Rebekah Johnson: Hi everyone, welcome to Tuesday Talks, a live discussion series where we shed light and bring truth to emerging topics in the communications industry. I’m Rebekah Johnson, founder and CEO of Numeracle, and I’ll be co-hosting today’s session with Stuart Discount, CEO of SMD Contact Center Consulting and Co-Chair of the Enterprise Communications Advocacy Coalition (ECAC). It's great to have you here with us today, Stuart, welcome!
Stuart Discount: Rebekah, thanks, it’s always great to talk to you and work with you so it’s my pleasure being here.
Rebekah Johnson: So here’s something a little bit different. Our Tuesday Talks have been very heavy on the technology side back, covering telecom standards and the latest trending technologies affecting enterprises of all industries. There's something else that has just as much impact on enterprises and their ability to engage or connect with their consumers, customers, patients, and members, and that is regulations and laws. Too many business leaders ignore one of the greatest entry points for negative and positive impacts on its ability to communicate through the technologies we often discussed on Tuesday Talks.
Before starting Numeracle, I was focused on privacy, security, and communication compliance which included the TCPA, TSR, GLB, short code rules, and so on. One of my greatest frustrations with that job was that it seemed as though the people who wrote these rules and regulations did not understand how businesses operated and how the technologies they regulated were leveraged by the businesses. Overall, it just seems like a disconnect from the business impacts.
While I absolutely do appreciate support of the consumer voice being considered, what was evident to me was the lack of the enterprise voice, whether it be retail business, restaurants, auto industries, hospitals, financial institutions, schools, government entities themselves, and so on. This left me in the position of really trying to figure out how to be compliant even when it didn't make sense to be compliant, and there were moments like that.
I also had to consider how to minimize the financial impact that these rules and regulations had on our line of business and it put me in the passenger seat on all of these rules. If you know me, you know that I am not one to sit quietly in the passenger seat, so no surprise, I did something that put me and businesses in the driver seat.
Based on a network of powerhouse industry leaders and influencers, a small group to advocate on Capitol Hill and to Regulatory Agencies, notably the FTC and FCC, was formed to protect legal communication from overbearing rules. This group is known as the Enterprise Communications Advocacy Council (ECAC), which I co-chair with Stuart Discount. Working with organizations we seek to identify the industry issues impacting our businesses so we can come together to advocate and impact a positive change.
Stuart, I did mention industry powerhouse and influencer, that describes you. What I would like to dive into is one of the most fascinating things when I first met you. It was years ago before I started Numeracle. I was fascinated to hear about the hard work that you had done with regards to TCPA. I have been working on TCPA from a compliance standpoint for the past eight years or so, and I didn't really know anybody who was out there without advocating on behalf of it. I learned and appreciated that you have to have a voice.
I would like for the group to understand that every single person listening has benefited because of this man's work, they really have. Can you share a little bit of your background and how you've always been in the driver's seat on rules and regulations thanks?
Stuart Discount: Thanks, Rebekah. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have been in the industry for probably longer than anybody on this call, and sometimes, I find myself being here before people were born. I had a business called 1 2 1 Direct Response, I was in this industry being highly regulated. I was also on the non-profit side and that came with another whole level of regulation and I was going to run a business and risk my employment and that of my employees. So I had to be compliant and had to know what was going on. I had to be able to be in some position where I could help direct some of the stuff that was happening.
Congress has this tremendous fault where they pass legislation and there’s unintended consequences, which in a way they don’t care about but they also just don’t know about them. I got involved in the advocacy side of the industry when I joined the American Teleservices Association (ATA). When I became Chairman of that, it was in the “Do Not Call” days. In fact, I was at the final hearing of the appeals court in Oklahoma where we lost, unfortunately, and our appeal wasn’t accepted to the US Supreme Court.
I was Chairman ATA at the time, so I’ve always had this involvement, whether it be at the federal level or at the state level, of trying to promote the good side of our business, because let's face it, there are bad actors out there that everybody thinks are bad telemarketers. Really they’re criminals and they use the phone as their tool of criminality. That was my start, and then through the years with my time at ATA at PACE, I ran their government affairs committee for over ten years, then I took over for three years as CEO.
We were always dealing with the regulatory side of the business. Most everything that has affected the industry was when we were waiting to see what was going to happen. Congress did something and then the FTC or the FTC would have the power to do something and say what they were going to do. So, the industry has always been, in my opinion, reactive. We'd been waiting for the shoe to drop and then we’d go and complain and tell them our sad stories, but the damage was already done, because Congress had the power to legislate and give the regulatory bodies the authority to do certain things that were anti-business. We’re always pro-customer, even when the customer is wrong. A lot of us look at this the same way, and Congress obviously thinks that as well. There are consequences of having any close-minded thing.
