Business Articles

Beware the EBR

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Over the past few years, there has been much concern over the legality of outbound telemarketing, that is calling prospects. One exception to this prohibition is if you have an “existing business relationships” (EBR) with the person being called. So, if your call center is only making EBR calls, you may think you have nothing to worry about, right? Not so fast. Just because it is legal to dial that number, still doesn’t mean you should. Simply put, calling too often or for the wrong reasons could turn an EBR into a former EBR. This happened when I retaliated against a company that was overcalling me—and others could do it to you.

I used to have a subscription to the local paper. Since I only had time to read it on the weekends, those were the only days I received it. This was a splendid arrangement, one which I would have gladly continued if not for overzealous telemarketing.

One evening, during suppertime, I received a call from an enthusiastic employee of the paper. They had a special upgrade price so that I could enjoy the paper all week long. When would I like to start? Gamely I explained that I only wanted the paper on the weekends. Receiving it when I didn’t have time to read it only served to make me feel guilty—either for wasting time by reading it or for wasting money by not reading it. The agent laughed and said that she understood.

A few months later, I received another call with the same offer from a different rep. I assumed that turnover had occurred and my stated preference for weekend-only delivery had not been appropriately noted (so much for an effective “customer relationship management”). I repeated my explanation and again stated my penchant for weekend-only delivery.

These calls became a regular occurrence—and I grew increasingly annoyed. Sometimes the interval was two or three months, other times only a couple of weeks; once it was two days. They always came at an inopportune time. No one seemed to realize that regardless of how often it was offered, I was not going to capitulate to their plea to expand my subscription to include weekdays. Even when it was offered at no additional cost, I declined, citing my concern over the landfill’s shrinking capacity. I asked that they stop calling, but my appeals went unheeded.

My exasperation over the persistent phone calls grew to the point there it exceeded my satisfaction in reading the paper. I realized that by cancelling my subscription, the EBR provision would soon cease to be a factor and eventually I would have legal recourse should the calls continue.

I expected that the effort to end my subscription would provide one final opportunity to stop the phone calls—and continue receiving the paper, sans telemarketing. I was mistaken. Incredibly, when I called to cancel my subscription, no one asked why. They didn’t say they were sorry. Most surprising of all—especially given their proclivity for phoning me—no one made a follow-up call. Even though there was a window of opportunity for them to phone and win me back, that never occurred. Finally, the unwelcomed calls had stopped.

I do miss the paper—at least a little bit. However, I now rely on the radio to get national news, the Internet for sports, email for the weather, and a book for crossword puzzles. Even so, I am quite out of the loop on local news, and I do miss the comics. But it is a small price to pay to avoid the incessant dinnertime interruptions to sell me something I have repeatedly declined.

The paper thought they were safe by placing calls that complied with legal requirements, but they were wrong. Their unbridled calling turned a happy reader into an irritated former reader and decremented their circulation count by one. This leaves me wondering how many other subscriptions they lost because of their legal, but unrestrained calling practices?