We don‘t buy on the telephone!

Why is a “Don’t-call-me” list so important?

In the context of consumer protection, new measures have recently been adopted, such as the Charter for Customer Friendliness, under which the operators, together with other big companies and government bodies, guarantee to answer all calls within 2.5 minutes. But in one area we are lagging far behind: telemarketing.

The telecom operators belong to the top three most intensive telemarketers. KPN/BASE deliberately chooses to make no use of telemarketing to sell new products. The privacy of the consumers is important to us, and we have no wish to disturb them at the most inconvenient times. Accordingly, KPN/BASE is working on possibilities for optimising the “don’t-call-me” list and protecting the consumer.

A “Don’t call-me” list?

The Robinson List is a “Don’t-call-me” list, named after Robinson Crusoe, the fictional desert island resident. This is a list of all persons who do not wish to be contacted by telesales people, and currently holds around 140,000 names. The Belgian Direct Marketing Association (BDMA) is the administrator of the Robinson List. However, companies that are not members of the BDMA are not obliged to observe the list and are free to call everyone with their wily sales pitches.

What if you still get calls?

In order to trace companies that don’t keep to the rules, customer complaints from people who receive the calls are very important. The efficient handling of these complaints can prevent a lot of frustration among consumers and at the same time identify and penalise fraudulent companies.

The information obtained from complaints is of inestimable value to policy makers for the improvement of the rules concerning consumer protection. In the draft bill that is currently on the table, the BDMA is given a central role in the administration of the “Don’t-call-me” list. So it seems to us to be crucially important that the BDMA also takes on the role of watchdog for the sector by handling the complaints assiduously.

More transparency and communication on the Robinson List
Greater transparency is crucial for more efficient consumer protection. The Robinson List is only known to a minority of consumers. The BDMA could play a part in this and could, for example, publish a list every year of companies who, whether members or not of the BDMA, have not respected the law.

In addition, we must also remove the thresholds that discourage consumers from submitting complaints. At present, all complaints must be submitted in writing to the BDMA, which in itself is quite a high threshold in a digital environment. Besides this, the question might be asked of whether the BDMA is the right organisation to handle complaints. Other organisations, such as the telecommunications ombudsman, could also take on this role, having more experience in it. They clearly describe the various ways of submitting a complaint and what then happens to it. The annual report always indicates the most common complaints and the efforts made to address them. This should also be possible for the Robinson List complaints.

How do other countries deal with it?

In the Netherlands, a legally binding Don’t-call-me list was set up in October 2009. Distribution to the consumers takes place through a clear communication strategy. Thanks to the respect that companies have for this list and the control of ‘cowboy’ firms, the Dutch Don’t-call-me list has been very successful. This has resulted in 5.5 million consumers being registered on the Dutch list.

In Germany, if companies fail to respect the existing list, they risk heavy penalties up to €10,000. Australia has an even more consumer-friendly model, restricting telemarketers to particular hours. It is not permitted to call consumers during breakfast or dinner times. In Canada the caller’s telephone number must be visible.

A comparative study could bring together the best elements from all countries, enabling the best policy initiatives for the consumer to be adopted. KPN/BASE is already amenable to a consumer-friendly approach, but especially to an approach that applies the same rules to everyone and that imposes penalties for non-compliance. Otherwise companies who obey the law will be at a disadvantage.

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