Direct Marketing – What does it mean for you?

If you were to ask the average person in the street about their view of direct marketing, it is likely that you would draw no response. For many people, the term, ‘direct marketing’ tends to be associated with stories about so called ‘junk mail’ or other examples of negative experiences. In reality however, direct marketing is something most of us engage in and find useful without even realising this is what it is. If you buy products online, search the internet, sign up for email promotions, buy from catalogues or magazines, you will be using direct marketing.

Strange as it may sound given its press coverage, direct marketing is one of the most compliant industries when it comes to consumer protection – something that is evident to us on a daily basis at the Direct Marketing Commission (DMC). Although the DMC investigates all of the complaints it receives, the Commission’s intervention results in the vast majority being resolved quickly and informally between the company and the consumer involved without the need for any formal adjudication.

The DMC’s job is not only to provide consumers with protection from unethical or inappropriate direct marketing but also to create a self-regulatory environment within and across the industry that expects its existing high standards to be maintained and enhanced. We do that by enforcing the principles and rules in the Direct Marketing Code of Practice. This is nothing new because the DMA Code has been developing to keep pace with the exceptional growth and sophistication of direct marketing in all its forms and channels since its first edition in 1991.

To give a flavour of what consumers should be able to expect in terms of standards of service we’ve teamed up with What Consumer to describe five of the most frequent issues that the DMC deals with and what the Code requires companies to do.

Unsolicited goods

Unsolicited goods are products or services that are sent to you when you haven’t ordered or asked for them. Of course, you may have ordered them ‘unwittingly’ without fully understanding the terms of obligation; this is sometimes the case with club or mail order schemes. Both the law and the DM Code state that companies must not send goods or provide services for which payment is requested to any address without having received an instruction to supply such goods or services.

Poor customer service

Poor customer service is the subject of too many complaints to the Commission. The Commission is conscious that it has to keep its adjudications in proportion. Examples of poor customer service include being unable to get through to a company on the telephone, not having phone calls returned or encountering rude or unhelpful staff. Incorrect charges for late payment is a recurring complaint that’s both worrying and frustrating for customers. Both the law and the DM Code requires companies to deal with complaints ‘courteously and promptly’ and, unless there are exceptional circumstances, within five days.

Unwanted emails

In the UK and the EU, companies are allowed to email you only if you have given your permission or have purchased goods from them in the past. Unwanted emails are those which are sent to you by a company where you do not have the option to opt out or unsubscribe. The DM Code requires companies to provide an unsubscribe mechanism, such as a return email address to which unsubscribe requests can be sent. If they don’t, they’re in breach of the Code and the law.

Silent Calls

Silent or abandoned calls are just that: you pick up the phone and hear nothing. They happen because companies use call centre agents and automated dialling systems to telemarket potential customers, do market research or debt collection. If the automated system is set to work too quickly, when the person dialled answers the phone, there is no agent available and the line goes dead. The DM Code says that in the event of an abandoned call, companies must play a brief recorded message within two seconds of the call being answered. The message must contain the identity of the company on whose behalf the call was made and details of a no charge number that the recipient can contact to decline further calls.

Unwanted marketing calls

Put simply, unwanted marketing calls are calls you may receive from companies who are trying to sell you something you do not want to purchase. If you don’t want to receive any marketing calls, you can register with the Telephone Preference Service. Your details will then be added to the list which makes it illegal for a company to call you for marketing purposes in the future. The DM Code requires that anyone registered on the TPS should not receive unsolicited marketing calls.

If you’ve experienced problems with any of these issues than please get in touch with us through the complaints page of our website, and we’ll give you advice on what to do next.

Matti Alderson is chairman of the Direct Marketing Commission, the independent self-regulatory body for the UK’s direct marketing industry

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