only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. customer local time. But various states have also weighed in on this topic – many prohibit calls before 9 a.m. while others say you can’t call after 8 p.m. One state even cuts you off at 5 p.m. and others say “not on my holidays.”
How Technology Can Help
Since many of the rules come in to play based on the communication technology being used, it’s only fair that the technology itself provide some protection against rule violations. Modern dialing systems, automated communications, customer interaction management solutions and integrated call records can all help meet and track compliance in several ways:
Automatically Compliant: Most modern dialing systems have sophisticated controls to monitor calling hours and holiday controls. The right technology system will enable companies to automatically configure guard rails based on individual state rules.
To Text or Not to Text: For mobile devices, being able to identify which numbers are mobile and which are landlines is critical for meeting TCPA regulations. Depending on the purpose of the communication, you must have either prior express consent or explicit written consent to message a mobile. If you don’t, your only recourse is to filter out mobile numbers. Today’s best systems can do this automatically.
The Devil is in the Details: Technology can also enable better documentation and tracking for compliance reporting. As difficult as it is to prove a negative like “we did not make that call”, good record keeping is your best defense against claims of regulatory transgressions.
With a smart approach that looks at purpose and form first and leverages the right technologies to support that strategy, companies can successfully navigate the minefield of compliance and deliver the right message to the right person at the right time.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi