Mark Bridge writes:
Do you want to know how to foul up your customer relationships? How to use mobile marketing to reduce customer loyalty? Then gather around, dearly beloved, for I have a case study you're sure to appreciate.
This is a true story. I've not mentioned the company involved because I still hope they'll repent – but the facts remain exactly as I tell them.
A couple of years ago, I would occasionally go out for a meal with my lovely girlfriend. (She's since become my lovely wife; you don't need to worry about that part of the story). Once, when booking a local restaurant, they asked me for a contact number in case there was a problem. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I gave my mobile number.
When that restaurant sent me a promotional text message some weeks later, I wasn't happy. To start with, I hadn't given them permission to use my number for marketing. And it wasn't possible for me to opt out automatically. Instead of a telephone number or 'shortcode' number, the company name was shown as the sender of the message. That meant I wasn't able to reply with a 'STOP' message. So I phoned the restaurant and asked to be unsubscribed. I was given an apology and told they'd remove my number from their list.
It happened again. This time I wrote and asked to be removed from their contact list. And then nothing. Nothing for two whole years. I'd almost forgotten about them. Until last month, when I received a text message telling me not to worry about the spending cuts (!) and offering a homemade pie or burger in a deal "for tonight only".
You're probably not surprised to hear that I didn't tell my wife to grab her coat. (If we'd wanted a beer and a burger, we'd have walked to the local pub). And there was still no ability to opt-out of the SMS messages by replying STOP. Still no valid address to which opt-out requests could be sent.
I hadn't finished muttering under my breath when another message arrived six days later. Yes, nothing for two years, then two messages within a week. Followed by a third message the same day. "Bring your own bottle every Tuesday night". "Early Bird Special from 8am – 9am".
So I've written to the company again, this time – in a slightly grumpier style – pointing out that the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 are designed to prevent this kind of unwanted messaging.
Quite simply, you're not allowed to send marketing text messages without including some kind of reply option. "A person shall neither transmit, nor instigate the transmission of, a communication… where a valid address to which the recipient of the communication may send a request that such communications cease has not been provided".
And you're only allowed to send these messages to people who've been given the option of 'opting out' and haven't done so. "A person may send or instigate the sending of electronic mail for the purposes of direct marketing where… the recipient has been given a simple means of refusing the use of his contact details for the purposes of such direct marketing, at the time that the details were initially collected, and, where he did not initially refuse the use of the details, at the time of each subsequent communication".
So that's the story so far. I'll let you know what happens. As I mentioned earlier, I'm hoping for a happy(ish) ending - but I doubt I'll be going back to the restaurant.
[How to complain: Information Commissioner's Office (pdf)]