The Purpose and Scope of this Code
As a provider of Fixed Line Telecommunications Services (which means telephone services provided to customers by indirect access, carrier pre-select, wholesale line rental or wholesale calls) AOL Europe Service Sarl ("AOL") is required by Ofcom (the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries) to produce and comply with a code of practice when selling and marketing these services.
This code of practice (the "Code") sets out:
- standards we will adhere to when selling and marketing the Fixed Line Telecommunications Services we offer to our users (the "AOL Voice Services");
- training and recruitment procedures for AOL employees involved in selling and marketing AOL Voice Services; and
- how we deal with complaints concerning selling and marketing of AOL Voice Services.
This Code is not a definitive guide to compliance with consumer legislation or other requirements to which AOL may have to comply with under applicable law, but instead is in addition to other legal or other regulatory requirements that AOL is already subject to and complies with in the conduct of its day-to-day business.
The following areas are addressed in this Code:
- Sales, marketing, advertising and promotion
- Recruitment and training of sales staff
- Customer contact
- Entering into a contract
- Availability of Code
AOL shall, where possible, make consumers aware of the existence of the Code (for example, by making it available on the AOL UK Service and via our portal at www.aol.co.uk, and we will provide copies of it to consumers (in various formats) free of charge and on request.
Sales, marketing, advertising and promotion
Regardless of the way in which we promote, advertise, sell and market the AOL Voice Services - whether this is by TV, email, telephone, whitemail or press advertising (together "market", or "marketing"), we will do so in a responsible manner that complies with all applicable law, regulation, and codes of practice (including this Code). In particular:
(a) marketing literature must be clear, unambiguous, accurate and fair, and must not denigrate other providers of Fixed Line Telecommunications Services and not contain any false information about the service provided by, the price, or the value of AOL Voice Services.
(b) consumers details must be cleared against the registers held by the relevant preference service before any marketing takes place.
Recruitment and training of sales staff
The following principles must be included in existing recruitment and training processes for sales staff. Any sub-contractors (e.g. third party agencies) that provide sales staff for AOL (whether directly or as part of an outsourced service) must be issued with these guidelines, required to set up equivalent procedures and confirm that they have done so.
When recruiting staff, AOL must:
- consider behaviour and appearance, as the sales person will be AOL's 'public' face;
- carefully check references (which should include any details of mis-selling or lack of integrity in any previous selling employment) and declarations concerning relevant criminal convictions;
- observe the following requirements for sales staff:
- proof of national insurance number, address (by providing a utility bill);
- two references. Referees must not be related to the applicant (either by blood relation or by marriage), and business references must not both be from the same company;
- retention of all sales records for 6 months following termination of employment; and
- return of all company identification on termination of employment.
All sales staff should be trained so that they have a reasonable understanding that any advice given by them is not misleading, and of the following topics:
- detail of the sign up processes for the AOL Voice Services;
- details of the products and services that we offer, including price-plans, main terms of the agreement, limitations and special features;
- details of products offered by our competitors and how they compare with AOL's products
- accepted payment methods, minimum subscription periods and any applicable termination fees;
- relevant principles of consumer protection law;
- the process for cancelling any contract concluded either within any relevant cooling off period and following commencement of the AOL Voice Service concerned;
- the existence of this Code and its contents; and
- the Consumer Complaints Handling Process, including details of AOL's escalation process, and the possibility for members to contact CISAS in the event of a dispute that cannot be resolved through the internal Consumer Complaints Handling Process.
Remuneration systems for sales staff must be documented and not encourage misleading or exploitative sales practices by sales staff. Any sub-contractors (e.g. third party agencies) that provide sales staff for AOL are required to inform AOL of any incentive schemes operated for sales staff employed by them.
Generally, representatives must:
- be courteous, use appropriate language and offer clear and straightforward explanations. All information should be factual and accurate;
- not misrepresent services offered nor those of other providers;
- check that consumers entering into contracts understand, and intend, them;
- cease contact with any person who indicates that the contact is inconvenient, unwelcome, inappropriate or too long. If the consumer requests it, the premises should be left immediately;
- not pursue sales from vulnerable consumers e.g. those who are elderly or whose first language is not English, or who have special needs;
- make contact with the warden or other person in authority before any approach is made to a consumer in sheltered housing, nursing home or a residential care facility; and
- not direct sales or marketing activity to those who are under the legal age for entering into contracts (which in the UK is 18 years old).
