Last month Yell.com emailed me promoting their website services, despite having told them to delete my contact data and send no more marketing communications.
After hearing nothing from them for a few years, I received this this email in November 2017, which irritated me because we’re just months away from the GDRP (May 25th 2018), which is a widely publicised overhaul and successor to the Data Protection Directive of 1995.
The other thing that bugged me was the memory of Yell.com trying to hoodwink me, besides mixing up my business contact details with someone else’s, resulting in wasted time trying to put it right.
The Beginning of Many Desperate, Nuisance Calls
Early 2012, I received an unsolicited phonecall from Yell.com. They cheekily used my contact data for telemarketing purposes after I created a free business listing with them.
I don’t remember giving consent to receive marketing calls, but perhaps I did, because they phoned and emailed and persuaded me to take up their services in a way no other company ever has.
They wanted me to sign up for a monthly paid premium business listing which I tried but found unproductive.
After cancelling the ad, they tried to sell me a “Yellsite” even though I explained I am in fact a website designer, so no. No Thanks.
Annoying Sales Staff
The guy who kept calling was a Northern Irishman named Chris who was clearly only trying to achieve his own sales targets – not mine.
Rather than tell him to get lost the first time he called, I challenged his statements about what he thought makes a good website, because it’s important to understand that Yell telephone salespeople (although they call themselves “consultants” and resent the sales label) are not clued up on marketing.
I wanted to discover why exactly so many businesses have had a problem with Yell. Was it their notoriously frequent and frenzied marketing communications, or was it the quality of the services?
Poorly Created, Rented Websites
The websites that Yell produced were – and still are – terrible. I’m not just saying that because it’s fun or easy to laugh at the big, silly corporation making fools of themselves.
Neither am I criticising them just because they compete in the same market as me.
I’m angry because they were trying to rope me into paying a monthly fee for nothing more than cookie cutter, dull, uninspired, dated-looking webpages which I knew would do little for my business and actually cause problems.
For example, changing small details like phone numbers would have to be requested by contacting Yell. This was known to take weeks, as reported by critics of Yell in forums and on social sites.
Additionally, a major issue is that because their websites are rented out, it doesn’t belong to the business owner.
Visit their Conditions of Using Our Websites legal notice, and look at clause 3 c, d and f, where it’s made clear their websites are a closed system. The content belongs to Yell:
3. We legally own a wide range of intellectual property rights used in and relating to the Yell Websites, including:
a. each of the trade marks Yell, Yell.com, Yellow Pages, Yellshare, Call Counter Geo and related logos;
b. our business-listings directory database, currently located at www.yell.com (the “Database’);
c. the design, text, graphics, articles, blogs and other content of the web pages on this website, together with all the web d. addresses associated with those web pages, other than those which we use under licence;
e. in all the software used in relation to this website, other than that which we use under licence;
f. our registered designs for the Database with registration numbers 000881750-0001 to 000881750-0005; and
in all the software used in relation to the Yell Websites, other than that which we use under licence.
I told Chris a website should be thought of as a virtual property, not all that different to a physical property.
One is made using pixels and code, the other with bricks and mortar. Some are rented, some are owned.
Always better to own.
I Was Running Out of Patience
I agreed to let Chris call me back a week later, which he did, but after spending nearly two hours on the phone, I’d had enough.
It was made clear that he wasn’t to call me again. Naturally, he called again.
Once more I politely asked him to sod off, citing distance selling regulations and EU marketing laws prohibiting a company from making repeated approaches to individuals who had explicitly asked not to be contacted.
The Threat of an Official Complaint to the ICO Shut Them Up
Six months later Chris phoned. He was excited to tell me Yell were changing their name to hibu and to explain that things were different, better, improved, that lessons had been learned, their websites would be responsive and yada yada.
He must have had it in his head that because I’d indulged his nonsense earlier that year, there was a a secret desire to buy on my part. His orthodox sales training would have dictated he merely needed to persist until I gave in.
Anyone else would have told him to f*** off, but I restrained myself and told him I would be filing a report with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
He never called again but that wasn’t the end of my run-ins with Yell though.
They Screwed Up My Free Business Listing
Yell/hibu, called me in 2013, but this time, I’d asked them to. Guess why?
I’d been getting repeated phone calls from people in Belfast asking me what time my scrapyard closed. Meanwhile, someone in Belfast had been getting calls from small businesses and salespeople expecting to talk to a web designer in the East Midlands.
I looked at my “free” Yell directory listing on their website and the phone number had been changed, but not by me. Some of the information I’d previously added was missing, pictures had disappeared and the opening times were wrong. Same story for the other guy.
Weary, I emailed Yell/hibu to explain the situation. They phoned, but the person dealing with my complaint spoke broken English, disagreed with my description of the problem and told me I was wrong!
It was escalated to a manager. Conversation with manager. Emails exchanged. More phone calls. Back to square one. Another manager. Oh shoot me.
Eventually it was solved, but it took months. No more harassment from Yell sales people. No more phone calls from Belfast.
Huge Debts and Hard Selling
It turns out Yell had debts of £4bn, which would explain their hard sell approach, but there’s also a high turnover of customers. There’s little loyalty or affinity for what is a legacy telecommunications brand trying to cling to relevance in the 21st century.
Here’s just one page from a slew of similar sites where small biz owners vent about unsolicited calls and scraping of contact details from the likes of GumTree.
A Money Saving Expert forum thread on the subject of Yell/hibu contained a contribution from someone claiming to have worked there in the past:
I worked for yell. You know when you hear about people looking into a restaurants kitchen and then deciding they’d never eat there again? Its like that.
The sales teams are all against each other (so all calling the same businesses) and the organisation is truly unbelievable. I am not going to say too much BUT, I left because I have a conscience.
do not advertise with this lot.
They Still Have My Contact Data
Fast forward to November 25th 2017 – as described at the beginning of this post – and that bloody email!
They were not fulfilling their own obligations pertaining to at least two of the eight principles of the Data Protection Act.
Consent to receive marketing cannot be assumed or inferred from silence, which I’m sure is what happened when I originally singed up for a free Yell business listing.
The fact that I told them repeatedly not to contact me combined with their bumbling customer service and data subject obligations is a huge concern.
Consent is supposed to be:
- properly documented
- easily withdrawn
From May 25th 2018, a greater burden of proof will weigh on organisations controlling and processing personal data. The onus is on them more than ever.
Roll on, GDPR.