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

by Christopher Elliott on August 25, 2010

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. last Thursday (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.

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  • Matthew in NYC

    A transcript would cost money, and it would cost money to set up the software necessary to automatically e-mail the MP3 file to the customer, but once the systems are in place, costs would be minimal. I would not be surprised to learn that there is already a software solution out there. I am sure if you were actually going to sue the company, your lawyer could get the file as part of discovery.

  • CT

    Sue and get the recording during the discovery process. Enjoin the company from destroying the recording first. And research your state’s telecommunications privacy laws: see http://www.nps.gov/seki/parkmgmt/gmp.htm. Note that calls across state lines get a little more complicated.

    Following calls where you agreed to anything important that has not already been documented in writing (e.g. a written offer from an insurer), you can also summarize your understanding of what the compnay’s offer was, and associated price you will pay, in an email sent return receipt to the company. Tell them in the email that they should respond with any objections before you pay them for the services discussed. Once they have accepted payment, they are bound by the terms of the contract.

  • CT
  • Aglaia761

    @Matthew

    Matthew, most of the systems that record calls allow you to automatically email the sound file by clicking a button. This is a standard feature

    Most of the time this is used within the company to forward calls to supervisors when a situation needs to be escalated or when a particularly good call happens.

    For the most part they just click a button and the email is sent through outlook. They can send it to whomever they’d like.

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  • laura

    It’s sad when folks think the only reason you would want a copy of the call is to sue – there are other options, like wanting a copy to try to avoid litigation. Suing and getting a layer are expensive, it should not take that to get a copy of your own voice.

  • http://www.nslphotographyblog.com Ned Levi

    I routinely tape my telephone conversations with companies such as insurance companies, when it concerns my policy or purchasing a policy. The information is often complex and costly and I want to make sure everything is done correctly.

    My tapes are legal as I inform the company representative on the phone that prior to speaking to me, the company informed me that they were taping the conversation for quality assurance purposes which was fine with me, but then I tell them, I also intend taping the call for quality assurance purposes, but if they didn’t want to have the conversation taped I would not start the tape, and instead hang up immediately and take my business to another company which was more open about doing business with me.

    I’ve only been refused permission to tape the conversation a couple of times. I don’t do business with those companies.

  • JLAWRENCE01

    There are a lot of recording software packages out there. Since my wife is a claims adjuster, she records all calls to customer service AFTER she reminds the other caller that she will be recording the call ALSO. It is amazing how quickly the call gets escalated to someone with the ability to make a decision.

    The critical thing iks to understand the laws of the jurisdiction that you are calling from. In some, you do NOT need to notify the caller at all.

  • Charles

    It SOUNDS like a good idea but . . . how long until the simple clause is inserted into the a) Contract b)Policy c) Terms and Conditions, stating that anything said by telephone customer service is not binding?

  • http://www.globepharm.org mike313

    I travel incessantly overseas. All calls to my office are automatically transcribed and forwarded to by e-mail, with a vocal copy fo the conversation as a “wav” file appended to the e-mail, so that I can listen tot he original call if teh transcript seems not correct. The cost to me is $ 10/month, regardless of the number of messages forwarded. The technology exists and Mr. trout is totally correct in his demand fro transparency.

  • henare

    ” in an email sent return receipt to the company.”

    email return receipts are not a required part of the well-known email standards and are not uniformly implemented. you can’t count on these …

    mike313: i’d like to know more about that service … maybe you can drop me a line with the details at my name at gmail dot com?

  • Mlrwerks

    “You can sign the petition here.”
    Where?

  • stan

    why is it the company have a right to record our converstions but as the comsumer we have no right to record it when it is our money that making money for them in return. if there is a no law than we may need to contact our state reperstives and get one put in place for our protection also.

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