Losing sleep

Losing sleep

How many times have you been woken up at 3 in the morning by the beeping of your phone, signaling the receipt of another SMS spam message?

It is happening to me more regularly every week. It seems that every company in the country has jumped on the SMS spam bandwagon, blissfully unaware of the enormous damage they are doing to their brands. Companies that use SMS’s to market their services or products have very little understanding of consumer behavior and obviously don’t give a damn about the retention of their customers.

I am specifically referring to companies that use their own customer databases to perpetrate this evil and not the traditional spammers that use purchased databases to spam people. That is another topic that has been written about a thousand times.

Companies that send marketing messages to their own customers believe they have an inherent right to do so as long as they provide the requisite “Stop to opt out” at the end of the message. These companies, that included the top brands in South Africa, show their ignorance when it comes to electronic and mobile marketing and their total disregard for the privacy of their customers. The mobile service providers are the biggest culprits because they sell these services through the aptly names “WASPS” or Wireless Application Service Providers. Wasps are companies that are appointed by the mobile service providers to send spam. According to WASPA, their association, they don’t send spam, but as far as I am concerned they exist only because of their ability to send spam. They “sting” consumers millions of times a day and make a few cents on each SMS they send on behalf of these “respected” brands.

The Consumer Protection Act unfortunately has no sting. It allows for spam as long as the spammers comply to a few basic rules. Not that a few rules have ever stopped South Africans from doing whatever it is they want to do, whether it’s breaking traffic laws, evading tax, hijacking a few cars or sending spam. Companies think that if they include the opt out message and the customer interacted with them once, even if it was 10 years ago to get a quote, then it gives them the right to invade their privacy. If we want to stop getting these SMS’s then you must send the obligatory reply with “STOP”. This reply obviously costs money. I think the mobile service providers and the WASPS make millions every month from these opt out SMS’s that we are forced to send. What a blummin cheek! It costs me around R0.20 every time I opt out from an SMS that I didn’t ask for in the first place!

Not that the opt out works. I have opted out on numerous occasions just to continue to receive these SMS’s. Only after many phone calls, lawyers letters and threats with the ECT act do the SMS’s stop. And then sometimes they don’t. It seems that my opt out just confirms that I am in fact alive and my mobile phone works and I actually read my SMS’s. My value as a quality recipient of spam has just exponentially increased and the spam not only continues, but increases!

So herewith a short lesson on consumer behavior.

It has been proved through many recent studies that SMS marketing messages work on a very small percentage of consumers. If you send 1000 SMS’s and you get one sale then you may think that your campaign was a success right? Wrong. If your repeat business percentage (the number of customers that are going to buy from you again) is, let’s say, 20%, then of the 1000 customers, 200 of them will purchase from you again sometime in the future. These studies have shown that out of the 1000 people that receive your SMS, around 150 will be so upset that they will make a conscious decision never to buy from you again. 10 of them will actually go to their friends and family and influence them to never to buy from you again. So, you made one sale but lost more than 5 in the process. Not very smart.

Why would people get upset about receiving an innocent marketing SMS from you? Well, because it’s invasive. We use our cell phones for work and personal calls. Mobile phones have become much more than just phones. They are an extension of our lives and many people cannot function without their mobile phones. We need to be permanently “connected” and this perpetual connection has become very personal. My phone is a personal thing. It has my music on, my photographs, my email. It is my space and it is sacrosanct. The SMS that I receive invades that space with the subtlety of a carving knife. Now imagine if I get this SMS at 3am! Why not switch the phone off at night, you ask? Well, because I have a family. My kids are out and about and I cannot switch my phone off. Like many people I have given up with Telkom and land lines and cable theft and only have a mobile phone. Mine stays on through the night, and no way for me to avoid being woken up at 3am with the incessant beeping in my ear. This very morning I was woken up at 3am by 2 SMS’s from a jewelery company and I could not fall asleep again, so I decided to get up and write this article. It’s now 4:44am. Understandably I will never buy from that jewelry store ever again, and that is a promise.

So what am I to do? Today I am going to buy another phone and I am going to give that number to my family. It will become my family phone and I will leave it on at night and switch the other one off. I will become part of the 2 phone brigade.

And guess what? The mobile service providers will just make more money and continue to rape consumers with impunity.

I wonder, how do they sleep at night?

Big Trouble for businesses who don’t comply with Protection of Personal Information Act

The Protection of Personal Information Act aims to protect consumers from the sale or illegal use of any personal information without their permission. This is good news for the consumer (all of us) as it ensures the protection of our data and stops all the unsolicited direct marketing attempts from businesses that bought your details for the right price from highly reputed and listed companies. However, for business the act means that drastic changes need to be made in how companies market and use customers’ personal information.

 Companies that ignore the Act will do so at their peril. Consumers are fed up with up the tons of spam that finds its way into our inboxes and onto our mobiles and the realities are that in South Africa, a startling 91% of all emails are spam.

 The Act consists of 8 information protection principles which conform to international standards, these range from Accountability to Security Safeguards. The responsibility for the monitoring and enforcement of compliance will rest with the Information Protection Regulator and organisations that fail to comply with the Act will face civil liability claims, criminal sanctions, significant reputational damage and in severe cases a 10 year prison sentence.

South African business needs to make sure that their policies, processes and training are up to standard because there are many areas where a company can fall short. Businesses need to make sure that they have centralised databases containing customer information as well as up-to-date opt-out lists. Processes and policies with employees and third parties have to be water tight to avoid liabilities and regular training needs to be introduced in order to teach employees the correct and safe way to process and store customer information because a spreadsheet on Excel is no longer acceptable.

Most retailers, especially those with a decentralised marketing approach (i.e. every branch does its own marketing) are particularly vulnerable. These businesses with many branches, systems and customer databases will have to make will have to make substantial changes. A single customer repository or database is essential because if a customer wants to opt-out at one branch, they actually opt-out of the entire company and if the customer still continues to get marketing messages from another branch then the company will be held accountable.