Friday, January 14, 2011
By Kim Kohatsu
On Wednesday, January 12th, Aaron Titus was awakened at 4:33 AM. His phone rang, with an automated message from the Prince George’s County School Board announcing that school would be delayed by two hours. Titus was infuriated. He had already heard about the delayed opening the night before, and to be awakened at 4:30 was ridiculous in his mind. Titus didn’t take the unwelcome call lying down. He found a robocall company online (we don't know which one), recorded a message, and uploaded the numbers of nine Prince George’s County School Board members, its superintendent, and general counsel. At 4:30 AM Thursday, their phones rang to Aaron’s message,
“This is a Prince George’s County School District parent, calling to thank you for the robocall yesterday at 4:30 in the morning. I decided to return the favor. While I know the school district wanted to ensure I drop my child off two hours late on a snow day, I already knew that before I went to bed. I hope this call demonstrates why a 4:30 a.m. call does more to annoy than to inform.”By Friday, Titus’s story was picked up by the Washington Post, and he was interviewed on WashingtonPost.com, Fox, ABC, CBS, Good Morning America, MSNBC, Fox & Friends, and several local affiliates. Clearly, his story has struck a nerve. So how can you ensure that your CallFire Voice Broadcast campaigns don’t meet the same terrible fate?
- Double- and triple-check your campaign settings. The school’s announcement was sent at the early morning hour by a simple human error. This can be avoided by checking over your work.
- Maintain an internal Do-Not-Call list. Your internal DNC list in the CallFire interface should be kept up-to-date and used in every subsequent campaign you run.
- Add yourself to your own campaigns. CallFire sends broadcasts at a rapid rate of at least 50 calls per minute. However, if your own phone number is among those called, and you accidentally set the time incorrectly, you can stop your campaign midway and hopefully save whoever's left. You’ll still upset the people who have been called, but may be able to minimize the damage.
- Follow best practices even better. Titus recalls he doesn’t know when he agreed to receive phone notifications. Assuming the PG County School Board followed best practices, he probably did agree at some point. It is essential that you clearly communicate the intent to use your contacts’ phone numbers for broadcast messages. (Also, for business communications, FTC rules require agreement. In a non-profit's case, like a school district, they would not be subject to this requirement. Still, informing parents that they'll be added is a good idea. Clayton, MO schools allow parents to opt out, but they must renew that opt out every year).
- Include opt-out information in your broadcasts. End every message with opt-out instructions, such as "To discontinue receiving phone notifications, call xxx-xxx-xxxx." You can also use Hosted IVR to add a press-1 capability to connect the called party to someone in your organization that can remove them from your list.
- Consider SMS Broadcasts instead. For quick messages such as this 2-hour delay, a text message would have been less likely to awaken parents, would be received much more quickly, and have the same informative effect.