That's what I've been doing: advocating for this industry for close to thirty years now and it’s the most enjoyable part of my involvement in the call center industry and contact center industry. I've been on TV shows and done interviews and it's tough because we get picked on all the time. I remember when Mitch Roth was our counsel while I was Chairman, and he said he was the worst thing as a lawyer representing telemarketers. I bring up Mitch because he’s our legal counsel for the ECAC.
Rebekah Johnsons: You’re so right, and what’s interesting is I felt like I was all alone when I was in that compliance regulatory role and reacting too. It's a very defeating and frustrating space to be in for all businesses and that's what I realized. I was representing different industries and I had to reconcile how this affects this industry and that industry and their types of communication. Is this text? Is this voice? It became so overwhelming that a lot of times the responses don't use that channel. Then it actually ends up being a negative for the consumer.
So here's this rule and it’s set out to protect consumers and all it does is, at the end of the day, impact the consumer in a negative way. I felt very strongly about how enterprises were being presented with a bad reputation. We exist to provide services, especially in healthcare and the hospital side. I remember I had to fight very hard to just get texting accepted as a communication channel within healthcare due to the regulations and the oversight of the rules of it. It was just too much so people give up and they don’t want to leverage it. There has to be a balance in that space.On the STIR/SHAKEN side there's all this talk about the “Enterprise Gap,” but that Enterprise Gap is everywhere. There is an Enterprise Gap with regards to the voice within the rules and the regulations.
So let’s talk a little bit about ECAC, which is what we use as the shorter acronym. You, I and Mitch Roth have known each other a while and we all used to just complain to each other and that’s how we got started.
Stuart Discount: Let me add something to that, because the first time we started doing business together was when I had several members at PACE, my larger enterprises who were making a lot of outbound calls, who had called me and said, at the same time, how we're all having problems with connect rates. All of a sudden it dipped 25%, 30%, 35% and they didn't know this was something industry-wide or a telecom issue. That's when you came into sight as someone who really understood what was actually happening. That’s the first time we found out about analytics companies, that's the first time we heard of First Orion, Hiya, and TNS. We had known nothing about them, and you taught us. That's when this all started happening back then.
Rebekah Johnson: That was our first coalition together and it was funny because none of you really knew me. I actually spoke about TCPA compliance at a satellite off-site in Omaha, and that's where I had met one of the members. Actually, it was one of the top major carriers who called me because I sounded the alarm when I was on the FCC Robocall Strike Force, and everything I predicted came true. I received this phone call from one of the major wireless carriers and they asked about what they should do. My first response was they didn’t need to be listening to me but that they should be listening to the businesses.
That's when I immediately reached out and did that presentation and I remember at the end of it there was complete silence. All I got was a “who the hell are you?” And it was a scary message, I knew we had to do something about this. So that was our first time working together with a coalition. It was a communication protection coalition where we brought together the FCC, the FTC, all the major wireless carriers, and the analytics providers. As a group, we demonstrated that we can work together on both sides.
Because of that experience and what we've been able to achieve, the reputation of myself, you, and Mitch is very well known. We are educators who want to be educators about the enterprise space, to the lawmakers on what are the impacts of these rules. We’re not sitting here as a coalition to say we don't want them doing anything. We do appreciate and understand the consumer side and that needs to be considered but not to the detriment of businesses.
Stuart Discount: Exactly. One of the things that drove us to start the ECAC was that most of the government affairs and advocacy work we had done in the industry, as I said earlier, was really reactive. Truthfully, most of the action was with the FCC and the FTC. Congress was really out of it and would tell us to go back to the regulatory bodies. But with the TCPA, the lawsuit, and the ATDS (Automatic Telephone Dialing System) decision by the Supreme Court, basically, what it did was it put everything back in Congress’ hands and they had to re-legislate.
But to do that you have to have access to Congress; you just can't walk in. We used to go once a year with PACE to a legislative conference and every year we would be re-introducing ourselves. Basically, “I’m so-and-so from this company and this is our idea and we want to be your resource.” Fast forward to the next conference and it was the same conversation because there was never a sustained advocacy effort on this.
That's why we started the ECAC, because we knew we had to get to Congress and get these folks to hear that the businesses are actually being harmed by some of this legislation and you're not even listening to us or haven't heard our side of the story. So that's what we did in forming the ECAC and we have a permanent lobbying firm in Washington that represents us everyday, including us working there too.
