Spammed by a Recording

LISTEN: Spammed by a Recording

Companies have a new way of contacting us, as if email, SMS, landline and cellphone calls, Twitter DM, snail mail and fax mail wasn’t enough.

Spammed by a Recording

Listen to Wendy's on-air segment on Consumerwatch or read the full story below the podcast.

It’s called AVM - automated voice messaging. Your phone rings, you answer, and instead of real, live person talking-to you, you hear a recorded message.

Those punting it as a means of getting hold of customers and potential customers say it’s a win win situation - for consumers it’s easier to put the phone down on an AVM rather than a real person, and companies don’t get to spend time trying to market to someone not interested in their product or service.

And then there’s the cost: it costs companies far less than conventional cold-call telemarketing while allowing them to deliver a more powerful message than text can offer.

But again, I don’t think marketers have quite thought through the irritation factor. A man who asked to be identified just as Stephen said he excused himself from a meeting when his cellphone rang this week, thinking it was an important call.

“I was in a meeting with a client, and I had to step away. After about five seconds I discovered it was a recording and I cut it off.”

The call - a recording - was from his car financing bank, Wesbank, and he stopped listening a few sentences in, very unimpressed.

“I find these calls very inconsiderate and not properly thought through by the companies that are implementing them,” he said.

“If everyone at Wesbank is too busy to phone and talk to me about my account (after establishing if I can take the call), then I think good-old email or text is still good enough. At least there I can decide when I read it.”

ALSO READ: LISTEN: Insure that car or the bank will

I asked Wesbank why they are sending their customers AVMs. It’s about meeting the SA Reserve Bank’s December 31 deadline for getting its FICA house in order, said Wesbank Marketing’s head of brand and communications, Rudolf Mahoney.

They have to “re-verify” customers whose copies of the ID documents - taken at dealership level - are not good enough. 

So the bank has employed a whole department of people whose sole job it is to get better ID copies out of certain clients.

“First we contact them by phone, then SMS, email and lastly AVM messaging,” Mahoney said.

Stephen hadn’t responded to any of them, he said.

Wesbank’s not using AVM as a direct marketing tool, but other companies are embracing it as a new form of what we on the receiving end call SPAM.

I got a AVM suggesting that I may be the victim of reckless lending. When I responded, by pressing 1, or whatever, I was connected to a company called Debt Works, and the agent was trying to get me interested in going under debt review. I kept pressing him on the reckless lending bit, but that clearly wasn’t in his script. So, big disconnect there.

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A spokesman for the company said it was in a pilot phase with AVMs, but “so far there is an upward trend in responses. The 'call to action' (for example, "Press 1 on your keypad") is more immediate and convenient than other forms of direct marketing such as posted direct mailers or pop-up ads on websites.

It was “regretable” when they contacted someone who wasn’t interested, thereby inconveniencing them, the company said, but they were welcome to opt out. 


And what if you, like many consumers, don’t want to get the call in the first place?

You can put your name on the Direct Marketing Association’s Do Not Contact list - but that means only its members won’t contact you. You’re fair game for the rest. 

You can get ahead of them, though, by downloading the TrueCaller app on your phone -  it’s free. It finds details of unknown mobile or landline numbers - name, address, location - so you can kill the call if you don’t like what you see.

Isn’t technology wonderful…?

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