Should you have the right to a copy of your phone call with a company?

There’s a reason I advise customers to stay off the phone when they have a problem with a company: If someone says something to you on the line, how do you prove it?

You can’t — unless you record the conversation. And many states either don’t allow that or restrict it, or recording the back-and-forth is impractical for a customer.

Meet Michael Trout, insurance reform activist. He’s got an idea: Why not pass a law that gives you the legal right to the phone conversation?

Phone calls are often taped by companies for “quality assurance purposes” and stored indefinitely. But if customers wants to review them, they can’t.

Trout, who is currently involved in a dispute with Progressive Casualty Insurance Company over a claim, explains,

When I made the phone call to purchase auto insurance from Progressive, the agent made very specific representations about an additional policy rider, thereby persuading me to purchase the rider that i otherwise would not have.

Now that I’m in a dispute with Progressive, they refuse to provide me with a copy of the phone conversation (which they have verified that they have in possession).

Trout’s response was to start a petition to guarantee consumers would have access to copies of recordings that corporations like Progressive make and store on their servers. You can sign the petition here.

Here’s what he wants:

Consumers have a right to copies of recorded conversations that companies and corporations make and keep of sales and service calls.

Companies and corporations routinely record conversations between themselves and consumers, and store these conversations on their servers for years and years.

As consumers, we hereby claim and demand the right to know when a company or corporation makes and keeps such recordings, and also the right to obtain copies upon request or demand.

If the purpose of the recording is to accurately document the details, representations, and understandings of these calls, then it is only fair that all parties have unfettered access to these records.

Trout has a point. Shouldn’t we have access to a recording of our own phone call?

The technology exists to send an .MP3 file of your conversation along with the follow-up email that you receive after a customer service call. Why not send it, in the interests of full transparency?

I believe playing the call back would have some benefits.

It would eliminate all of the he said/she said arguments that arise after a call. You would know exactly what the customer service representative said.

Also, I think playbacks would make callers aware of how they come across. You know that expression, “You should hear yourself”? Well, what if you could? It might make callers more conscious of how they come across, and perhaps, more polite.

But I can imagine what businesses might say, if they were forced to supply their customers with an .MP3 or transcript. It will cost too much. It’s our information.

A survey taken between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. this morning (130 responses) suggests such a law would be broadly supported by voters. About 94 percent said they would back the law; roughly 6 percent said they wouldn’t.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Jay

    You all realize if you have a contract you should know all terms to it.  Ask for complete documentation before signing it.  Furthermore, you have a right to record a conversation if the other party accepts.  You can just tell a company that while entering a contract with limited writing on my party, I would like a recorded reference for myself or some kind of official written statement that is finalized.   If a company isn’t willing to use that then I would not go with them.  That would be the best way to petition.  Keeping your own records legally is not illegal or restricted.

  • What gives!

     Hum! I told a company that I would record them after they said they were recording me.

    They said they would not allow me to record them soI said likewise so they then refused tospeak with me.

    What gives here !

  • Which company?

  • Globe

    Joe
    I like your post. I am going through the loss of my home due to the ongoing real estate crisis. One of the lenders (Chase Bank) wants to offer a payout deal for a fraction of the original amount, but will only deal with me on the phone. No email, nothing in writing.
    And they won’t allow me to keep a recording of the phone call. When I advised them I was recording the call, they said that Chase does not allow this and promptly hung up.
    SO, now I am faced with a dilemma. How do I resolve this situation, but ensure that I have a clear log of what’s being agreed. The amount of money is not insignificant, and I want written expressed details of exactly what the agreement entails, and for there not to be any hidden surprises down the road. The fact that they are acting in this way makes me very suspicious of their true intentions.
    I’ve tried the avenue that I do not give them permission to record my calls and they tell me that won’t work and hang up again!
    Surely, I must have some kind of rights? What kind of business can legally force a one way deal where I could be up for anything and everything, and have nothing recorded to protect myself?

  • Globe

    I am going through the loss of my home due to the ongoing real estate crisis. One of the lenders (Chase Bank) wants to offer a payout deal for a fraction of the original amount, but will only deal with me on the phone. No email, nothing in writing.
    And they won’t allow me to keep a recording of the phone call. When I advised them I was recording the call, they said that Chase does not allow this and promptly hung up.
    SO, now I am faced with a dilemma. How do I resolve this situation, but ensure that I have a clear log of what’s being agreed. The amount of money is not insignificant, and I want written expressed details of exactly what the agreement entails, and for there not to be any hidden surprises down the road. The fact that they are acting in this way makes me very suspicious of their true intentions.
    I’ve tried the avenue that I do not give them permission to record my calls and they tell me that won’t work and hang up again!
    Surely, I must have some kind of rights? What kind of business can legally force a one way deal where I could be up for anything and everything, and have nothing recorded to protect myself?

  • Globe

    Kevin,
    Are you sure this is legally correct? I was under the impression that if you recorded a call without explicitly advising the other party (even if they have just advised you that they are recording the call), that you were recording the call, then it would be illegal or at the very least inadmissible in court should you have to later rely on it.

  • Against my better judgement, I made a purchase through a foreign company which uses theecheck.com as they don’t accept credit cards. Theecheck.com charged my checking account for a transaction which I did not authorize. When I challenged them, they said they have a voice recording of me giving them authorization to do so. I asked for a copy of it and they refused, saying they are for internal uses only. The director of risk management even attempted to tell me that the electronic recording has the date, and my phone number, but no time stamp (a stretch in any electronic media) and basically I just had to take him at his word.. Several different employees of the company called me a liar and insist I’m still lying, even though they are now refunding my money. At this point, I care less about the money, than the ability of these thugs to get away with treating me the way they did. By the way, my cell phone records will show that no call was placed to me. My point is that we need to be able to get copies of those recordings! Clearly in this matter, none existed, but they refuse to acknowledge such.

  • Drive to a state that allows recording when only one party knows and call from there and record it without telling them