Telephone marketing for softwashing – legal or illegal?
A customer brought our attention to the fact that American phone marketing techniques are being advocated for UK softwash contractors.
But the the laws around unsolicited marketing calls in the UK and Ireland are very different to the US and are now extremely strict.
In the 1980s Leo was involved in cold call telephone marketing to companies, with excellent results. But because so many spammers deluged individuals and companies with unsolicited sales messages the legal folks tightened the laws to limit the practice. The result is that now everyone suffers from the stupidity of a few.
We were intending doing phone marketing to promote Benz Softwash – Leo actually enjoys cold calling (! yes, really :) ) – until our research kicked up the information in this post and we were forced to abandon our plans.
Today, any company who falls foul of the legislation lays themselves open to prosecution and fines. Whether we like it or not, this legislation is a fact of life today.
What about GDPR and phone marketing?
With the advent of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) the scenario has become even more complex. Today, any company sending unsolicited emails or phone messages to private individuals – or companies – is running some serious risks.
And of course there will be a big black mark placed against a company name for the rest of eternity if they are found guilty of abusing the data protection laws.
Under GDPR, for a company to contact even an existing customer that customer must first have given clear permission for them to do so. Contacting the customer without their prior permission will lay a company open to prosecution under GDPR legislation (fines of up to 20 MILLION Euros are possible for large companies.Yes, you read that right.).
Fortunately for smaller companies and contractors, GDPR is primarily – at the present time at least – after the big players. And they themselves state that a warning shot will be fired prior to the implementation of their draconian fines. Even so ...
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) and phone marketing
There's more heavy-duty legislation on the way that will give the government ICO (Information Commissioners Office) power to personally fine the directors of companies making nuisance calls up to £500.000.
In 2016/17, the Information Commissioner issued 23 companies more than £1.9 MILLION of fines for nuisance marketing. And there have been nearly £18 MILLION of fines issued since 2010. So this is a very real fact that we must all, if we are wise, take into account.
Is cold calling illegal?
This is an extremely complex subject with many grey areas. Back in 2015 when we started Benz Softwash, we spent a great many hours trawling umpteen websites to get to the truth of the situation.
What we found dissuaded us from pursing our plan to use cold calling to sell Benz products, in the way Leo had sold other cleaning products in the 1980s.
Looking back that was a time of glorious freedom that existed in a now almost forgotten world, in which we had not yet been swamped by legislation and paperwork of every description ...
Cold calling in itself is not illegal. Yet. But ... and it's a BIG but ... to stay on the safe side of the law we must be aware of what the legislation obliges us to do, and what we cannot do.
The Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and phone marketing
Before cold calling an individual, or company, the law states that we should check with the Telephone Preference Service lists to find out if an individual or company is registered. If they are, then it is illegal to phone them without their prior permission.
Eventually we decided that life is too short to do all the work involved in running checks on who is, and who is not, registered before even picking up the phone to speak with them. A nightmare, in our opinion, that would consume more of our time, energy and money than was worthwhile for the results we may have achieved.
The biggest hurdle we found is how to set up effective record-keeping systems that screen and clean a company's TPS and CTPS records every 28 days, thus preventing calls to people who have opted into those lists.
We know they must exist, as they are obviously used by the big telemarketing companies, but we have major reservations as to whether the financial and administrative cost of those systems for small companies, especially when added to the annual cost of subscribing to TPS and CTPS (Corportate Telephone Preference Service) as a commercial licensee, would be justified. The full TPS annual licence fee is £2640, although there are ways to reduce this.
The good news is that the Telephone Preference Service, along with the GDPR people, are almost certain to issue a warning, especially to small companies, before going through the motions of prosecution. But do you want that warning logged forever as a black mark in your company records?
The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)
Can we use automated phone dialing systems?
No. There's no argument about this. It is definitely illegal to use automated calling systems of any kind to make unsolicited calls to sell products or services. This includes automated fax-sending machines. Some companies get around this by calling what they do "market research", which everyone now knows is just a way of getting around the law. Unsolicited emails and social media messages are also illegal.
The core principle all the legislation revolves around consists of one word: "Permission".
The legislation is designed to stop rogue companies harassing us to buy products and services we don't want or need. In particular it has been put in place to protect old folks and others who are vulnerable (there are some very nasty psychopaths walking around who literally don't care who they hurt).
But as is often the case with such legislation it has tied the hands of honest people who just want to introduce their services to potential customers, as used to be the case back in the day.
Now it must be said that contacting individual customers by phone or email, with whom we enjoy a good relationship, seems unlikely to attract the wrath of the bureaucrats. All the law requires is that we place an opt-out button on any email communication with them and do not phone them again if they ask us not to.
But the situation changes when it comes to companies. Because companies are increasingly signing up to CTPS. And they are far more likely to report unsolicited marketing calls. This is why we abandoned our plans to promote Benz products via cold call phone marketing.
The powers that be are going to be picking the low-hanging fruit to start. And it may well be that smaller companies will not be targeted for some time. And even if a company gets in their sights, their first step will be to offer help and advice.
What we can see happening through time could parallel the onward march of H&S. It began innocently enough, with the 1974 Health & Safety at Work act. It was well intentioned and much needed because of the very dangerous working practices of that time. But it's now grown to become a nightmare of legislation that would make Attilla the Hun cry into his cereals ...
Locate more information about telephone marketing legislation
Truth, Reality, Facts – that's the Benz way
We hope you found this information helpful and inspires you to succeed in your softwashing business.
Ben, Leo & Fiona
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