article

Third-Party Verifiers Keep Carriers Out of Hot Seat

Posted: 01/1999

Third-Party Verifiers Keep Carriers Out of Hot Seat
By Jennifer Knapp

Resellers of local and long distance telecommunications might be well-served by staying
abreast of changing regulations regarding slamming–the switching of a person’s
telecommunications carrier without consent. The regulatory fines for this infraction are
growing and lawmakers have been pushing to make it a crime punishable by law.

Service providers that are paying attention to the escalating consequences for slamming
activity are employing third-party verification (TPV) services (see provider directory on
page 64) to confirm selection of their services by new subscribers. Heightened concern
over slamming also has forced TPV service bureaus to provide flexible verification
processes for different kinds of telecom sales; to address an increase in demand for
double-checking verifications; and to create new services that will help carriers refute
slamming complaints.

Anti-Slamming Measures

To avoid increasing penalties and fines, service providers
must be sure to verify every new service order they receive.

A compromise bill protecting consumers from slamming was strangled Oct. 21 before it
ever reached the Senate floor. The full House approved slamming bill H.R. 3888, sponsored
by Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, (R-La.), Oct. 12 following Senate approval of its
version, S. 1618, earlier this year. While the versions were radically different,
concessions were being negotiated hastily between House and Senate members as they
attempted to get a compromise bill to a conference committee before Congress adjourned for
the year.

But that did not happen, and telecom lawmakers are ticked off, blaming last-minute
opposition by long distance carriers for the bill’s false start. And while Tauzin is
expected to resurrect anti-slamming in 1999, telecom lawmakers have instructed the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) to do whatever it takes to prevent slamming, including
fines and penalties.

Tougher slamming policies would have to top the FCC’s efforts thus far. For example, in
April the FCC fined Virginia-based Fletcher Companies, a group of long distance carriers,
$5.6 million and revoked its operating license for its slamming practices. In October, the
FCC released Notices of Apparent Liability against Brittan Communications International
Inc., Houston, and Amer-I-Net Service Corp., Farmingdale, N.J., for slamming, levying
fines of $1.12 million and $1.36 million, respectively.

Verification Options

To avoid increasing penalties and fines, service providers must be sure to verify every
new service order they receive. They have a few options for verifying sales, depending on
what kind of sales force–direct, multilevel, agent, telemarketing–they are using, says
Jim Veilleux, president of VoiceLog LLC, a TPV provider based in Charlotte, N.C. These
options are:

* Letters of agency (LOA). For agent sales and multilevel marketing, there are
the LOA and electronic verification options, he says. An LOA requires the actual signature
of a customer.

"The problem with LOAs is you get a lot of forgeries," Veilleux says,
"particularly in an independent sales agent organization."

In the Brittan slamming case, for example, its LOAs contained erroneous information,
according to the FCC, which also noted that "in some cases, sweepstakes entry forms
were apparently used to authorize the switch. Some of the affected customers, however,
deny ever having filled out such forms or even visiting the cities in which the contests
were held."

* Electronic verification. Electronic verification (not to be confused with
automated TPV) allows the potential customer to call an 800 number to authorize a switch.
With this option, however, "you lose too many sales," Veilleux says.

VoiceLog, therefore, has developed a callback program for telecom agents. This program
allows the agent to give VoiceLog the phone number of a new customer. VoiceLog then calls
the customer directly to verify the sale, taking the onus off the customer to place that
call.

* Welcome letter. Verification options for telemarketers include the welcome
letter and TPV, performed either through interactive voice response (IVR) or by a live
operator.

It should be noted that the welcome letter has been ruled illegal in 13 states,
Veilleux says. These are Arizona, California, Delaware (for local), Florida, Hawaii,
Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Montana, New York, South Dakota and Wyoming.

"If I want to slam someone, I just put in the order, then send a welcome letter
that says, ‘Thank you very much for your order. If you do not call back in 14 days, we are
going to process your order,’" he explains. "Then the customer looks at it,
thinks it is junk mail, tosses it, and the order goes through."

