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Consumer Affairs
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Calling all clients

Instead of seeing the Consumer Protection Bill as a threat, direct marketers - including managers of outbound call centres and telemarketing businesses – should see it as an opportunity.

O’Keeffe & Swartz Consultants is an outbound call centre that is taking a positive view. It provides outsourced services to South Africa’s major banks in the sale of simple insurance products.
Comments CEO Sean O’Keeffe, “If you strip out cases of manipulation of clients by unscrupulous direct marketers, telemarketing at heart is an extremely practical service to consumers because it makes them aware of products of which they would otherwise be unaware.
“In the insurance industry, particularly, the creation of awareness is crucial because its business is invariably about issues, such as accidents, illness and death, that people find unpleasant and consequently avoid thinking about.
“But a simple policy for a small premium, such as many of the plans we sell on behalf of our banking customers, can prevent ordinary people from having extraordinary financial deprivation added to the emotional anguish of an accident or an illness,” he points out. “We get several emails and calls of thanks from customers almost every day.
“The point is, though, that they couldn’t have had the cover without being told about it. The offer has to be made in the first place.
“Where telemarketers go wrong – and what we need the Act to fix – is in the way they make the offer. By scaring the customer into buying a policy or not ensuring that the customer understands what he or she is buying, they create suspicion in the market which, inevitably, damages not only their own business but everyone else’s.
“It’s obvious, therefore, that the more integrity you bring to the process of telemarketing the more receptive the market will be and, as a consequence, the more you’ll be able to grow and be profitable.
“We at O’Keeffe & Swartz would like to see the Consumer Protection Bill brought in as quickly as possible and have all the necessary teeth to ensure compliance. Self-regulation is not an option. There’s always one organisation prepared to take short cuts and give the rest of us a bad name.”
Mr O’Keeffe says that it’s easy enough for outbound call centres to put processes in place that protect the consumer and therefore protect their own businesses.
O’Keeffe and Swartz, for instance, sells only simple products with simple wording and small premiums, thereby avoiding both confusion and financial risk for the consumer. “We also only sell products that are underwritten by reputable organisations,” he says.
“In addition, we record every single call in a digital format that cannot be tampered with. So we can settle disputes very quickly – and keep an eye on our agent’s behaviour too.”
Human resources management is also key to ensuring that the right kind of staff is working with the public. “Our training and coaching are both comprehensive and highly focused so that agents are properly accredited before they hit the phones. Also, our disciplinary procedures are draconian. Anyone found to have deliberately misled or manipulated a customer is fired.”
In addition, O’Keeffe and Swartz get involved in their banking client’s compliance processes. “The ombudsman has made it clear that he will go after the sales company as well as the initiating principal if he finds abuse of the consumer. So it’s in our own best interests to help our principals produce both offerings and sales and distribution processes that are aligned with the Act.”

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:20.1 1st February, 2007
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