Warm welcome from UAE residents for new rules with hefty fines for cold calls

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Clockwise from top left: Fanan Smadi, Kishore Dharmarajan, Vasim Salim, Sajith Marakkar, Ahmed Basshar and Ipshita Sharma
Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Just hours after he felt relieved to know about the UAE’s new rule regulating telemarketing services, Dan, a photographer in Dubai, received yet another unsolicited promotional call.

This time, he decided to answer the call, which indicated it was from a capital market company. “Aren’t you aware of the new rule that you can be fined for these cold calls?” he asked the caller. Pat came the reply: “Yes sir, but it will be implemented from August only.”

Dan said he was surprised by the reply from the marketing professional. “It shows how desperate they are. I just hope that this trend will end when the new rules come into force,” he said.

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According to an announcement on Sunday, a new resolution regulating marketing through phone calls with measures aimed at curbing the intrusive nature of telemarketing and ensuring privacy for consumers will become effective from “mid-August 2024”.

The new rules stipulate severe penalties for violations, including warnings and fines up to Dh150,000, and even the possibility of partial or total suspension of activities. These sanctions extend to the cancellation of licenses and the denial of telecommunication services within the UAE for up to one year.

Like Dan, several residents have given a warm welcome to the rules that will curb cold calls which many find annoying and violating privacy.

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Frustrated non-potential customers

“I welcome this decision. These promotional calls are extremely annoying,” said Fanan Smadi, an Arabic account manager with a PR agency in Dubai.

“Retail stores or product companies usually just send emails or text messages. However, trading and investment companies, real estate brokers, virtual currency companies, and language course providers are the ones constantly pestering me with calls.”

Smadi said she was happy to know that marketers can no longer use personal mobile numbers to call customers. “When the company names started to appear, we knew it was a promotional call, but now they even use their personal mobile numbers. You can’t just ignore these calls, especially when you’re waiting for an important one, and they call from personal numbers. If I want a product or service, I’ll research it on Google or social media. With the improvements in digital marketing, there’s no need for a person to call me.”

Smadi hoped that there would be action against those leaking numbers or databases to marketing companies as well. “I have no idea who is distributing our numbers to these companies. Even if I ask them to stop, another person from the same company will call. It’s constant, morning and evening. The same person calls multiple times and even sends messages on WhatsApp. I think they are sharing databases among their competitors even. Firstly, we need to fix the issue of data sharing.”

Ipshita Sharma, a travel agent and bookseller, said she was excited after reading about the new law.

“I am waiting for my first spam call after the law comes into effect to laugh in their face as I complain about them. Let them all fear calling me. I will complain about them so fast, they won’t know what’s coming,” she said, expressing her frustration about the constant cold calls that she receives even after registering with the Do Not Call Registry (DNCR)– a controlled platform governing and protecting individuals from unsolicited or malicious calls.

“I own a small apartment and no matter what I did, I would get so many calls, especially on the weekend. It’s really insane. I don’t know how so many real estate companies have access to your details. I think DNCR helps only if the caller’s number is registered as a marketing company. If they are calling from personal numbers, it cannot be stopped.”

Sharma was also glad that marketers will not be allowed to make calls from their personal mobile numbers.

Cold calls vs robocalls vs digital marketing

Kishore Dharmarajan, CEO of a digital agency in Dubai and the founder of Digital Marketing Dubai Group, said he receives a dozen calls a week from companies selling Forex platforms. “I try to explain to the cold caller that this is something I have very little interest in. When the calls come thick and fast from countries outside the UAE, I often block the number, but persistent tele-callers find ways to create new numbers and dial all the time.”

The industry expert pointed out a new kind of threat from robocalls that use AI with human-sounding voices and the capacity to answer questions and even laugh at jokes. “Companies making millions of robocalls eventually hope to close a few deals every day despite losing brand value. I think new technology would also be required to stop robocalls.”

Vasim Salim, another e-commerce expert and digital marketing head at a food packaging manufacturer, pointed out that it is crucial to respect the customer’s preferred time for a call, enhancing the likelihood of converting the lead.

“Personally, I engage more with calls from companies I’ve shown interest in and tend to avoid unsolicited cold calls from unknown companies. Calls resulting from data scraping and unsolicited references can be intrusive and annoying. Direct requests from customers make them more open to engaging with us at their convenience,” he observed.

The industry experts said companies should consider leveraging lead generation and engagement campaigns on digital platforms.

“The advantage is clear: when a customer submits a query, you can immediately ask for a convenient time to call. An interested customer will willingly provide suitable timings. Moreover, when a lead is generated, the customer is often available to discuss or chat about products or services,” pointed out Salim.

Other side of the coin

How is the rule going to impact the sales and marketing professionals? Ahmed Basshar Nilaver, a real estate broker in Dubai, said it would have a positive impact on them as well.

“Honestly, cold calling is not the preferable option for any sales person. We have to do it most of the time since that is what the company asks us to do and that is the only mode to connect with the clients.”

He said with the new rule coming into force, companies would spend more to generate genuine leads and marketing. “We would get the actual leads which clients have enquired about. And the situation wouldn’t be awkward anymore,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi resident Sajith Marakkar, who has years of experience in selling banking products in the UAE, said: “While considering the increased number of marketing calls we get every day, there is definitely a concern about the privacy of individuals. In that way, it is a good decision but bad news for traditional marketers.”

“When I used to work in the frontline selling financial products in the UAE, the major challenge was entry to particular buildings and offices. It was tough to get an entry and it was tough to get an appointment for a product like a credit card. So, those days the successful model was “cold calls”, walking into offices without appointments,” Marakkar recalled.

“However, the future of sales is not about cold calls, or walking to offices without an appointment. It’s about technology, bots, and algorithms,” he added.