Tag Archives: Speech Technology Articles

Speech Recognition

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

In the simplest of terms, speech recognition is the ability of computers to understand people. For the past 25 years, experts have been predicting that viable speech recognition was about “two years away.” Finally this pronouncement has come to fruition.

Looking back, initial speech recognition systems were speaker-dependent. That meant they would only work for the peoples’ voices for which they were specifically programmed. Users would need to “train” these pioneering systems by repeatedly recording common words or phrases. The computer would compare each sample, determine commonalities, and look for those patterns in future communications. These systems, understandably, had limited vocabularies. The next advance came with speaker-independent systems. Again, these early systems had extremely limited vocabularies as they needed to be programmed to accommodate different pronunciations and accents. Indeed, some accents could never be accurately accommodated in these systems. Also, there needed to be a distinct pause between each word. As such, systems were not able to comprehend words as they are commonly spoken in a sentence, since pauses are normally minimal or essentially non-existent.

Fortunately, these limitations are in the past. Today’s speech recognition systems do not need to be trained to understand your voice, nor do they have limited vocabularies. Plus they are adept at dealing with large variations, be it pronunciation, syllabication, accent, dialect, or even mumbling, and can accommodate continuous speech.

Speech recognition should not be confused with voice recognition (also known as voice authentication). While speech recognition refers to a system that processes and responds to spoken language, voice recognition “refers to identifying or screening a particular person by their voice print,” according to Amcom’s Steve Green. As such, speech recognition is a communication technology and voice recognition is an identification or verification technology.

There are three general classifications of speech recognition applications for the call center:

  • Alternative to touch-tone: At its most basic level, speech recognition can be used to replace or supplement touch-tone input in an IVR (Interactive Voice Response) or auto-attendant system. This gives callers the ability to press an appropriate key or say the number (which is great for callers without touch-tone phones).
  • Speech-to-text conversion: An IVR system can answer a call and prompt the caller for information, such as an account number, phone number, or address. The system takes the response, converts it into text, and pre-populates a form or record. This information is then presented to an agent to complete the call. In some situations the entire interaction with the caller is done via IVR and speech recognition. The resulting data is written into a call record, which can then be forwarded to the appropriate individual, department, or even an external computer database.
  • To access a database: This has the most diverse uses. In this instance, the caller is prompted for information, which is used to access a database. The database could be a directory of pager numbers, phone extensions, or on-call staff. The database could also contain records, such as orders, messages, documents, trouble reports, account balances, payment information, and so forth.

With speech recognition, there are several benefits:

  • Answers calls on the first ring, 24/7 and never misses a call
  • Achieves zero hold time
  • Reduces the number of abandoned calls
  • Saves money on salary and phone line costs
  • Enhances traditional touch-tone driven IVR
  • Automates simple calls
  • Leaves agents available for more complex calls
  • Provides the option for self-service
  • Allows calls to be accurately and quickly self-routed
  • Ensures consistency in call processing and responses

Steve Green indicated experience has shown that a phased introduction of the technology is the best approach. “This means that rolling out the product in a controlled and methodical process has provided time to adjust and make corrections as needed, resulting in a proven, tested, and fully functional speech application when completely deployed.”

Most implementations of speech recognition software are built on a speech engine, according to Wayne Scaggs, President Alston Tascom. The speech engine is a toolkit that is available for software developers to use in designing their speech recognition applications. It is both common and pragmatic for vendors to use a third-party speech engine. This saves them time and money, allowing for complex results based on proven technology, to be developed at a fraction of the cost than if they were to develop the entire project in-house.

Speech Recognition Vendors

For a list of Speech Recognition vendors who specialize in the Outsourcing Call Center industry, please see our current Speech Recognition Vendor Listing.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2004]

Legal Considerations of Voice Logging

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan

Legal issues regarding the recording of phone calls must be considered before embarking on voice logging. This varies on a state-by-state basis. Some states and countries require “one-party notification” in which only one of the two individuals needs to be made aware that the call is being recorded. This, of course, is most easily done by notifying the call center agents. This should be part of the employee handbook they receive upon being hired. By them signing off on the handbook, it has been documented that they have been duly notified that the recording will take place.

Check with a local attorney familiar with state employment law, as it may be advisable to have a separate sheet signed by each employee, which explicitly notifies him or her that calls will be recorded. (At least thirty-seven US States, the District of Columbia, the US Federal law, Canada, and England only require one-party notification. Note that there is some disagreement over the determination of the requirements for a few states.)

The other scenario requires that both parties be made aware that the call is being recorded; these are called “two-party notification” states. (Depending on the source, there are ten to thirteen US states that fit this category.)  This can be accomplished by playing a preamble recording on every call or inserting a periodic beep tone.

The preamble recording is common, but may prove to be a technical challenge to do so on every account. There is also the concern of how to respond to client’s who object to an automated announcement before every one of their calls. Typical verbiage for the announcement or preamble recording is, “Thank you for calling ABC Company, your call may be monitored for training or quality assurance purposes.”

