By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Call recording or voice logging is an important and valuable call center technology, considered by many to be an indispensable support tool. Voice logging allows calls to be recorded for quality assurance, training, self-evaluations, verification purposes, and dispute resolution. Because of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, there has been a surge of interest in voice logging. Although voice logging cannot be viewed as a detriment to terrorism, it is deemed as an essential part of everyone’s overall goal of increased security and safety.
Some centers record calls at random, many record all calls, and some continuously record all headset audio – both during and between calls. Past forms of voice logging equipment have ranged from reel-to-reel tape machines, to specialized audiocassette recorders, to modified VCR units, to today’s state-of-the-art computer-based implementations.
How Loggers Work: Voice loggers can be either external stand-alone systems or internal integrated software. Many of today’s CTI-enabled switches and call-processing platforms have voice logging as a built-in option, inherent in the system’s design and architecture. This provides for optimal performance and often allows the call record or captured data – be it an order, help desk session, or customer service report – to be directly linked to the voice file. This allows for a holistic review of all components of a particular call, as both the audio exchange and the information gathered can be easily accessed and reviewed congruently and simultaneously.
For other situations, stand-alone voice loggers can be interfaced to the switch or call-processing platform, tapping into audio paths at the agent headset, the switch destination port, or the source port. These later two configurations provide the ability to record voice mail calls as well. The advisability and desirability of doing so, however, is questionable and should be pursued only after careful thought and consideration of the ramifications and legal consequences.
Often vendors of stand-alone systems have designed universal interface adapters that allow audio to be easily tapped into at the handset or headset connection without affecting or degrading the audio level. For external systems, a typical method includes tapping into the headset audio at the agent station and feeding it into the PC’s sound card.
For both internal and external voice loggers, the speech is digitized and often stored on the agent station hard drive, usually as wave files. At some point (either immediately or at a later time), the wave files are sent over the network to a central voice logging server where they are indexed and stored.
Indexes are commonly applied to all header field data, such as time, date, station number, agent login, source port, destination port, call completion code, and project ID. If needed, queries can be established to fine-tune the search even further. Searching by agent or time are the most common functions. However, in the course of troubleshooting system problems, searching by specific ports, completion codes, or station numbers can be most informative.
The retrieval interface is a database, such as Access or SQL. As such, records of calls can be quickly sorted, filtered, and presented. Wave file access is then fast and efficient. If needed, archiving of voice files can be accomplished easily and quickly to CD-ROM or DVD.
Uses of Voice Logging: As mentioned, there are several possible reasons to record calls. These include quality assurance, training, self-evaluations, verification, and dispute resolution. Any one of these options often justifies the expense of implementing voice logger technology. The other features then become pleasant bonuses.
Quality assurance is the most often cited use of voice logging. With voice logging, supervisors and managers can easily and quickly retrieve, review, and evaluate agent calls. By integrating a program of silent monitoring, with side-by-side coaching and statistical measurements, an agent’s overall effectiveness can be evaluated and verified. Voice logging allows areas of deficiency to be discovered and items of excellence to be celebrated.
Training can be greatly facilitated using voice logging. One application is to capture examples of exemplary calls, by seasoned reps, for trainees to review and emulate. Conversely, less than ideal calls can also be showcased for discussion and evaluation. Although both of these scenarios could be accomplished using fictitious examples or staged calls, there is great benefit in being able to demonstrate real-world examples.
Self-evaluation is a powerful tool of introspection whereby agents use voice loggers to retrieve their own calls and through a process of self-discovery learn how they could handle calls or situations more effectively. Certainly, this is valuable during the training phase, but it is also beneficial for seasoned reps, as it allows them to keep their skills sharp and helps sloppy actions from becoming bad habits. Even more meaningfully is for agents to specifically seek and review a specific call that had a less than ideal outcome so that a more desirable approach can be determined and implemented.
Verification is another worthwhile use of voice logging, especially in an environment where critical information is shared and communicated, such as in telephone sales. By recording all conversations, the customers’ agreement to an order or charges is captured and verifies that the sale is authentic. Normally, the recording is never listened to, unless there is an argument about the transaction.
Dispute resolution then comes into play. Whether it is an order, a message, a medical emergency, or an accusation of improper phone behavior, the voice recording of that call essentially becomes an independent third party account of what happened and avoids, the “he-said/she-said” disputes in which neither party can corroborate their own account of what happened. Though the agent is, at times, found to be in error in such situations, the consensus is that in the vast majority of cases, the agent is vindicated and once the aggrieved party hears the recording, the problem resolves itself quickly and with little further effort. According to Exacom’s Don Bustamante, the agent’s work is upheld by voice loggers in 90 to 95 % of call dispute situations.
User Input: It is rare to find a user of voice logging who is not overwhelmingly positive about the benefits and value of the technology and what it means to their call center. “I wished that I had purchased my recorder 10 years ago,” states Dianne Souder of Motherlode Answering Service.
