Do you have a right to a call center recording?

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When a company records your phone conversation for “quality assurance purposes,” should you have access to the recording?

Simple question. Complicated answer.

Joyce Lewis thinks you have a right to know. And at least one new company agrees with her. Details in a minute.

But first, let me tell you about Lewis. After she signed up for new cable service through a company called Wave — a company that cheerfully announced it was recording the call — she discovered it was charging her more than she agreed to in the phone conversation.

“When I called to complain, a lengthy back and forth discussion ensued,” she says. “It dawned on me that the prior phone call was probably recorded. I asked for that phone call to be pulled up to substantiate my claim.”

Can’t do that, the representative said. So she asked for a manager.

“I was told it would take about 20 minutes [to pull up the records],” she says. “Like that would dissuade me.”

It didn’t. She waited and then waited some more. Finally, the company agreed to call her back with the results.

“When I was called back the person I spoke to would never outright say that I was right, but that they ‘could not offer that deal at this time,’” she says.

Fine, she responded. Take the hardware and refund the money.

“Which they did,” she says. “Case closed.”

Or is it?

What if Lewis had a legal right to review the call center records? She could have quickly established that, yes, Wave had offered her a product at a certain price, and that it was bound by its oral contract. That would have been a case closed.

I’ve long believed there should be a federal law that allows you to access a call center transcript when a company records a conversation. Getting one is complicated. There’s already a patchwork of state regulations that govern who can and can’t record a call, and enacting such could be a complex legislative maneuver.

And even if requiring access to call center transcripts were required, would it be possible?

Actually, yes.

I recently heard from Ali Al Khaja, the CEO of a new company called Serve Me Best, which has introduced a product called Trust+, a call recording service with the ability to share recordings with the caller.

Using Trust+ is easy. Callers can opt for a recording and the message is stored remotely on the Trust+ platform. After the conversation ends, the caller is notified of the recording location by SMS for convenient retrieval.

Khaja dreams of a world where everyone has access to their customer service calls. So do I. He’s developing a standard that would work for other call centers around the world.

“The new standard details the compliance steps that organizations can take, which include the provision of a public transparency policy, and the sharing of call recordings with callers,” he says.

I can’t imagine a future in which consumers don’t have access to their own calls. I mean, imagine if companies could keep email transcripts or letters from you, but you could not access those documents? Seems patently unfair, doesn’t it?

Here’s what’s ridiculous: companies that continue to behave as if their call center recordings are somehow “proprietary,” and are only willing to surrender the files if ordered to do so by a court. Why the secrecy? What do they think we’ll discover?

Could it possibly be that their customers are right?

Should companies provide recordings of your call when requested?

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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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  • Laura Topliffe

    I’ve worked in many a call center and you usually can request a transcript. In writing and for a fee.

  • Reporter1

    So buy a device at Radio Shack – about $20 – that allows you to record from your telephone and when the call center rep tells you this call may be recorded you say you are also recording it. If the information that the call is being recorded, is actually recorded, just tell the call center rep you are also recording the call (get that on the recording). If the rep doesn’t hang up and is aware that you are recording the call, then presumably that covers the states that require two-party consent.

    http://www.detectiveservices.com/2012/02/27/state-by-state-recording-laws/

    I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

  • sirwired

    In most call centers, the reps are instructed to not consent to recording if asked. (Yes, this is a one-way street, and completely not fair; it’s just the way it is.)

  • sirwired

    I think the ability for consumers to retrieve their own call recordings sounds really nice, but I also believe that few call centers will agree to it. Why? It costs money, and doesn’t benefit the call center. There’s simply no incentive for the call center to give consumers the ability to catch their reps in a mis-statement (or outright lie.)

    This isn’t fair, but I don’t see it changing any time soon.

  • Reporter1

    Ah, thanks. I was not aware of that.

  • Alan Gore

    As the stock opening message says, “This call MAY be recorded…” If asked to disgorge the recording, the company can always claim it didn’t record the call you want. If you want a transcript, make your own recording of the call.

  • Skeptic

    Move to a single party state like mine and make your own recordings (I do when I suspect there may be an issue, e.g. any time I had to talk to Dish Network before we cut the cord).

    Even without a recording, you can somewhat cover your behind by summing up the terms and conditions, fees etc. you just discussed with agent XXX at XX o’clock on XX date, and emailing it to the company, with delivery confirmation. Tell them right in the email that they have until XX to dispute your account of the facts you just discussed with their representative, and that, failing this, you believe the facts as laid out to be contractual.

