Monday, 08 December 2008 10:17

Telemarketing: the $1.58 billion dollar time waster

Telemarketing might be big business, but Australians hate it - not least because it's costing $A1.58 billion a year in wasted time.

Everyone seems to moan about telemarketing calls, especially as so many of them occur while they're cooking or eating dinner, putting the kids to bed, or at some other equally inconvenient time.

Rest assured that you're not alone - a survey conducted by The Australia Institute found that two-thirds of Australians want to see telemarketing banned completely.

Only one-quarter said it should be permitted; the rest were undecided.

It's not just the annoyance factor - and some people are really annoyed, with respondents to an Australian Psychological Society survey ranking telemarketing as the 'most irritating event or situation' out of a list of 32! - it's also the waste of time involved, calculated to come at a cost of $A1.58 billion.

That $A1.58 billion was calculated from survey figures showing that an average of 8.5 unsolicited telemarketing calls per month, lasting an average of 1.45 minutes per call, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics figure of $A30.19 per hour for average adult ordinary time earnings.

To put it in perspective, $A3.2 billion was spent on telemarketing in 2005 (presumably the most recent data available). That hardly seems a good balance, does it?

So what might be done about it? Please read on.

The Institute proposes what seems to me to be a remarkably sensible three-level regime that would allow telemarketing to continue without bothering those who don't want to be disturbed.

The use of the existing opt-out telemarketing register would be extended to cover currently exempt organisations such as charities and political parties.

A new opt-in register would identify numbers that have agreed to receive telemarketing calls.

The default situation (ie, for those who join neither register) would be that they would not receive commercial telemarketing, but would be likely to hear from charities and political parties.

(At the risk of over-complicating the issue, I think there may be something to be said for putting bona fide market and opinion researchers into a separate category, allowing people to separately control whether they receive survey calls independent of other categories.)

Being on the Do Not Call register is far from a guarantee that you will receive few telemarketing calls. One percent of respondents who said they were on the register reported receiving more than 50 calls per month, compared with 1.4 percent of those not on the register.

The Institute also suggests the creation of Do Not Mail, Do Not Fax and Do Not Knock registers, which would work in similar ways to the current Do Not Call register.

Also proposed are Business Do Not Call and Do Not Fax registers - business numbers are currently excluded from the consumer-oriented Do Not Call mechanism - something under consideration by the government.

The problem here is that we could make it excessively difficult for businesses to find new customers. It seems to me that there's a big difference between the massive blasts associated with outbound telemarketing (and spamming), and highly targeted enquiries from one business to another.

Considering the ill-feeling by some survey respondents about telemarketing calls originating from the subcontinent, it was interesting to read in the Australia Institute's report that India's Do Not Call regulations are much stricter in that they already cover business and private numbers.

The "wholly independent" Australia Institute seeks to balance economic efficiency with community, environmental and ethical considerations in public and private decision-making.

The report, titled Go Away, Please, can be downloaded here [PDF, 136K].

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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