Posted by: Malcolm Jarvis
A question we often get asked is what Ofcom considers acceptable outbound calling times for call centres? As this is one of the common complaints people make regarding call centres, you’d have thought that this would be clearly defined and easy to establish. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not.
As this matter logically falls into the remit of the use (or misuse) of a public communications network, you might think that Ofcom would have an official policy on this subject, but as it is there’s nothing in any of Ofcom’s statements or guidance that mention actual times of day.
The ICO however, does mention calling times in it’s guidance on direct marketing:
Organisations must not go beyond what someone would reasonably expect in the circumstances, and must not make calls which would unduly distress that person or cause them other unjustified harm. For example, organisations might need to be particularly careful if they are aware that someone is elderly or vulnerable, or if the nature of the marketing might cause offence or stress. Organisations should avoid frequent redialling of unanswered numbers, or calls at antisocial hours.
This is going in the right direction, but gives no firm times of day, and “antisocial hours” is still open to interpretation. In fact, in order to get some actual guidance, the most authoritative source on the subject is the Direct Marketing Association’s Telemarketing Guide.
Here, on page 41, we finally get some actual times:
Monday to Friday: 8am to 9pm
Saturdays: 9am to 9pm
Sundays and public holidays: No calls at all
The DMA themselves are quick to point out that these are just guidelines, and aren’t legally binding. However, it’s safe to assume that if you’re calling outside of these hours there’s a good chance that eventually enough people will take their complaint to Ofcom or the ICO for your business to end up the subject of an investigation. Conversely, if you’re calling inside these hours, even if you were subject to an investigation, you’d be on more firm footing as you’d be following the advice of a respected industry body.
From my own experience, closing your operation down for every public holiday is probably a step too far for most call centre businesses to accommodate, and there’s definitely an argument to be made that your contact rates will be better on bank holidays. On the other hand, getting your agents in on Christmas day isn’t going to please anyone no matter how many potential customers are at home, and there’s little point calling Scottish customers on the 2nd of January (we take New Year very seriously).
I’ve also observed call centres carrying out marketing campaigns after 8:00pm experiencing a steady increase in irritated customers getting grumpy at their agents and causing them to get demotivated. Whether calling on Sundays is still as unacceptable as it was 10 to 20 years ago is probably up for debate. An increasing number of businesses open their doors for a few hours on Sundays and nearly all high street stores are open throughout the weekend, so the lines are definitely blurring.
Ultimately it’s a balance. If you find that calling later in the evening yields contact rates that make it worthwhile extending your call centre hours up to 9:00pm, then there’s no rule that states you can’t do so if calling within the UK. You could even risk carrying on after 9:00pm without technically breaking any rules, but if you’re generating complaints (and you will generate complaints if calling after 9pm or before 8am), the potential benefits will likely be crushed by the disaster that is an Ofcom or ICO investigation into your business practices.
You also need to consider the potential damage to your brand that comes from calling people at times of day or on days of the week they consider unacceptable or inconsiderate. With social media all-pervasive it takes very little effort for someone to drag your company’s name through a significant amount of muck.
All call centres are different, even those carrying out very similar activities, and the decision about what hours to start dialling and when to finish, at least within the UK, is largely up to management. When making this decision though it’s important to consider the impact it will have not only on reaching potential customers, but also the impact it will likely have on their receptiveness to your brand, the effect it will have on your ability to get the best out of your staff, and the risk of attracting the ire of the authorities.
The GDPR, coming into effect next year, will shortly be followed by a review of the Data Protection Act. We can only hope that we’ll get some more concrete guidance then.