Rebekah Johnson: From that perspective, one thing that people don't appreciate and understand is specifically t communications, why are we just Enterprise Communications Advocacy? It’s communications because when it comes to introducing bills and laws, this is a bipartisan supported group. It’s got both sides of the House and both sides of the Senate and there is no division, typically, when these laws get proposed. The only division I see is whenever you have two different Senators who want their name on it, that’s when there’s a battle.
The TRACED Act didn’t get a lot of pushback, so when it comes to rules and regulations around communications it is not that difficult to get it through and get it passed. Everybody rallies behind it and it's a really good topic for the voters. This is a space that gets the support that it’s looking for so it's egregious that we haven't had this type of coalition and focus. I'm based in the DC area and as part of the ECAC, as Stuart mentioned, I'm visiting Capitol Hill all day.
We are dedicating a lot of time and effort into getting that recognition and to be the go-to; it's been great, Stuart. The response has been a lot more welcoming than I thought, I'll be honest with you, it was a little scary to be sitting in front of these leaders and tell them you represent businesses and want to dial you. What was funny though, Congressman August Pfluger in Texas District 11 told us that his campaign calls were being blocked and they didn’t even realize it.
Stuart Discount: When you go to Congress, most of the time you're talking to the Chief of Staff or the Legislative Director. They’re “experts” in different subjects that they have to monitor for the elected officials, so they have a superficial understanding. They think they’re experts but really it’s superficial because they really don't know the business and that's really been a problem.
So educating the FCC and FTC is, in a way, futile. Although, I will tell you that in the old TCPA with the 3% rule of abandonment rate, the FTC and FCC had two different definitions or rules for that. We had a meeting with Lois Greisman in the FTC and we got them to change the FTC because all of a sudden they understood the explanation of why a 3% per day abandonment rate doesn't make any sense and why over a 30-day period, which is what the FCC had, did. And they really understood it because we put a graph together to show them and they changed it. But usually they're not that ready to listen because they always think we have an agenda. But we’re just protecting our businesses.
Rebekah Johnson: You bring up a really good point on education. Part of what we have done through the ECAC is bridge a gap over to the consumer side because there is a strong organized consumer voice. I’m a consumer, I love that this exists and we’re all thankful that this exists. But typically, the enterprise has not engaged with the consumer except to argue. While some might say I’m very argumentative, I’m really not. Just come to the table with your expertise and I’ll have a great conversation with you, if you don’t it might feel like I’m arguing.
So we broke down those walls on the consumer side and what we learned was that there was some information sharing that we needed on both sides. There were some things about the consumer challenges, and consumer impact that they’re trying to advocate for, which I wasn’t fully aware of. And vice-versa, it was the same on the other side. When you go and lobby for these particular communication restrictions, that has an impact on such-and-such industry or their type of communication, and I can bring it right back around to the consumer because it does, it absolutely has an impact on the consumer.
Through this coalition, we’re to bridge even that gap and that hasn’t been done. Stuart, we’re not even a year into this and we have done so much work under this coalition. Lois Greisman, who I enjoy working with the FTC through, Greisman is a great leader there. We’ve gotten turnaround on the consumer side, even on filings that have already been previously made with the FCC, the NCLC (National Consumer Law Center) retracted some based on learning and understanding how these things affect enterprises.
Stuart Discount: Absolutely, I’m amazed that we’ve gotten this far with the filings that we did, but we’re getting attention from Congress, which is really why we started this. Your day tomorrow is filled with meetings on The Hill and I’m meeting next week in the New Jersey area with two Congressmen at their offices. It’s not just the TCPA anymore, it’s data privacy.
Companies that didn’t do any outbound telemarketing never really had any worries but they do now because data privacy is a huge issue. We have 50 state laws, can you imagine the compliance costs? What if you make a mistake? California’s law has a private rate of action and we know with the TCPA, you're not scared of the FCC, you’re scared of the law firms that are trying to sue you. This is another area that we’re tackling because we’re promoting one federal law, and the consumer groups actually want one federal law as well. They do not want to exempt state laws, unfortunately, which is the big difference, but that makes a federal law worthless anyway if you don’t.
We’ve actually done a lot and I think we’re gaining a lot of traction now. What’s also good is we’re in front. If you’re a company that wants to make sure that someone's out there working for you and you can't be out there because, let's face it, sometimes it's bad PR, we’re out there for you.
