TalkTalk have been fined £750,000 by Ofcom for making silent calls
Ofcom has fined TalkTalk for making an excessive number of abandoned and silent calls to potential customers in 2011, through two of its call centre outsourcers – Teleperformance and McAlpine Marketing.
This follows an investigation as part of Ofcom’s monitoring and enforcement programme aimed at reducing harm caused by abandoned and silent calls.
Ofcom’s investigation found that during one of its telemarketing campaigns, TalkTalk exceeded the number of abandoned calls that organisations can make by a substantial amount on four separate occasions between 1 February and 21 March 2011. TalkTalk also failed to ensure that information messages were played, meaning that consumers received silent calls. As a result, TalkTalk made approximately 9,000 silent and abandoned calls to consumers.
During a separate marketing campaign, TalkTalk did not adequately follow Ofcom’s policy by failing to ensure that when using AMD technology to make calls to consumers, it created a reasoned estimate of the technology’s accuracy. It also failed to keep adequate records to demonstrate its compliance with Ofcom’s policy.
Ofcom’s policy also aims to prevent repeat silent calls. If AMD equipment detects an answer machine, any repeat calls to that number on that same day should only be made if a call centre agent is guaranteed to be able to handle the call. TalkTalk failed to abide by this policy on one day between 1 February and 21 March 2011.
Ofcom decided to impose a financial penalty of £750,000 against TalkTalk, which is ultimately responsible for compliance with the law regarding ‘persistent misuse of an electronic communications network or electronic communications service’ and Ofcom’s policies on abandoned and silent calls. TalkTalk is therefore ultimately responsible for the actions of the two call centre operators associated with the breach: Teleperformance Limited and McAlpine Marketing Limited.
The fine is payable to Ofcom and passed on to HM Treasury, and TalkTalk is required to pay it within 30 days of receiving the penalty notification.
Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, Claudio Pollack, said: “Silent and abandoned calls can cause annoyance and distress to consumers. Companies must abide by the law and Ofcom’s policies. If they fail to do so then Ofcom will take firm action. Today’s penalty sends out a strong message to organisations using call centres that they must comply or face the consequences.”
Dave Ogden, Senior Solutions Consultant at Aspect, responded: “Like many companies, TalkTalk did not effectively audit its outsourcers’ practices, leaving them with a hefty financial burden on their behalf. The firms blatantly abused contact centre technology – stated as answering machine detection – that in fact is designed to stop distressing practices in the first place”.
“Let me be clear – this has ended up costing them more in the long run. Using the tools and resources in the way that they are intended will reduce costs but also encourage even more prospects to convert to customers, because they are targeting the right people at the right time.”
Ogden continued: “This won’t be the last incident – there are many other companies treading water at the moment. The maximum fine that Ofcom can levy is £2 million, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens very soon.”
Ken Reid of Rostrvm Solutions commented: “It’s disappointing that after 7 years of discussion, regulation and guidance there are still UK call centres that are not complying with guidelines; this reflects badly and unfairly on the whole industry. We fully support Ofcom’s initiatives but look forward to a time when they can assume that UK call centres are not the cause of problems and can focus on the menace of non-compliant offshore operations.”
Michael McKinlay from Sytel added: “Ofcom are quite right in saying that silent calls can be caused by the use of Answering Machine Detection, and the right thing to do is to disable it until a better way can be found of detecting answering machines, something that the dialler industry is working on urgently right now”.
“Large companies like Talk Talk have very strict compliance controls and I would expect that this is a very unfortunate one-off not to be repeated. And it doesn’t detract from the fact that the UK is still an excellent example to ALL other countries in how to set and monitor compliance for outbound calls.”