Elingo's Karl Reed believes the Consumer Protection Act will present opportunities for businesses that value their customers, while creating significant challenges for more cynical operators.
Now that the act is in effect, companies must have a strong grip on their customer interactions, information flow and document management. When disputes arise with customers, it is up to the company to provide full records of the interaction, whether that be in the form of a contact centre call recordings, email interactions or a contract signed in-store.
Yes, the act has many legal and technical implications, but at the heart of the legislation is a drive to formalise customer service best practices. If a company is looking to achieve sustainable growth in a very competitive economy, achieving best practice standards will be central to establishing and maintaining a competitive advantage. The act should thus be welcomed by all companies’ intent on doing good, positive business.
Of course the reality is that not all companies are positively inclined. Many operators seek to make a profit through the ruthless aggregation of databases, purchased by any number of means. It is these companies who continue to cold call irate targets at any time of day, despite the fact that the CPA specifically outlaws this.
The CPA sets out punitive measures to deal with such transgressions, but the key, as always, lies in effective enforcement. Do not call lists are in the process of being established in the country, and one hopes these will be the first step towards a national governing body able to put in place consumer friendly mechanisms through which action can be taken when dealing with unsolicited approaches.
We need a structure that allows consumers to pro-actively manage their contact profile and grant selective authority for all communication channels, from email to phone to fax. Ultimately, however, political will and a lot of funding will be required to ensure CPA enforcement is at a level where reporting law breakers is a viable alternative to simply hanging up on them.
For the rest of the business sector, the act will hopefully engender positive changes that contribute to business vibrancy and sustainability. For the full potential of the act to come to completion, industry, suppliers, resellers and consumer organisations need to embrace it fully. The countless details and interpretations around specific cases and clauses must be questioned and explored thoroughly by all role players, in as much detail as possible.
The CPA pushes companies to embrace quality of communication over an aggressive and often cynical number crunching approach, and is thus likely to force some very necessary segmentation and fine tuning of communication across the economy. As a result, companies are likely to focus far more on ensuring that high quality information is delivered to each target segment. Those who get this right will have gained a real business asset in a market characterised by far too much scatter-gun brand communication.
While the medium term horizon is positive, the reality is that not much is likely to change on a day-to-day level until the first legal challenges from consumers and / or consumer groups emerge. Only once punitive action is more commonly experienced by your average business will corporate commitment to the CPA gain real momentum.
On a strictly technical level, the challenges are numerous and intertwined. All information (voice calls, emails, SMSes, tweets and chats etc.) must be properly stored and, more importantly, must be made accessible by the company concerned when required. Call recording, for example, can't be dealt with in isolation. Call records have to be linked to secure financial records, which in turn must be linked to relevant email communications.
The technical watch word is singularity. Single engine, software-based systems are able to cover all the requirements. Why? Because these systems are completely integrated, from the word go. Proprietary, hardware-based systems, conversely, will require supporting integration processes for each new reporting or information management requirement. The big danger here is extraordinary development bills, on a recurring basis.
Thus far, responses to the CPA have varied significantly across the economy. Some contact centres are already ahead of the game - they understand why they have to do what they're planning to do, and how they are going to do it. They already, in other words, treat the customer as king. Many others, however, still view the customer as a cash cow. The challenges and opportunities presented by the act will vary dramatically for each group.
Karl Reed - Elingo Chief Marketing and Solutions Officer