If AOL carries out face-to-face marketing for AOL Voice Services, the following additional principles must be observed:
- contact to only take place between 08:00 and 20:00, with special consideration given to the fact that certain individuals may not wish to be called on after dark, unless at the consumer's specific request;
- identity badges that clearly display AOL's name together with a photo, name and unique number for each representative, and expiry date for such identification to be issued and carried by representatives at all times. These should be presented to consumers on first contact, and this information must also be available in Braille, on request;
- reasonable steps should be taken to keep representatives informed of any local initiatives, such as Neighbourhood Watch, or Local Distraction Burglary initiatives.
If AOL contacts consumers by telephone to promote the AOL Voice Services, the following additional principles must be observed:
- calls to only take place between 08:00 and 21:00, unless at the consumer's specific request
- representatives must immediately identify themselves, the company they represent, the purpose of the call and expected call duration;
Sales and marketing campaign records to be maintained for six months, including the date and the approximate time of the contact with the consumer. Records must identify the salesperson(s) involved.
Entering into a contract - information, order forms and contracts
Generally, representatives shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that the person entering into a contract is authorised to enter into the contract for the AOL Voice Service selected at the premises concerned.
Any forms used (whether online or paper based) which are intended to bind the consumer into a contract must be designed so that the binding nature of the document is made clear to a consumer next to where a consumer signs, or, in the case of orders agreed online, clicks to accept the document.
Once a contract is entered into by a Customer for an AOL Voice Service, they must be provided with written communication(s) containing the following information:
- AOL's address, telephone, fax and e-mail contact details;
§ a description of the AOL Voice Service sufficient to enable the consumer to understand the option that has been chosen, and how it works;
- information about the major elements of the AOL Voice Service, including the cost of any standing charges, the payment terms, line rental, key call types and details of "protected or special support" arrangements;
- the arrangements for provision of the AOL Voice Service, including the order process and, as accurately as possible, the likely date of provision. Consumer to be informed by further communication where there may be significant delay in the likely date of provision;
- the existence of a right of cancellation and the process for exercising it;
- the period for which the charges remain valid;
- the minimum period of contract, and minimum contract charges, if any; and
- any other information required by applicable legislation (for example, the Distance Selling in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999).
In particular, a whitemail communication must be sent to the consumer setting out:
- date of notification;
- CLI(s) affected;
- list of services affected/unaffected, e.g. IA call barring;
- date of switchover;
- AOL's contact details for any queries.
Consumers attention should be drawn to the online areas on the AOL UK Service (if they receive Internet access from AOL) and on the aol.co.uk portal (if they do not) for information, frequently asked questions about the AOL Voice Services and other relevant information (including a full copy of this Code).
Cooling off periods
Each AOL Voice Service has a statutory 'cooling off' period during which a consumer can chose to cancel their order for the service without any cost accruing to the consumer. Consumers must be made aware of the applicable cooling off period for the AOL Voice Service ordered, for example by featuring details of it in order confirmations, as part of any sign up process, and prominently in 'frequently asked question' areas of the AOL UK Service.
All processes and procedures put in place to enable AOL to comply with this code of practice shall be audited on a regular basis by those departments responsible for the implementation of the relevant process/procedure.
Any complaint relating to the sales and marketing of AOL Voice Services will be handled under AOL's existing customer complaints procedures. Information concerning such procedures (including the CISAS adjudication scheme) for example, information that is made available on the AOL UK Service and/or on the aol.co.uk portal, shall be amended to make it clear to consumers that these procedures include complaints relating such sales and marketing practices.
Availability of Code
This Code shall be freely available to consumers on request, free of charge through Member Services. Alternative formats (such as Braille) shall be made available to consumers on request in the same way as for other important AOL documents.