If it doesn’t hurt, it won’t work

Bad data practice now has a very high cost – as much as £2 million. In the latest stage in a bidding war by regulators, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills announced on Monday that companies who continue to make silent calls could face dramatically higher fines.

Programming your auto-dialler badly so that it is making more connections than there are agents to handle them is very bad  practice. It is also a waste of very precious data – that opt-in to receiving calls will quickly get superceded by a registration on the Telephone Preference Service if nuisance calls persist.

In two weeks, calling numbers that have been TPS registered with unsolicited marketing messages will land you with up to £500,000 in fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office for breaching the Data Protection Act. It is to be hoped that both of these penalties will price out bad practice.

Both of those activities by telemarketers are particularly annoying to consumers and they will no longer suffer in silence. It is notable that the ICO has just served enforcement notices following complaints by TPS-registered individuals about unsolicited calls. In the future, the ICO has made it clear that it will be more complaints driven. The mechanisms to trigger such complaints have never been more accessible to consumers.

The question is whether the organisations most likely to commit these breaches of law and trust are also companies likely to flinch at the enhanced financial threat. Many of the rogue autodiallers are fuelling activity in offshore call centres where the BIS writ may not reach. There are plenty of “get rich quick” style products which are being promoted heavily using these methods. Manufacturers and marketers faced with a crackdown may just move operations to an even remoter jurisdiction.

For more considered organisations worried about their reputations, the risk of higher fines should only serve to tighten already well-constructed data strategies. The desire to avoid breaching customer trust by misusing data and permissions far outweighs the short-term financial gain from incremental sales such outbound calling might generate.

It is all part of the steady shift towards recognising data as a valuable asset, rather than an exploitable commodity. Speaking at the Financial Services Data Summit yesterday, Graham Flower, head of customer management at HSBC, put it succinctly: “Now is a great time to be working in data. Just don’t mess it up.”

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