It was about 15 years ago that I wrote my first piece on unsolicited calling and how marketers err in dealing with customers. Mobile phones were becoming ubiquitous and marketers were discovering the power of reaching out directly. Pesky calls were beginning to bother users then, they continue to do so now. Alas, nothing much has changed!
During the pandemic-induced lockdowns, we were bombarded with messages and calls from vendors offering to deliver fish, meat, vegetables and repair appliances, etc. Now, with the easing, every business owner wants to announce that they are back in business. And that means more calls, more SMSes. We have devised ways to deal with such vexatious calls. Most people simply don’t accept calls from unfamiliar numbers not stored in their phone book. ‘Truecaller’ thrives on this. SMS is dead for some, since it’s mostly junk. I, for instance, have stopped browsing my SMS inbox except to look for an OTP I am expecting for a transaction.
Pesky calls and junk SMS messages have always been a menace. TRAI has been unable to reign in the perpetrators. But their inability to resolve the issue is not due to lack of trying. They had introduced DND regulations as far back as 2010 – the TCCCPR or The Telecom Commercial
Communication Customer Preference Regulations - but the iniquitous telemarketers found inadequacies in the system and exploited them, rendering them ineffective. In 2018, the TCCCPR was amended to provide for a range of customer preferences which were to be implemented in near real time using Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT). This would make communications traceable and capable of being controlled effectively. Implementation, though, is becoming a challenge.
Add to it the fact that while mobile users whine about it, most don’t bother to complain. TRAI has also introduced an app, which makes it easier to complain. However, they recently took the inexplicably regressive step of abolishing a rule which limited a SIM card to sending a maximum of 3,000 messages a month. Needless to say, bulk messaging providers are having a field day.
DON’T SHARE YOUR NUMBER
What does one do as a customer to prevent this harassment? Just one thing - don’t share your number. Those lucky draws might be too tempting, but guess who gets lucky when you provide personal information! Sometimes, you are asked to share your mobile number at the billing desk. This is sought nonchalantly as if required to complete the transaction.
They’ll tell you that it’s a loyalty programme or to pass on information about an upcoming sale. Stay away! Not giving away your number at these places will minimize the risk of your data going out of hand, though unscrupulous database marketers can still find ways to get it. So how do businesses reach out - ‘We are back in business’ or that ‘Deep discount to entice you to the store’. The answer lies in digital. Just like customers’ behaviour has significantly transformed during the last few months, businesses must follow. This would include small local businesses like a fashion boutique, a bakery, a stationary shop or even local franchisee outlets of large brands.
Everyone has been inseparable from their devices and the best way of reaching customers is through their mobile devices. It’s time for the business owner or the store manager to put his digital skills to good use. While large brands understand its benefits, small businesses and outlets of large brands haven’t yet explored the full potential of hyper-local digital marketing.
A Facebook post of a motorcycle dealership offering a free wash goes much further than an SMS or an inopportune call. You can focus on a specific geographical catchment area with customers owning bikes or seeking such a service ‘now’. You mostly reach the right audience - direct. Similar for an ad on Google or other ad networks. This is in sharp contrast to a carpet bombing approach with tele-calling or SMS. Remember, bombarding your customer with ill-timed calls or text messages can create an aversion for your brand and business rather than creating awareness or preference. From the customers’ perspective, unsolicited calls are more intrusive and flustering than online advertising, which is passive in nature. So, businesses have to make the transition – now! And till then, please don’t call me… I’ll hate you for it.
The author is a senior professional in the corporate sector and writes on varied topics that catch his fancy. The views expressed here are his own.