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TCPA and Telephone Data Collection for MR - What it Means for You

callcenter_vlima.comviaflickr_3.jpgThe Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 was designed to protect consumers against unwanted telemarketing calls.  It imposes a variety of restrictions on the hours telemarketers are allowed to dial, and requires that solicitors adhere to federal do-not-call legislation as well as maintaining DNC lists of their own. These limitations do not impact market research companies because the intention of our telephone calls is not a solicitation.  High quality call centers already limit the hours they make calls to consumers, and honor every do not call request they receive.

Where market research has been hit hard by the TCPA is the limits it imposes on the use of automated technology to reach out to consumers, such as autodialers, fax machines, SMS text messaging, etc.  As the current legislation is written, no call may be made from a system that has the capability to dial automatically to any consumer's cellular telephone without that consumer's express and explicit consent to do so.

The advent of predictive dialing for market research was a game-changer for the industry when it was introduced.  The dialer could rapidly cycle through telephone numbers in a random digit sample and disposition the tri-tone numbers instantly, without an interviewer ever having to push a button.  It could also efficiently dial through no answers and voicemails until a live human was reached, only then transferring the call to a waiting interviewer.  Phone center productivity went up, costs went down, fieldwork times could be compressed, and fewer interviewers were required to get the job done. It was a win for the call center industry, and for their clients.

And now, we find ourselves very much back to the drawing board.   Back when predictive dialing was introduced, cellular telephones were in use, but they were not the predominant means of communication the household had at its disposal.  Most households had landlines, and it was through those landlines that  most market research was conducted.  Calling people to conduct research on their cellphones simply wasn't something that market research companies would consider - most people had monthly plans where they paid by the minute, and they would be none too happy to "waste" their minutes on a research call.  This was one of the drivers of this stipulation in the TCPA - that consumers should not be made to pay for a telemarketing call.  Now that almost all cell phone plans are unlimited, it seems unlikely this would be an issue for most respondents to a telephone survey, but the legislation stands. And with cellphone only households at an all time high, that's an awful lot of phone numbers that have to be dialed by hand.

The way this is typically handled by call centers in 2017 is to dial any known landline sample through the dialer to maximize efficiency, then dial possible cell phone numbers by hand, the way we used to before predictive dialers.  And the impact on call center performance has been...well...predictable.  Efficiency has gone down. Fieldwork takes longer, requires more sample, more interviewers, and costs more money.  Many traditionally telephone studies have moved to online in order to stay budgeted, even if that particular mode might not be the most appropriate for the study.

 Watchdog organizations like the Insights Association and AAPOR are continuing to push for changes in the legislation that would exclude market research or at the very least allow for more flexibility in the interpretation of the law.  But as it stands, lawsuits related to TCPA are rampant, and the market research company or telemarketer under fire frequently gets saddled with hefty fines. For now, we work with our clients to transition the projects that can transition to a less costly mode.  We reduce survey lengths, sample sizes, etc, to allow our clients to reduce cost.  We remember that Internet adoption, while growing more slowly than it once did, is still growing, and that someday, the US population will be as reachable online as it once was through a landline telephone.



Brittany Jones
Brittany Jones
Brittany Jones manages telephone projects and quality control at datadecisions Group.