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Asking the PIQ – Where Do You Stand?

Ronen Ben-Dror is director of client relationship development at Blue Valley Telemarketing and can be contacted at 847 433-8183 or

Telemarketers are well aware of the Personal Identifier Question (PIQ) and recent changes in rules regarding the PIQ have caused somewhat of a debate in the industry. The personal identifier question was the primary verifier for BPA that telemarketers in fact spoke with the person on the file sent for audit. While some in the industry believe it is a waste of time, others feel it is an important verifier that improves the quality of the data captured.

Since recordings rules were implemented by BPA, the PIQ was asked only for subscribers that didn't want to be recorded. The PIQ was not intended to ask something that was too personal or sensitive, yet simply to verify for certain that the person on the phone was indeed the named person. The challenge in the development of this question is that not everyone agrees on what qualifies as a sensitive question.

Regardless, advertisers are requesting assurances that the telemarketing requests are valid and the BPA board, as well as advisory committees felt that additional assurances could be made through recording all outbound telemarketing requests. Those rules went into effect just over five years ago.

The PIQ is not required if the conversation is recorded, which many felt would make the outbound calls less intrusive or invasive. Some Telemarketing vendors said they noticed an improved response rate after dropping the PIQ, and they also experienced reduced call times and costs associated with the telemarketing process. What happens, however, if the recordings are invalid or there are other problems? Could the PIQ eliminate challenges that could arise from such an obstacle?

BPA notes that the advantages to bringing in the call recording rule and taking out the PIQ is that telemarketers can now get multiple requests at the same location, which are captured and/or renewed in the same call. But there is some confusion regarding what BPA requires.

Publishing executive, Nick Cavnar remarked that as far as auditing goes, "BPA rules do not state that the PIQ can be produced in place of a recording; only that a PIQ must still be asked if a subscriber refuses to be recorded." Furthermore, Cavnar said he was surprised that so many telemarketing companies and so many audience development professionals continue to ask the PIQ, believing that it provides a safeguard if there is a problem retrieving the recordings.

The PIQ has caused some concerns for telemarketers who have noticed among subscribers a growing sensitivity and concern about the PIQ information being misused. Some subscribers (very small at just less than 3 percent) prefer not to be recorded. If they are also wary of the PIQ, having a successful telemarketing transaction is certainly a struggle.

"Generally," added Cavnar, "I think the PIQ has been a waste of time for years … the PIQ turned out to be a small part of BPA's confirmation procedure. The auditors were basically going back through the whole script again to see if we had the right information for each subscriber."

Not all telemarketing vendors and Audience Development Managers agree with this approach. Some believe it's one more element that can make the renewal process verifiable, especially if a call recording falls short.

Jackie Dandoy with Cygnus, for instance, shared that there have been times where the call recording was lost or unusable. The ability to fall back on the PIQ question was invaluable. And, with the current BPA rules, she believes the PIQ should always be in use. It doesn't take that much time to ask a simple question and improves the validity of the call when completed.

Debbie Dumke with Cygnus agrees, "We use personal qualifier questions because it is a 'backup' way for the audit to verify a call if a recording is not available. For example, lost, deleted, not backed up, inaudible, equipment malfunction…all of which have happened to us on various projects and created trouble with audits." The company, however, does not use the PIQ if the magazine is not audited.

Write to us and let us know if you believe that the PIQ is something that should remain, as a safeguard, in every script, or should be eliminated once and for all.