I had earlier written about ad-supported/ad-subsidized films in a theater. Reading all this hoopla about mobile number portability and the ensuing high-decibel promotion of each brand of service provider, I was wondering if the ad-supported model could bring in more transparency and hence, better service.

Let me explain.

Right now, the Do Not Disturb list is a joke. As far as I recall, I’m on the list. I still get about 5 spam calls a day and a lot more spam text messages.

Now, compare this to television. We pay our cable company/DTH provider the monthly fee fully aware that there are going to be ads all over whatever program we choose to watch.

So, why not use that model for telephony too?

For instance, why not have 2 streams – ad-supported and non ad-supported plans?

The ad-supported plan would explicitly state that our numbers/details would be shared with partners and affiliates for promotional contacts and service providers could add another layer of transparency by giving us the upper limit of calls we would get per week/month. This would at least let us hold them responsible based on actual commitments, instead of directing generic anger towards them for all spam calls.

In fact, if the service provider is keen to take this to the next level, he could list the promotional partners and let the customer choose the ones he may be interested in receiving a call from and convenient time slots for such calls. That would bring in a lot of transparency and would actually have the service provider treat the customer better. The partners benefit too, since they now can contact prospects fully aware that they have chosen to be contacted.

A non ad-supported plan could then come at a premium, but the service provider better stick to the commitment of no spam calls/text messages by offering an explicit contract to that effect.

I personally would be keen to opt for the latter, despite the premium – it’d be akin to extra leg room in the business class section of a flight. We are fully aware of the space constraints in the economy class and still opt for it, for specific reasons. Why not use the same model for telephony plans too?

I suppose we can kiss those days goodbye when ad-free networks were in existence – let us accept the fact that ads/spam/unsolicited communication is a way of life. But, instead of fighting it without any specifics, why can’t we have service provider firms making a business opportunity out of it?

I’m sure there would be enough people who may opt for cheaper, ad-supported plans for the sake of lower costs. And there would be those who value their time over price to opt for a premium plan.

Does such a model exist anywhere? Would it work? What do you think?

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking about unsolicited calls that do not come from service providers’ selling/sharing our numbers, but from other sources – like the mall you gave your number to….or that gadget store where you left your number to be informed about a new phone model’s availability. What if they sell/share your number with others and you get a spam call from them? You obviously cannot hold your service provider responsible for that, right?

Yes, I thought about that too. Considering the fact that this ‘Do Not Call’ list is not taken seriously by spammers, why not make it a participative activity?

Why not let customers text, email or enter online the name of the brand/organization/company that called them, either directly, or through a telemarketing agency and build that list publicly? A certain cut-off (10,000 entries against one brand/organization? – just throwing a number) could ensure the concerned brand/organization being fined a massive amount or its numbers suspended for a particular period of time. So, if I get an unsolicited call from a gadget store I left my number at…if it interests me (that is, the gadget store has done enough homework on my previous purchases and interests), I would not add them in this list. But if they make a generic call to me with no personalization, I’d gladly jump the queue and enter their name. When they do the same thing with a lot of people, they are likely to get a lot of votes and hit the cut-off mark…and risk some kind of punishment as per the rules of the list. Sounds rude? Not at all – this is just a way to make telemarketing a responsible and respectable profession!

You could ask – what if the telemarketer is an agent, of say, a bank? An end-customer will only enter the name of the bank to the list. That is precisely the point – the brand/organization should be responsible for who they employ to do telemarketing. Their numbers, targets and business tactics will automatically undergo a change if more people complain with their brand name based on the telemarketing calls they receive.

Now, I’ve not thought about the details on how this participative system will work or if it is feasible at all – I think it is feasible. But what do you think about the overall idea – both the ones above…the ad-supported and premium plans from service providers, and this participative system of reining in telemarketers?

Pic courtesy Cayusa via Flickr.



5 thoughts on “A 2-part idea to end the menace of unsolicited calls

  1. Won’t work. Too easy for every company to make fraudulent reports against every competitor, thereby rendering the whole thing meaningless.

    It’s not so much the participative reporting (well, any decent investigative agency will be able to identify the top 100 offenders rather easily even now) but the actual fines themselves that matter. Perhaps the “Chris Rock” strategy will work. Make the fine ridiculously high, like a few crores perhaps.

  2. This would not be feasible. Remember Television is non intrusive and you decide to keep it on or off and to actually watch an ad or not. Telephone is not like that, you may receive a call at uncomfortable times and the system of caps, plans, fines & reporting, that you are suggesting is way too complex and people will find enough loopholes and also it requires an enormous effort on the subscriber to report a violation.

    The best solution to spamming is regulation on telemarketing calls, regulation of service providers, exemplary punishment of offenders and subscriber awareness.

  3. Not sure if we are going to see the end of telemarketing, from the looks of it the process is getting more popular.

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