  • taxed2themax

    To me as a layman, given that most aspects of telephone use is regulated at the federal level and not state, I’d be a bigger advocate of larger scope under federal law addressing the matter – the recording of a call by one party or both and what notices, if any, either or both parties must give prior to such recording. Concurrent with that, I’d also like to see Federal level law that spells out when a one party – be that the consumer or otherwise – is entitled, under law, to a copy of such recording; what, if any costs to provide it the supplying party may charge; the time frame by which a request must be met and what penalties are imposed for failure to turn over such records.
    As a whole I am not a supporter of more government, but given the fact that these kinds of cases commonly cross state lines, I think having one uniform standard as to how recording of calls and producing copies of them, are handled might be a good thing in totality.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    But it is a great way to get rid of scammers. I live in a two-party state (meaning that I can’t record without giving notice), but when “Microsoft help desk” or one of the other scammers calls me, I just say I am recording it for quality purposes and they almost always immediately hang up.

  • Éamon deValera

    If you’ve given permission for someone to record your call you have the reciprocal permission. It is an absurdity to posit that if A is permitted to record a telephone call with B that B is prohibited from recording the same telephone call.

    If you call a company that has your permission to record your calls (and most with which you have an established business relationship do, read your disclosure documents for banks, credit cards, and similar organizations) you can feel free to record any call you make to them.

    Here is an excerpt from one credit card bank’s disclosure:

    “Recording Your Service RequestsWe may monitor or record your conversations with us or with an agent acting on our behalf. We do this from time to time to monitor the quality of service and accuracy of information given to you and to ensure that your instructions are followed.”

    What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

  • Michele Boughton

    VERIZON didn’t give me access to their recording but did access it themselves and heard that what I was telling them I was offered was the truth. Instead of then iPhone 6 @$99, they gave it to me for FREE because of the hassle.

  • just me

    Establishing a standard, particularly giving rights to little people, is not “more government” it is enforcement of the Constitution because we allow crooks to run business in this country. Government is us not them.

  • taxed2themax

    I’d see it as more government regardless if it benefits the “little people” or someone else — however, sidestepping that nuance, I think the notion is worthwhile so that everyone plays on the same field and it’s not determined what state you happen to be calling from or to.

  • just me

    Thank you for the clarification. You need to fact check your approach to the meaning of government and taxes. Not only you are paying lowest taxes possible but you have unbelievable tax deductions which the countries with lesser nominal taxes have by far. Just think how come GE, GM, HP pay zero taxes in the USA and get refunds below zero, and in any other country they pay becasue they have no deductions. Stop being disillusion – it will help you and the rest of us, and may stop this anti government demagogy.

  • Fishplate

    If the call center is in another state, this might be under the umbrella of Interstate Commerce – which the Constitution specifically gives the federal government the right to regulate.

  • cscasi

    I have tried that a couple of times and the Rep always states he/she will have to hang up because I am not allowed to record the call, even though they are. Seems like a real one-way street that the FCC needs to fix for us consumers!

  • cscasi

    But, can you “legally” record the call without telling the other person (Rep) that you are doing so (just in case you decide later on to introduce that is some sort of legal proceeding?

  • sirwired

    Depends on the state you are located in. In some states, called “two-party” states, no, it is not legal to record the call. In “one-party” states you do not need to reveal the call is being recorded.

    (MD, as a famous example, is a two-party state, which came up during the Lewinsky fiasco. What’s-her-name illegally recorded her calls with Lewinsky.)

  • Reporter1

    I totally agree!

  • cscasi

    Understand your first paragraph but that is not how it works in most cases. I think people should be able to record their conversations with company representatives, especially when there are complaints, ordering or discussions about what is included/not included in services one is purchasing, etc. But, unless the government steps in and changes the law, I feel we are on the losing end.

  • sirwired

    It’d be a state-level rule, but I could totally get behind rules that if one party states they are/mabye recording the call, that qualifies as implicit consent for the other party to do so also without further notice.

  • Lee

    When there is the alternative (which isn’t as much as I would like), I will use the “chat” feature with certain companies; before signing off, I copy and paste it into a document even they usually email you a copy anyway, I copy it myself just in case there is a “technological” glitch and I don’t get the copy. I have, a few times, needed to refer back to a transcript in follow up communications. Very handy to have.

    When on a call, I always ask for the name of the customer rep and note the time/date of the call and if I am getting grief from the rep while on the call, I will often stop and ask if the called is being recorded. Most often they say yes and there is usually a perceptible change in attitude – and I’ve never been sure I can get a copy of the recording but asking the reps seems to let them think I may seek it out – It’s my tiny rebellion in the moment….

    And, yes, we should definitely have access to these recordings. No question.

  • jim6555

    Why should it be a state rule? Telemarketing calls generally come from call centers in other states or other nations. Just like the FAA has jurisdiction over a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, federal rules should apply here.

  • Lee Delong

    Good advise. I take notes at critical points of the conversation. Ask them, could you repeat I’m writing this down.

  • Lee Delong

    You can legally record incoming calls. Without anybodies permission.