Avoiding a Million Dollar Mistake

By Matt Rocco

In 2007, a large clothing corporation made a blunder that cost them $107 million in lawsuit payouts. In August of this year, a major financial institution performed a seemingly harmless procedure that will cost them millions of dollars after the six current suits against them are cleared up. What mistake did these companies make? Their call centers – centralized offices that deal with a company’s telephone requests and campaigns for a fee – breached compliancy laws. Compliancy laws are enforced in order to protect consumers and their personal information and liberties.

Although compliancy seems as simple as using polite language and a phone script, as well as taking “no” for an answer during customer service and telemarketing calls, the laws designed by the government are lengthy and numerous. Small and large companies alike need to know and follow statutes such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA), the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX), the Telephone Sales Rule of 1995 (TSR), Payment Card Industry (PCI) Compliance, the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Laws, the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2010, and the National Do Not Call (DNC) list, among others.

This huge number of requirements is almost completely carried out by a portion of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) known as the Bureau of Consumer Protection; their attorneys enforce all federal laws that pertain to American consumers. They have the authority to investigate companies, conduct lawsuits, and educate businesses on how to properly follow consumer protection laws. The FTC also created and currently implements the National DNC list. Telemarketing companies and call center campaigns must purchase a federal list of approved phone numbers after registering with a national DNC as a “seller.”

The fines imposed by the Bureau of Consumer Protection and the FTC aren’t particularly forgiving, either. In the case of the aforementioned financial institution giant, client information was electronically transmitted each time a call was transferred to their overseas calling centers. Unfortunately, these transfers weren’t protected, and the United States government gained the ability to seize this data without violating the Constitution. Though it may have been a tiny slipup, the FTC is suing the corporation for $100 per data transmission, $1,500 per phone call made, and $1,500 for each person whose information was exposed. These demands are only part of one of the lawsuits that the FTC has made against this institution. If companies of gargantuan size can make such a misstep, companies of all sizes can too.

How can a call center company protect itself from lawsuits and a giant loss of profit if the rules are so difficult to understand? Luckily, there’s an array of options. Software, seminars, and accreditation programs are all options to make sure requirements are being met within the contact centers, ultimately saving money and time that a lawsuit would otherwise waste.

One such software option is a predictive dialing solution, a program that organizes, automates, and manages outbound calls. It provides call and workflow management, an integrated database, and list control. Another similar program can be found through DNC software, which can store federal and state Do Not Call information. The software is designed to be different for every size and type of company to ensure the utility of the program. Many companies also offer training seminars so that employees can prevent compliance problems in their own company before they happen, as well as troubleshooting tips to help track down existing problems.

Probably the most comprehensive program to ensure complete contact center compliancy is the ATA-SRO. The accreditation program was designed to guarantee an excellent teleservices experience for consumers through an objective program that makes certain that government compliance is being closely followed.

Accreditation for a center will only occur after going through a three-step plan. First, self-assessment will occur through auditing software. The software will generate reports about a company’s current compliance procedures, which can be used to archive supporting documentation (all documentation is completely confidential). Next, an independent, certified ATA-SRO auditor will analyze the self-assessment data and carry out their own audit, which will include site visits to the contact center. If discrepancies are discovered during the independent audit, the auditor will return the information to the contact center for revision and correction. If the audit is successful, the report is sent on to the ATA-SRO trustees for accreditation consideration. The last step in the accreditation process is for the trustees to forward an accreditation request to the ATA board of directors so the applicant company may receive the ATA-SRO Seal of Accreditation

The call center’s identity is withheld from the board members to prevent bias, and any questions that the trustees may have go back to the independent auditor, who will coordinate with the company to reexamine pertinent information. Though the procedure may seem long and tedious, the ATA-SRO accreditation seal is a sign of integrity to all companies looking to hire a call center that will help maintain the highest levels of compliancy and provide a great customer experience.

By taking steps to make certain that call center compliancy is being followed, companies large and small can avoid the loss of millions of dollars as well as their customers’ respect.

This article was written by Matt Rocco, president and COO at Etech Global Services, a provider of intelligent sales and service solutions using inbound and outbound voice and Web chat. Etech Global Services recently gained the ATA-SRO accreditation. The process took over a year, but the results were worth the effort. Learn more about Etech Global Services, their experience with the ATA-SRO accreditation process, or their contact center solutions from info@etechgs.com.

[From Connection Magazine December 2011]

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