Rebekah Johnson: That is a good point, whenever we were talking about this in the founding stages of who we are and what we want to do and be, a big part of that is who is going to be a member of this Coalition. Everybody who has come to us, that privacy with regards to their membership, is something that we do protect. We're not established in a way where we have to reveal who is a part of the Coalition. It's definitely a good place for your regulatory counsel to participate because you’re going to miss things that are happening on The Hill unless you have somebody. You can either hire a lobbying group, who are typically doing a lot of other things and are probably lobbying more for your business line, whether it’s financial, or banking, or whatever it may be. That's great, but we're zeroed in on communications. There are active bills, we got another one bill next week proposed around communications and I think we're going to keep seeing more and more of those types of proposals.
Stuart Discount: Absolutely, we’re seeing them everywhere. We are using the firm the Vogel Group, which is actually one of the larger Lobbying groups, and represent both the Democratic side and the Republican side so we have access and they’ve been great in getting us this access. This is a shameless plug for anybody who would like to find out more about us can contact Rebekah or contact me and we can tell you more. Again, we’re not really an association, we’re really just a coalition of companies and business folk who want to have a voice.
Rebekah Johnson: We like to end our talks with this is by identifying three key things that you would like to share with the audience.
- There is now a voice in DC with lobbying through the ECAC and some of our own members.
- Another one is data privacy, which has nothing to do with the coalition. Just make sure that you’re aware of what’s going on. There are several states already that have passed laws and are dangerous. The penalties are very severe and you really need to make sure that you have a data privacy compliance person, it’s really important.
Those are the two main points that I really want to leave you with. Then, again, any information that you want on our Coalition, please reach out to us. Again, we're not a huge organization, we really just want to make sure we have enough money to pay our lobbyists.
Rebekah Johnson: Someone please pull me aside if I am doing conferences or trade shows. I want to be the boots on the ground and work to get that progress.
Molly Weis: Hi everyone! We have a couple of audience questions.
How important is it in discussions with Congress that you are representing call centers that have U.S.-based employees?
Stuart Discount: Whether they're International or not, the fact they do have U.S. employees is extremely important, especially on the Congressional side where if you have a contact center in their congressional district, it’s very important. We can help facilitate, for example, having some of our members meet their Congress members to talk about that, but it is important. We all know this is an international industry sector and there are going to be companies that have U.S employees and outside. The employees are still important and we’re in a really bad situation with employment in call centers in the U.S. right now due to a myriad of reasons but hiring is not that easy.
Rebekah Johnson: Actually, one of the meetings that I had with a Congressman out of Iowa, where there are call centers, he’s actually the one who brought it up, with regards to the employees. It was actually good to hear and I appreciated hearing that there is awareness of the jobs. Call center jobs do provide a certain area of jobs for people who maybe didn't get a college degree. It employs a lot of people and provides a good life for the families that are benefiting from hard work; they really are doing hard work. It's unfortunate because I think the bad reputation that those people get is that it’s a smoke filled room of people cold calling and being rude or disrespectful but it is so not that. Maybe it was in the 70s and 80s but it’s not anymore. It’s really focused on the consumer side and I am happy to see that.
Molly Weis: We got another question from the chat window.
Any update on the impact of the TRACED Act so far?
Rebekah Johnson: I’ll focus on the enterprise side, I'm not as concerned about the carriers. Impact to the enterprise, I would say more than anything, is confusion with regards to if their carrier is implementing STIR/SHAKEN or not. The TRACE Act covers STIR.SHAKEN and it also covers robocall mitigation. I think what we have here is an issue of understanding and awareness of what this Act would have on not just the carriers, but the enterprises. Some businesses are taking advantage of that confusion and they’re interjecting more confusion at a cost, so you can basically pay to be confused further.
From the ECAC there's nothing for us to do and there is no action for us to take other than from a regulatory side because the TRACED Act gives the F C authority to do certain things and pass certain rules. That's where our level of involvement comes in to represent the enterprise and make sure that it's not being too disruptive from where the TRACED Act left off. I don't see anything else that’s coming that is like the TRACED Act. If anything, what I am saying on The Hill is, “Stop passing more laws and introducing more bills, leave it alone. If you thought what you had was such a good law, let it play out fully.” I am getting wins on that and I really appreciate it, but everyone still gets a little antsy.
Stuart Discount: As you said earlier, they want their name on the bill, unfortunately. Even if it doesn't go anywhere, they can go to the petition and show them what they did.
Rebekah Johnson: We would like to thank all of you for joining us for another episode of Tuesday Talks. We hope to see you all again on Tuesday, September 7th, where we will be joined by Jim McEachren to discuss STIR/SHAKEN. Thank you everyone.