Do-Not-Call List a Success ... Even for Telemarketers

ByABC News
August 14, 2005, 5:42 PM

Aug. 14, 2005 — -- Two years ago, Joe and Martha Russo, like many Americans, could not get through dinner without being interrupted by telemarketers.

Today, in their Maplewood, N.J., home, it's a different story.

"We have gone from two calls per dinner hour to absolutely no calls from telemarketers," says Joe. "It's an incredible relief."

That is the verdict of much of the nation. One survey by the Pew organization found 85 percent of Americans report getting fewer telemarketing calls, and 20 percent say they get none at all.

In 2003, Congress heard the chorus of angry complaints and overwhelmingly approved the National Do-Not-Call Registry. Response from the public was equally enthusiastic. It was estimated 60 million phone numbers would be registered. The figure today is 98 million; roughly half the households in the United States.

The telemarketing companies fought hard against the list, arguing it would mean the end of their industry and a loss of livelihood for thousands of workers.

In fact, says Tim Searcy of the American Teleservices Association, "The industry has been a lot more resilient than we originally expected."

Smart Reply in San Francisco is an example. It was founded just as the do-not-call list was taking effect. Its strategy was to call only the people who might actually like its pitch.

"We got into this business at a time when it seemed like everyone was panicking about if they would be surviving or not," says Eric Holmen, vice president of Smart Reply. The do-not-call legislation allows companies to call people who have done business with them in the past 18 months, even if they are on the list.

"At the same time everyone else was jumping off the ship, we found great success in just good communication," he says.

Smart Reply leaves recorded messages on answering machines where its research shows people are more tolerant of a sales pitch. It would rather not catch you at home. If it does, its machinery knows it, and sends out a shorter message.