There is an experience that tests the resolve and patience of virtually every consumer. Indeed, many can go through this experience several times a week.
It goes something like this: A call centre agent phones you on your contract cell phone to offer you a cell phone contract. Or, the agent calls to sell you life insurance "because you can never have enough these days", and while they are at it can they throw in car and home insurance, or a funeral policy for an uncle you may have overlooked.
Gidon Alter, Chief of Play at Justplay, South Africa's largest competition website with 300 000 members, says unsolicited sales calling have the potential to do more harm than good. These unsolicited sales pitches can also be delivered by e mail through spamming, although this is improving because of improvement in anti-spamming technology.
Alter says companies often fail to appreciate that having an agent who is not steeped in your product or brand values call someone who did not consent to being called and who is not looking for your product or service at that point, but might do so in the future, can turn the customer off your brand for good.
Justplay.co.za, on the other hand, engages consumers in a transparent manner. It offers members an opportunity to win weekly prizes through a range of competitions where there is a computer-selected winner irrespective of the number of entries.
Its membership of 300 000 is 68% female and 51% of its users are in LSMs 7 to 8 while 45%, are in the upper LSMs of 9 to 10. About 3% of users are in the lower LSMs.
Says Alter: "Justplay collects consumer data through specifically targeted questionnaires that carefully filter customer preferences and then offer customers an option to consent to being called about a particular product or service."
Entry to the competitions as well as the prizes on offer is independent of the questionnaire so as not to influence responses. Competitions are therefore "clean" in the sense that the prizes are not tied to any company's campaign or promotions. Companies that use Justplay can then access a better quality database of people who can afford a company's product, are potentially interested and have asked to be contacted.
"Using these sales leads that are properly qualified means that companies can achieve higher conversion rates and improve their overall sales effectiveness," says Alter.
He believes the root cause of receiving unsolicited calls is the sale of a database, sometimes in circumstances that can be described as illegal, by unscrupulous operators. Another source of the problem is selling of "lists" which can be tailored to a purchasing company's needs. While selling lists is not illegal, it is still a grey area.
Justplay is a member of the Digital Media & Marketing Association, a regulatory body that helps monitor practices like spamming.
Alter says the legal environment is improving and that consumer protection against such practices is getting better. The Consumer Protection Act, now in place for just under two years, offers some protection but is limited on its own. Looming on the horizon is the Protection of Personal Information Act, which will more strictly govern how personal data can be collected stored, disseminated and used.
But until then, you might just have to draw on your creativity to divert those persistent cold callers.