Technology is continually evolving and making our lives as consumers much easier. However, it’s progressing far more rapidly than the government’s efforts to regulate it. Contact centers must comply with a range of regulations for how and when they can contact consumers, which creates a challenge of balancing the contact center’s productivity in collections and proactive care with regulatory compliance.
A murky regulatory environment
The widespread adoption of technology has created a gray area for compliance with many existing laws. Take cell phones, for example: companies want to be able to notify consumers when necessary—such as a lost credit card or late flight—without incurring penalties and fines. Many consumers have dropped their landline, so if an enterprise needs to contact them either to collect or to provide customer service proactively, it now needs to deal with myriad unclear regulations.
Consider the following situations:
- Cell phones. The FCC interprets the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) to prohibit contacting consumers on their cell phones using dialers, absent prior express consent. However, it’s nearly impossible to determine which numbers are cell phones versus landlines. The Fair Debt and Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits calls at inconvenient times (that is, you cannot contact someone at two in the morning). However, even if a call is placed to a known cell phone, it is impossible, given its portability, to know the location of the called party at the time of call, creating the potential for liability exposure.
- Predictive dialers. Predictive dialers can pace outbound phone calls by permitting the dialing of phone numbers, reducing wait times between calls, and minimizing the potential of unproductive calls. If companies are forced to exclude cell phones when contacting people, they will lose the use of an efficient means of contacting borrowers and customers.
- Text Messaging. The TCPA restricts the use of predictive dialers to call cell phones as well as the use of automated messaging. Text messaging coupled with an automated-dialing process could increase productivity significantly for such tasks as early-stage collections, appointment reminders, and fraud alerts.
Pending legislation and judicial interpretation
The U.S. Congress, in an effort to address some of these issues, introduced the Mobile Information Call Act of 2011 to update the TCPA to allow information calls using auto dialers. All enterprises that are affected by TCPA and FDCPA should monitor this new legislation as it goes through Congress.
In the meantime, courts are interpreting how existing laws regulating the contact center should be applied to new technologies. In June of this year, a court dismissed a suit against Wachovia alleging TCPA violations when the institution was able to provide records that proved agents didn’t use predictive dialers to call cell phones.
Reconciling three competing trends
As companies move forward, they must try to balance three factors:
- The regulatory environment and technology are evolving rapidly
- The next-generation consumer demands customer service and proactive engagement
- Enterprises are pushing their contact centers do more with less.
Companies can’t afford to be a bystander. Instead, they need to start positioning themselves now for the future.
In subsequent installments, I’ll talk about the tools and functionality companies need to ensure compliance in an evolving regulatory landscape.
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