Robocalling: The Good, the Bad and the Beyond
October 10, 2013
Overzealous use of automated dialing for message delivery (“robocalling”) systems threatens to diminish the valuable gains made since the creation of the do not call list and legislation enacted to protect consumers from unwanted phone calls.
When used for the delivery of important municipal and customer service information, these offerings are seen as effective. But when used improperly by debt collectors or overused in political campaigning, they do more than annoy consumers as is evidenced by the situations financial giant Bank of America (BoA) has found itself in.
BoA has been assessed a $32 million fine in connection with a robocalling case and reportedly faces another.
Image via Shutterstock
Further, inventors and others have developed and are pushing solutions that block robocalls. Robocalling clearly needs an image makeover ASAP. Before the baby is thrown out with the bath water, consider this:
Used for the delivery of important information such as road closings and safety issues by the appropriate departments, the systems provide an effective means to get the word out to masses that may not use or check email or stay tuned to local TV news.
I’ve received robocalls with information on road closings, interruption of municipal services (water, etc.) and missing persons, which I found informative and useful. Other uses cover amber alerts, lockdowns, reported scams, time changes for town events, and school cancellations due to inclement weather.
I’ve also received countless robocalls that I didn’t ask for nor found any value in. Some seemed vague and suspicious, and likely illegal.
Nonetheless, I’d be the first to recommend that municipalities that don’t have these systems invest in them. I see them as a tool for potential good by businesses I patronize. I like what I’ve heard. That’s the good.
The bad, for the most part, is the over aggressive use of these systems by political parties, candidates for elected office, pollsters and miscellaneous related research firms. With some political contest seemingly monthly, the above-mentioned groups begin their bombardments early and are relentless in their use of the systems. Sadly, this gives the technology products a bad name, not always those who misuse it.
It seems only the dog officer and tree warden run unopposed in election so that leaves all other candidates, others from their party and their party from robocalling you with messages. These systems are better used by municipalities and responsible merchants with whom you do business. The latter group is more likely to leave informative messages – such as when your car is ready to be picked up or confirming an appointment made long ago – than to deliver a sales pitch.
Though the pollsters and “researchers” want to speak with you and don’t deliver a pre-recorded message or just disconnect in the absence of a live recipient, they are in my “bad” group or “the rest group” as they give technology products a bad rep.
Polls and municipalities aren’t the only ones drawn by the allure of robocall products. Merchants in several vertical industries – retail, healthcare, automotive, etc. – have embraced the offerings, but focusing first on improving customer service through timely information delivery rather than sales pitches. Perhaps large lessons have been learned from the long reign of telemarketers.
Another powerful reason is the reality that many merchants – especially retailers, restaurants, contractors, auto garages etc. etc. already reach consumers via staple direct mail, TV and radio ads, newspaper spots, email and coupon mailers and have little need to revive telemarketing.
But a reminder of an upcoming doctor’s appointment, a notification that a prescription is ready for pickup or a ping that your car has been repaired and is waiting don’t cross the line from useful into annoying. It’s just the opposite as these types of information enhance customer service, which is a pain point for many merchants and patrons.
Best Practices: Townie Tales
These systems (and/or services where available) can represent a valuable tool with which to build a technology-savvy and effective “smart town.” That presupposes the existence of a chief town technology officer (CTTO) or an equally savvy and empowered architect.
While my town is not yet technology-rich, I give those that use the automated systems high marks as much for what they don’t use them for as for how and when they do out them to use.
First and foremost, they don’t overuse the systems. For example, they don’t enhance certain top priority information delivery vehicles such as notifications of school closings. And there are no marketing or sales pitches. No calls alerting you to very low-priority developments such as a change to the school lunch menu. Only important and relevant info is delivered. By using the systems in this way, the robocalls made are likely given a high priority. They are especially time-sensitive and issued accordingly.
When use of a product or service has by another group is overzealous, annoying or crosses legal boundaries, it’s best for other groups to take the baby-steps approach and expand over time than to implement a full-court press and risk joining the “worst-practices” crew.
The Bottom Line
Unwise and/or unappealing use of any product or service will rub consumers the wrong way and cast a pall over beneficial and productive implementations that advance the greater good. While this may seem like a “captain obvious” statement, the current status of robocalling epitomizes the real world issues faced.
Responsible use of technology offerings such as robocalling may not result in big profits or easy ROIs. But then it’s always tough to put a price tag (News - Alert) on well-informed consumers, public safety and customer service.
Edited by Alisen Downey