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Standards for the teleservices industry: the time is NOW.

Years from now, when I gather my grandchildren around me and tell them about how old Grand-dad attended the 2007 American Teleservices Association's national convention, I imagine their eyes will widen with delight and they will ask, "You were there when they introduced the teleservices industry standards?" I will smile, and tell them about what it was like to witness the first step by the industry to finally take charge of its destiny by creating a program designed to: 1) protect consumers' privacy interests; 2) spell out the rules of engagement for inbound and outbound telephone communications; and 3) codify as much as possible the conflicting state and federal rules governing telephonic solicitation.

Admittedly, I suppose it's possible that my grandchildren won't be so impressed. I can say with certainty, however, that it was definitely an important event in the history of teleservices in the U.S. for the ATA to roll out a set of standards for the industry (available at www.bryancave.com/ata-sro). It is clear, based upon trends in legislation introduced at both the state and federal levels, that teleservices remains on the legislative radar screen. It is also clear that inbound teleservices is the next vista for regulation. An industry-wide self-regulatory organization (SRO) that promotes standards that encompass all elements of teleservices would send a strong message to the regulators that, like the advertising and funeral industries, no further regulation is necessary. It will also send a strong message that the industry has finally reached a point where it is willing to do what is necessary to ensure the continued vitality of the channel while taking seriously the very real concerns of consumers.

The SRO Standards spell out in detail best practices regarding outbound/inbound calling; state registration requirements; call monitoring; and policies and recordkeeping. The Standards also provide guidance with regard to calls by (and on behalf of) charities, and also contain an initial set of recommendations with regard to data privacy. Perhaps most important, however, the Standards begin with "A Teleservices Consumer Bill of Rights"--a bold statement by the industry that makes it clear that consumers' rights and interests come first, and that these interests played a central role in the creation of the Standards.

There are many innovations within the Standards, but perhaps none more important than the definitions. The definitions for the Standards set up a coherent and comprehensive foundation for everything that follows and create a common terminology that cuts across the conflicting and confusing terms in the state and federal laws. For example, when the Standards refer to an "informational call" made by a "service bureau" using a "preview dialer" to a "consumer" who is "former customer" of the "seller" responsible for call, you can be certain that you will know exactly which Standards apply, and which do not. This in and of itself represents a huge step forward for an industry struggling to deal with the many inconsistent terms used at the state and federal levels.

The Standards also reduce, wherever possible, the complexity associated with the conflicting rules among state and federal regulatory schemes. The sheer number of such regulations has made it extremely difficult for teleservices providers to maintain effective compliance and, as a result, legitimate consumer interests and expectations are not being met on a consistent basis. Perhaps the most important example of this streamlining has to do with the established business relationship (EBR) exemption to do-not-call rules. The Standards help to clarify EBR by creating three categories ("existing customer," "former customer" and "inquiring consumer") and setting up specific rules that apply to each. By doing so, the Standards help to remove much of the confusion created by the intersection of state and federal EBR rules. The Standards also tackle complex areas such as prerecorded messaging, billing authorizations and calls to wireless devices.

The Standards also take the important step of incorporating guidance and best practices based upon enforcement actions and opinions issued by the states, the FTC and the FCC. As a result, the Standards contain detailed instructions regarding the creation of policies and procedures, training programs, monitoring and testing of compliance and recordkeeping. The Standards also use enforcements and opinions to clarify such areas as in-house DNC requests, extension of EBR and in-house requests to a seller's "affiliates," and disclosure rule specifics.

It is, of course, important for any set of Standards to address the existing set of laws governing teleservices, but the SRO Standards go much further. Included in the Standards is a set of guidelines for inbound calling, with rules governing disclosures, billing authorizations and the use of IVR. This last category is extremely important: the one area most consistently raised by regulators for future legislation is IVR systems. The Standards create best practices regarding navigation, consumer interrupt, the use of plain language and, most important, create a "press 0" standard that ensures that consumers can rely on getting a response with helpful information upon pressing "0" during an inbound call. The Standards also introduce best practices for charity calls and answering machine messages, and also provide guidance with respect to maintaining the privacy and security of private information.

Although my grandchildren will probably just roll their eyes and think, "There goes Grandpa again," I can say with certainty that these Standards, by themselves, represent a significant, necessary and welcome addition to the everyday lexicon of teleservices compliance professionals. In conjunction with an SRO program whereby the Standards are effectively promulgated and enforced, these Standards will serve as the lynchpin of a program that will focus and strengthen compliance at all levels of the industry, and in turn serve to ensure the continued vitality of the teleservices channel for years to come.

Joseph Sanscrainte is an associate with Bryan Cave, LLP; he can be reached at joseph.sanscrainte@bryancave.com.

By Joseph Sanscrainte

Bryan Cave, LLP

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Title Annotation:Insider's Report
Author:Sanscrainte, Joseph
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Words:978
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