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When Harry is Not Sally: Managing Number Changes and Mobile Identity

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When Harry is Not Sally: Managing Number Changes and Mobile Identity

March 27, 2017

Today’s cell phone is a communications device, wallet, entertainment device and digital assistant. Many Americans interact more with their mobile devices than they do with their significant other. Engaging with customers and prospects via their mobile phones is now a business necessity. A Google (News - Alert) Study announced at Mobile World Congress 2017 estimates that 30 percent of all SMS messaging in 2017 will be Business-to-Consumer.

With so much hinging on mobile customer engagement, it is important for companies to get that contact right. But, what happens when a personalized communication meant for Sally instead goes to Harry? What impact could this have on the relationship? What businesses are discovering is that these misidentification moments are surprisingly common. An estimated 45 million American phone numbers change each year. Often these changes happen without notification. As such, millions of Americans are receiving misdirected coupons, alerts, reminders and promotions just by nature of getting a new phone number. On the flip side, consumers who opted-in to receive communications, such as doctor visit appointment confirmations, lab test results, and prescription notifications, may not be receiving these asked-for alerts and reminders.

These phone number changes create inefficiencies for mobile marketers. Each contact costs money, and time and energy is invested into cultivating the wrong prospects. Even worse yet are the risks reassigned and recycled phone numbers create.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) of 1991 was primarily introduced to protect consumers from nuisance calls. The Act proscribed a set of rules that companies would follow that set limitations on types of customer engagement – for example, setting allowable times of day for telemarketing calls. In 2015, the FCC (News - Alert) expanded TCPA to address a number of emerging issues related to expanded mobile phone use, among them the number recycling problem. Now mobile marketers are responsible for making sure that the telephone number on record matches the identity of the person who has opted-in to receive texts and/or phone calls.  Matching the contact number to the consumer of record is often referred to as “Right Party Verification.”

Not complying with this TCPA requirement can be costly. The penalty for a first offense is $500 per text or call. Repeated offenses, or those resulting from willful disregard of the law, can cost $1,500 each. Consumer frustration with misdirected calls and texts has reached a boiling point, as evidenced by recent and significant legal settlements related to Right Party Verification. A major U.S. bank settled for approximately $75 million. In January, DISH network was found liable for $20.5 million in a class action suit. This is a troubling trend, but there are things companies can do to continue customer engagement, while also protecting themselves.

There are a number of third-party data suppliers that can provide list cleaning (or “list scrubbing”) services. Mobile marketers would provide a list that the provider then reviews against a variety of proprietary data sources to identify numbers at high risk for a TCPA violation. Marketers should take care that the provider they choose regularly updates its lists and acquires data from reputable sources. Companies should be prepared to pay by the record for this type of service.

Companies that outsource their messaging to a mobile marketing firm or call center can leverage these firms for list hygiene, which may be offered as an add-on service. Like enterprise companies, mobile marketing firms and call centers rely on a short list of third party providers to supply them the Right Party Verification information. However, because they send such a high volume of SMS messages, these firms typically qualify for volume pricing. Partnering with their mobile marketing firm or call center may be the best option for companies and mobile marketers, as they can benefit from highly reliable data sources at a lower price point than they would pay on their own.

Reaching customers efficiently while also managing risk is vital to mobile marketers. Services exist today to make sure the person you want to reach is the one getting the message. 

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