The compliance controversy part two: What does "Safe Harbor" mean for your company?Jim HamiltonDo not call,Compliance,Jim Hamilton,Hamilton Becoming compliant with the Federal Trade Commission's Do-Not-Call laws is not as hard as many think, but it can be confusing--especially for those who have not kept up with the number of industry changes that have occurred over the past five years. To help, the FTC has published a 58-page document entitled "Complying with the Telemarketing Sales Rule," available at www.ftc.gov/bcp/rulemaking/tsr/tsr-review.htm. However, this lengthy document can be overwhelming. This article will address a specific provision of the regulations know as the "Do-Not-Call Safe Harbor." This section (which can be found on page 42 of the FTC's document) basically says that if a company is in compliance with all regulations regarding sales calls and the DNC list and the company makes a mistake or an "error," fines will not be incurred. The stipulation, however, is that overall compliance must be proven. This is one of the functions of a call/audit trail--a list of numbers that have been checked and/or called. If a company can provide this record, then they have taken a giant leap towards being able to prove compliance and are thus covered by "Safe Harbor Provisions." But there is more to becoming worry-free. The FTC demands compliance with all regulations and keeping a call/audit trail is only one part of the process. For instance, a quick list of regulations includes: †The need to keep a call/audit trail (this doesn't have to be done in-house, but if it is outsourced, be certain you have easy access to the list). †You must send your Caller ID information and not block it. You must have a do-not-call policy created for your company that can be sent out to individuals upon request. †Any person making sales calls for the company should be trained in DNC policies and procedures. †You must disclose to the consumer who you are and why you are calling. For example, "Hi, Mr. Johnson. My name is Bob and I am calling you on behalf of Authtel to discuss their Web site, www.callpermission.com." (Some states have more stringent versions of this law than others.) †The seller or telemarketer must have established and implemented procedures to honor consumers' requests that they not be called. In other words, the seller or telemarketer must have an up-to-date in-house do-not-call list. Each of these items is fairly straightforward and not difficult to implement. There are costs involved, but using a service provider that can effectively use economies of scale to keep costs down can often minimize the expense. The alternative is to hire an individual whose job it is to specifically handle these policies. This of course can be expensive and risky. Outsourcing to a company that specializes in compliance is often the best option. When looking at service providers, here are some questions to ask: †Can the company check numbers against the national and state DNC lists as well as your own in-house DNC list? †Will the company also keep you aware of sales-call and telemarketing laws that don't pertain specifically to DNC regulations but can impact your telemarketing efforts? Ultimately, it is not just about checking numbers--you want to make sure that your entire program is compliant. †Will the company provide an easy-to-read call/audit trail on a periodic basis as well as on demand? †Do you have a dedicated individual whom you can call when you need assistance? There are many bad practices still out there that can get you in trouble and lead to fines. We all still get calls from people who refuse to let the consumer hang up and so forth. These practices give the entire industry a bad name, not to mention additional excuses for people to simply hang up. Consumers are fighting back by getting to know their rights surrounding these regulations. It is the consumer's job to initiate a complaint and many are more than happy to do so. In fact, it is for just this reason that the number of fines is increasing on an almost daily basis. As more consumers begin to understand their power over their telephones, it stands to reason that they will also become aware of other telephone violations, making it essential that responsible telemarketers comply with all laws. Companies using an automated message to make calls have already taken a few blows. This is just the beginning. I believe that by the middle of next year, if not earlier, consumers will be reporting companies for anything from blocking Caller ID information to being misleading or not stating the purpose for the call. And it will be their pleasure. It is our job as responsible telemarketers to ease the anger and not give consumers a reason to report bad behavior--all of which is possible through compliance. Jim Hamilton is marketing manager for Authtel LLC, a company specializing in permission-based telemarketing and compliance with DNC regulations. He can be reached at (888) 849-5207 or e-mail [email protected].