Primus offers relief from nuisance calls

Primus Canada recently announced the launch of is Telemarketing Guard product. Free to Primus’ residential customers, the technology is designed to reduce the number of unsolicited nuisance calls.

The features and the strategy are relatively straightforward. Telemarketing Guard can automatically identify calls to let them through, block them, or route them to voice mail. Users can create personalized “deny” and “allow” lists by pressing *44 after the call and following voice prompts. Primus claims that Telemarketing Guard is the first and only service of its kind anywhere in the world.

Primus’ own data indicates that 90 per cent of Canadians find telemarketing “annoying” or “very annoying.” That’s hardly surprising. What is interesting is that, despite people’s negative attitude toward telemarketers, the approach is still effective.

“Canadians buy about $16.16 billion in goods and service over the telephone on an annual basis,” says Ed Cartwright, senior director for communications at the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA). “This is a big business.”

The voluntary system that the CMA promotes, in which member organizations must respect a do-not-call list, is less than perfect in that it doesn’t stop non-members from bothering people. However, some might argue that Primus’ service will soon be obsolete: Canada is working on U.S.-style legislation that will result in a national do-not-call registry.

“We support a national do-not-call list,” says Cartwright. “There are thousands of organizations that don’t belong to the CMA, perhaps in part because they don’t want to subscribe to our program.”

As it stands, the CRTC has not made a decision on how to proceed. It’s expected that the system will be Web-based, with customers then able to sign up for the program from a browser. If it is similar to the system set up in the United States then it might be run by a third party.

Ted Chislett, Primus president and chief operating officer, thinks there will still be a demand for Telemarketing Guard. “The registry is all or nothing,” he says. “Our system allows for white, grey, and black lists. Calls can come through, be announced, go directly to voice mail, or be blocked. The system also allows subscribers to ID telemarketers. With the #44 option, complaint thresholds can be registered, meaning that telemarketers can be blocked for other people as well.”

Chislett points out that the law will be imperfect, as certain people will always be excluded. It is uncertain, for example, whether political parties will be allowed to call, or whether registered charities will have access and purely commercial calls won’t. There might be certain organizations that you would want to hear from, and these calls would get through, but you might have put up with calls from other charities, too. Telemarketing Guard could help here, though many organizations use third-party call centres and aren’t identified by the same number every time.

From the CMA’s perspective, support for the national registry comes out of respect for the annoyance factor, but also because it might improve business practices. “We’re a marketing association, and we know that legislation would result in more effective lists,” says Cartwright.

One oddity of the Primus announcement is that it focused exclusively on telemarketing, whereas the technology’s ability to, effectively, provide a voice spam filter, could have numerous applications, including blocking harassing calls from individuals or collection agencies.

Primus has been working on Telemarketing Guard since early 2007, and has applied for a patent. At present the service is only for local line customers, but by the end of the year Primus intends to offer it to its VoIP broadband customers as well. The company has also left open the possibility of licensing it to other carriers.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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