* Live or automated TPV. This leaves TPV as the most reliable option for
telemarketers. York, Pa.-based Quick Response Inc., a subsidiary of Protocol
Communications Inc., and Dubuque, Iowa-based Verifications Plus, a subsidiary of Advanced
Data-Comm Inc., both originally performed live operator verifications, but recently moved
into IVR operations as well.

Arguments can be made for and against IVR as a viable service.

"What we are finding is there are a number of people who are still very confused
about how to use the IVR platform," says Tim Duggans, senior account executive for
Verifications Plus. This makes it difficult to know if the system will be 100 percent
effective.

VoiceLog, on the other hand, has targeted IVR as its primary operation, and only
recently has integrated live operators into its offers as backup for its IVR platform. The
trouble with live operators, says VoiceLog’s Veilleux, is you "get a mixed bag of
people. Some are good and some are terrible. The bad ones can really kill a sale."

Whether it is IVR or live operator, though, TPV stands out as the only preventative
verification service currently available, says Martin Senn, vice president of sales and
marketing for TPV service bureau Teltrust Teleservices Inc., Salt Lake City.

With TPV "we actually know if an order should not be put through," Senn adds.
"With any other method–LOA, electronic, welcome package–it is after the fact, which
means the damage is already done."

New and Improved

Third-Party Verification
Service Providers
ATL Telecom Services
+1 800 398 5777
www.atlts.com
Century Telecommunications Inc.
+1 888 888 8757
www.cticallcenter.com
Quick Response Inc.
+1 717 846 5800
www.qresponse.com
Southern New England
Telecommunications Corp.
+1 800 447 6386
www.snet.com
Teltrust Inc.
+1 800 530 3222
www.teltrust.com
Verifications Plus
+1 800 582 2444
www.advanced-data.com
VoiceLog LLC
+1 301 230 2129
www.voicelog.com
Source: Phone+ 1998 Industry Directory

The guidelines for who can offer TPV services are sketchy. Basically, the FCC has noted
that a TPV company must be "independent" of the carrier.

This leaves room for anyone with a call center to offer verification services, warns
Tom Barr, vice president of sales for Quick Response. But these centers may not be
addressing certain needs that carriers are bringing to the table, he adds.

For example, not only is it important that each verification be recorded, but some
carriers are seeking ways to verify each recording before a request is sent for
provisioning, Duggans says. To answer this need, Verifications Plus introduced in 1997 its
Total Verification process.

"After a sale is verified, those records can be written to a separate file, and we
call those people back immediately just as a double-check to make sure that we haven’t
made a mistake or there isn’t any fraudulent activity going on," he says.

As for the recordings themselves, TPV companies offer different ways to access this
information in the event a slamming complaint arises. Verifications Plus places the
recordings on a CD-ROM for its clients. "We also keep a second copy of the CD, and we
drain it onto a [digital audio] tape that is stored off site," Duggans says.

VoiceLog also records every verification made, but instead of copying the recordings to
a CD, they can conference the verification recording into a phone conversation between the
carrier and the complainant. And, the company’s most recent service upgrade includes a web
interface to verifications, Veilleux says.

"Clients will be able to get online and actually view a report that shows all the
verifications that we did," he adds. "Then they can click on each individual
recording and listen to it."

Quick Response also is looking to the Internet for enhanced verification services, Barr
says. By providing a button on a reseller’s web page that connects to a TPV operator,
Quick Response will be helping carriers sell to computer-minded consumers.

Teltrust has been servicing Internet-based provisioning for about a year now, Senn
says. "We have companies that market over the Internet, and as people sign up they
sign an electronic file [from which] we make an outbound verification call before
provisioning."

As for the future of TPV services, change is still in the wind, Senn says. TPV is
definitely not something that will be erased from the map, but will be applied to more
applications such as local service, electric utilities services, wireless services and
Internet access, he adds.

Jennifer Knapp is news editor for PHONE+ Magazine.


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