New device collects callers' information

November 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
If you've ever wondered what happens to all those customer service voice recordings, here are some startling answers. You will not believe what is happening behind the scenes while you are talking to the customer service agent. It's a lot more than plain old tape recording.

This is a recording you hear all the time: "For quality purposes, calls may be monitored or recorded."

You probably think nothing of it and give out your personal information like name, credit card number, and mother's maiden name. But more than just objective information, you actually give away a piece of yourself.

There is a YouTube video that claims to be an actual call to a phone company.

"Why does it take two days to be without a phone? This is crazy. You're telling me this is normal?" says a caller.
"Yes it is," says the agent.

You have probably forgotten the conversation is being recorded, but the recording device has not forgotten you.

"When you call a call center, for the most part you are getting recorded digitally. So that information can be analyzed, sliced, diced," says Pam Dixon of the World Privacy Forum.

Dixon is talking about a new technology that goes far beyond tape recording calls, to the digital storage of analyzed information.

"It's a huge leap forward in terms of finding interesting things that customers are saying to you," says Rob Edmondson, of NICE Systems.

NICE Systems, based in Israel, provides digital recording software. The entire time you are talking, the machine is analyzing, sketching out your call, almost like a heart monitor or lie detector. It turns your voice into text, flags important words, and measures happiness and anger.

"This is a technology we call emotion detection. What it does is it analyzes as the call goes on a lot of different parameters about your voice. Your tone, your speed," says Edmondson.

In a mock cal, a woman is denied an insurance claim.

"No that's impossible. My husband told me he checked with you before he went to see Dr. Policky," says the mock caller in a fast talking voice.

"So here, in red it actually flags when there was a period of high state of emotion from the caller," says Edmondson. "We can actually start to aggregate a bunch of calls and say, 'Let's find calls with certain things in common.'"

Companies use this information to find out why they lose customers, what they can do to keep customers happy, but it does more than that. It can assemble a dossier.

"They definitely have to tell us whether they're taping us or not. But they don't have to tell us, 'Oh by the way, we've hooked you up to this magical mood machine,'" says Dixon.

They also don't have to tell you if they could be sharing your information or even selling this information.

"It bothers me. I don't think calls should be recorded," says Pamela Gust, from San Francisco.

"I would be more insecure about them holding onto information and using it, whether I want them to or not," says Cosgrove Norstadt, from San Francisco.

"I don't think many people are aware that there is a lot going on behind the scenes," says Patrick Botz, from Voice Print International. "But it's really for your benefit."

Companies using the software say the information is used to improve service not track individual customers and there is no indication that this information has ever been sold.

"To know you're being recorded and someone is going to go back and listen specifically to each and every word and hesitation and inflection in your tone? I would be real concerned about that," says Gust.

"That doesn't sound so good, does it?" says Cosgrove.

Those tapes can be used in court cases, but in California you have the right to refuse to be recorded. However several companies 7 On Your Side spoke with say their agents have no ability to turn off the machine. They did say how they use the digital recordings and that is posted in the links below.

How other companies use recordings: Click here

Companies and Agencies using Voice Print International:

Companies and Agencies using NICE Systems: Click here


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