Many users of voice logging systems concur with Deb Crown, of Towne Answer Service, who sees real value and true benefits, “[Voice logging] has allowed us to offer a higher level of customer service than ever before. Our customers appreciate the quickness of our response time when researching a problem or question and our management appreciates the fact our operators feel supported rather than threatened by the new addition.” Indeed, often call center staff initially view the recording of calls as a negative development, threatening the work they do and attacking their competency. It is only after voice logging technology is implemented that the agents begin to see it as a tool to protect their work and validate their quality. The reality is that only reps with something to hide have a legitimate reason to fear voice logging.
Pat Scott, of A Better Answer, agrees with the positive client relationships that are fostered and enhanced with voice logging, stating, “Our service quality and customer relationships have been decidedly improved with our [voice] logger.”
From an operational perspective, King’s Telemessaging owner, Bob King, is impressed and amazed at the archive feature of his voice logger system. “What a change in technology: to give management just five mouse clicks to hear audio from months ago, off of a thirty cent CD-R!”
Accounts abound from call centers that have increased the quality of their service, improved their training, and avoided a potentially costly law suite or a lost client all because of voice logging. Although it may seem difficult to cost-justify a voice logger before it is bought, a high percentage of users indicate that it is one of the most important pieces of technology they own.
System Information: Several voice logger vendors supplied information about their systems for this article, they include:
AccuCall has an all-new integrated voice logger module that records calls as wave files and allows users to sort by agent or by client account. The voice logger resides on the AccuCall telephony server, so no additional PC is needed. AccuCall’s convenient wave file format allows recorded calls to be easily sent to an email address. The voice logger module is an add-on software feature of AccuCall; additional hardware cards are needed based on the number of ports desired.
Alston Tascom’s Unified Voice Logging allows for conversations between callers and agents from inbound calls to be recorded in standard .wav file format. This is particularly helpful for training and quality control purposes. If agents handle one call at a time, each call is recorded in a separate recording file. If agents handle multiple calls and overlapping calls, a single recording file can be created to assess the agent’s overall productivity, efficiency and effectiveness. IVR dialogues can be established to trigger voice logging based on a variety of customer-specified schedules and parameters.
Amtelco Infinity Voice Logger is a full-featured voice logging system, specifically designed to work with the Amtelco Infinity system. Voice Logger software is installed on each agent station and is controlled by the Infinity station software. It uses the sound card in the workstation to record the agent’s headset audio, storing the information as compressed wave files on the workstation’s hard disk drive. The wave files are transferred, via the Infinity network, from each of the workstations to a PC that is designated for long-term storage.
Voice Logger automatically captures and stores detailed information about the call, including the account, operator, time, date, and ANI. The audio wave files can be played back from supervisor or operator stations, with the correct permission, using ordinary audio programs that are included with Windows. Calls that have been handled by multiple agents are stored as linked files and may be played sequentially as a single call record. Voice Logger also provides numerous tools such as those for searching for specific calls or to email recorded files directly to the client.
For more information about the Infinity Voice Logger, contact your Amtelco sales rep, call 800-356-9148, or visit them at callcenter.amtelco.com.
Professional Teledata provides the Wygant Encore system that is characterized by immediate access to extremely large voice recording databases. Call records can be searched as units or records in a database with full query and filtering capabilities. Individual or groups of call records can be transferred to removable media, such as CD-R and DVD, and replayed with no additionally required hardware or software. Alternatively, the dial-in review options allow service bureau customers to listen to their call records. This is a critical feature in many outsourcing call center environments. An interface to PI-2000 order processing system is included with the Wygant Encore system at no additional charge.
Record/Play Tek: Record/Play Tek (RPT) has made voice loggers for twenty-five years. During this time, they have seen several technology platforms, starting with reel-to-reel systems, hundreds of which are still in use today. Five years ago, they introduced their PC-based system, the SCL 8900 system. It is a mature, stable product with new enhancements being added to follow and lead the trends of communication, computer, and voice logging technology.
A unique feature of the SCL 8900 system is that it records all headset audio, both that during calls and between calls. RPT indicates that often what is said after a caller hangs up can be as insightful and useful as what was said during the call. Other voice loggers, which only record “on-line” audio, miss this added conversation.
The SCL can be installed by a factory representative who will also provide system training. However, knowledgeable purchasers can do their own install, in which case RPT offers two free hours of telephone training with the sale. Telephone support, however, is unlimited. The SCL carries a one-year on-site warranty, which can be renewable for additional years.
[Connections wishes to thank Bill Cortus (Alston Tascom), Jim Esser (Amtelco), Justin Turnbow (CadCom), Don Bustamante (Exacom) John Volmars (Professional Teledata), and Michael Stoll (Record/Play Tek) for providing system information for this article.]
[From Connection Magazine – May/June 2002]