The national Do-Not-Call Registry has apprehensive dealers scrambling to prepare themselves for its Oct. 1 activation — and with good reason.
A revision to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, the no-call registry restricts telemarketers and carries stiff fines for non-compliance. It's got some dealers bristling and worried.
“This is taking one of the tools of free enterprise and absolutely regulating it to the point of no use,” says Chad Mills, sales manager for Smith Buick Pontiac GMC of Rutland, VA. “Are they trying to put this country out of business?”
He's among a growing sect of frustrated dealership folks faced with the demand to change some of their marketing techniques.
A few have begun to reorganize databases and make final calls to people who've put their numbers on the registry. Other dealerships are turning to newly developed web-based calling systems to guard against misplaced calls.
Managed by the Federal Trade Commission, the Do-Not-Call Registry is a list of phone numbers that are off limits to telemarketing, a favorite way that many dealerships drum up business for the front and back of the store.
Banned numbers go on the registry at the request of telephone customers. It's enforced at the federal and state level.
But there's more to it than that. The legislation is a minefield of hidden fines, nearly all capable of reaching $11,000 per complaint. Among potential infractions:
- Calling a customer who's requested no such calls.
- Calling someone — whether they're on the registry or not — without first consulting the FTC's database of registered phone numbers.
- Calling a phone number found on an application longer than three months after the number was submitted.
- “Aborted” calls — those where the telemarketer hangs up before any words are spoken.
There are exceptions. Charities, political organizations, telephone surveyors and companies with which consumers have an existing business relationship within the last 18 months may call people on the registry without fear of reprisal.
But for dealers that could mean a loss of telemarketing contact with customers who are on 3- and 4-year leases.
“So what is the government doing for the dealers to make sure we have those do-not-call lists in our hands by October 1?” asks Mills.
In addition to requiring a fee of anywhere between $25 and $7,375 annually to access data, no one will be able to see the database until Sept. 1 — a month before all telemarketers are required to have their own fully updated databases up and running.
It can get confusing, especially for dealerships.
“Sources of data come from too many places in the dealership,” says Al Babbington, CEO of CallCommand, a web-based deliverer of personal voice messages to dealership customers and prospects.
Panicky dealers are wondering what to do. Thirty called CallCommand in one day alone.
Babbington encourages dealers to update and synchronize databases. An upside is that the legislation spurs dealers to do that.
CallCommand's website features a database in which a dealership may log customer phone numbers, reducing duplicate lists and chances for costly errors.
It takes three seconds to permanently remove a number from the CallCommand database — three seconds that could save a deal-ship an $11,000 fine, Babbington says.
Here's What Auto Dealers Can Do
Here are ways for dealers to prepare for Oct. 1's activation of the Do-Not-Call Registry:
- Get your staff together — anyone that comes in contact with the telephone — and emphasize the importance of handling an incoming call.
- If there are customers asking not to be telephoned, put in place a specific policy on how those requests should be honored.
- Maintain a central list. Require employees sign to the fact that, if they're answering the phone and they get a Do-Not-Call request, they're responsible for tracking that information.
- Keep a list of those Do-Not-Call clients. Put it in a single database so you can cross-reference.
- Arm yourself with information. Visit websites such as www.donotcall.gov and www.donotcall.com for more facts on the Do-Not-Call Registry.