Unsolicited messages, particularly phone calls and other electronic communications from direct marketers-also referred to as nuisance calls-to promote products and services directly to consumers may soon be a thing of the past.

This is according to Andre Schoeman, executive at Jasco, who says a nuisance call is one where a consumer has not expressly given consent to receive marketing communication in relation to a particular product or service.

“However, it should be noted that a call by a service provider to remind a customer of an overdue bill, on the other hand, does not qualify as a nuisance call,” he says.

“The common and rather undesirable approach by businesses is to purchase personal information including contact details from various sources and use this information to cold-call potential clients, without any consideration to the person’s demographics or other personal attributes that might influence his reaction to the call,” he says.

According to Schoeman, such unsolicited messages, which target a wide audience but only receive positive responses from a relatively small number of people, are neither effective nor persuasive.

“This approach which is sadly employed by many direct marketers often has the unintended consequence of inflicting serious reputational damage to the organisation. Direct marketing entities should therefore be aware of the potential reputational damage that nuisance calls can cause to their brands.

“When you sell rugby paraphernalia to a soccer fanatic for example, this is obviously going to annoy the person on the other end of the line and your brand reputation can suffers immensely in the process.”

However, Schoeman says there is a way of intelligently integrating customer relationship management (CRM) systems to an out-bound call centre in a manner that adds value and enhance the overall customer experience. This, he believes, is where companies should focus their energies.

“When out-bound diallers are integrated into CRM systems, the success rate is much higher because the system will place the customer’s track record at the call centre agent’s disposal allowing the agent to tailor the message to each customer,” he explains. “Companies can realise better return on such investments because the information shared is welcome and adds value to the customer.”

A recent news item indicated that a UK-based company was fined nearly R2 million for generating nuisance calls to randomly selected customers. Schoeman says South Africa may be headed in the same direction and that companies could soon be sanctioned for making similar nuisance calls.

“Consumers are losing their patience with unsolicited direct marketing tactics,” says Schoeman.

He echoes other legal opinions that point to the fact that the South African legal framework, to a large degree, already prohibits nuisance calls and the argument put forward by the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMSA) seeking to delay the immediate application of section 69 of the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popi) because it will result in job losses, is therefore irrelevant.

Section 69 of the Popi Act prescribes that consumers must consent to receiving electronic direct marketing messages.

At present, the DMSA is engaging with regulators to find middle ground on the issue but Schoeman believes the association is unlikely to persuade the regulator to delay by three years the implementation of the “opt-in” clause, as they have requested, when privacy issues are weighed against the economic argument put forward by the DMSA.