Alternately, many voice logging systems provide an optional beep tone. There are specific parameters to which this beep must adhere. According to VLR Communications, the beep tone needs to be a 1260 to 1540 Hertz tone, lasting 170 to 250 milliseconds, and broadcast for both sides to hear every twelve to fifteen seconds when recording is taking place. The interesting part of this requirement is that both parties must be able to “hear” the beep tone; there is no measurable audio level specified. Therefore, it makes sense to set the beep level at a low volume, while still being audible to both parties. Still, many people find this beep tone to be disconcerting and distracting. Although call center agents typically grow used to the beep tone and eventually tune it out (the rest, unfortunately, often end of quitting), this is not the case with callers, who generally find the ongoing beeping to be an annoying vexation. Callers may even discuss the beep tone or voice recording with the agents, thereby lengthening call time and decreasing the quality of service.

Five websites contain information about notification. However, they are not in complete agreement. This results in three different scenarios, listing ten to thirteen states that require two-party notification. Nine states are listed as two-party notification states by all five sources: California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington. There is contradicting information for four states, which are listed both ways, depending on the source. These are: Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada. Michigan, for example, is listed as a two-party notification state on four of the five websites, yet two call centers in the state have separately had their attorneys research state law and court interpretation. Both lawyers independently concluded that only one-party notification is required for voice logging calls in a call center environment.

Regardless of this information, be sure to consult a local attorney for their opinion and guidence before proceeding with any recording of phone calls.

Also, there are privacy concerns and issues. In general, one should take every possible precaution to avoid recording personal phone calls. A practical way of doing so is to only record conversations in the call center (and explicitly not in the breakroom or on any common area telephone) and to have an enforced policy against placing or receiving personal phone calls while in the operations room. These steps will help to ensure that personal phone calls are not inadvertently recorded and that privacy rights are not encroached. Again, obtain legal counsel before recording any phone calls.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

[From Connection MagazineDecember 2002]

Call Recording Basics

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Peter Lyle DeHaan

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.

For more information about the voice logger module for AccuCall, call 800-537-1827 or visit www.onvisource.com.

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.

For more information about Alston Tascom’s Unified Voice Logging Solution, call 866-282-7266 or visit www.alstontascom.com.

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.

For more information, contact Professional Teledata at 800-344-9944 or www.professionalteledata.com.

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.

Record/Play Tek can be reached at 219-848-5233 or www.recordplaytek.com 

[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 MagazineMay/June 2002]

IVR Stands for “Immediate Value Returned”

Our company has been in the voice mail business for about 14 years. Since day one, I have continually mined the market for new voice mail applications. There’s something about no labor cost that is exciting to me.

My newest discovery is an application called Interactive Voice Response Dialogues, or IVR Dialogues. What IVR does is allow voice mail callers to interact with databases for any purpose.

Most likely everyone reading this article has interfaced with an IVR Dialogue already. From activating your credit card, to calling QVC, to calling the courthouse about jury duty, IVR Dialogues are springing up everywhere. Here is the story of our first IVR customer.

We received an inquiry from a large company. They had 95,000 employees who needed to make a change to their payroll deduction. When the project was last done, the employees filled out a piece of paper and the payroll department hired 12 temporary employees for a week to input the changes. From past experience, they knew they didn’t want to duplicate that effort. They were hoping for an outside source to take the job on. Furthermore, they needed the output information to be in comma-delimited format so that it could be directly imported into their payroll program.

I had $3.99 a call spinning in my head, but then just as quickly came the downside, I had to find eight temporary agents to work in my office for 17 days. Not a nice thought. I had heard IVR dialogue could do something close to this and I asked the company if they had considered using that technology. They had, but their IVR provider for the project was backed up for six months.

Could we do it and be ready in six weeks? To my delight I was able to answer “Yes!”

Upon acceptance, we received the script for the voice mail prompts and the database we needed to interface with from the customer. The database included employee name, address, social security number, date of birth and the present deduction amount if any. We paid a relatively low fee to have the IVR dialogue written.

The script was fairly basic: Welcome the caller and verify their social security number against their date of birth. Then the script prompted the caller to modify or terminate the deduction. All along the way, our customer wanted confirming statements like, “You have entered 15, if this is correct, press 1” to be sure of accuracy. We were required to update the database weekly and we did not send them any output until the close of the project. The final product was a database of only those who made changes, including a date and time stamp.

Was it profitable? This project lasted 17 days, used 15 trunks, and included no agent labor. My time included approximately 10 hours of sales and set up. Profitable? I’d say, “Yes!” IVR is definitely a technology to explore further.

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, uses the Tascom SQL Digital System, with a fully programmable IVR and Unified Voice Mail system. Alston Tascom, Inc. can be contacted at 909-548-7300, Option 3 at www.alstontascom.com or email at info@alstontascom.com.

[From Connection Magazine – March 2001]

Voice Mail Applications Hit the Slopes!

By Martha Chinnock

If you are planning on going skiing at Mt. Bachelor in Oregon, you had better get a weather report before heading out on the slopes. By calling the ski report number, skiers can hear a message to find out the local weather, what runs and lifts are open, and how the slopes are looking for the day. If you desire, you can push a button and be connected with reservations. These features help keep the ski resort employees free from answering the same question over and over, and gives the callers exact information about the mountain. The owners of Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort have chosen to use Central Telemessaging’s VM III voicemail system to complete this task for them. Mt. Bachelor’s calls average about 100,000 minutes a month of time spent in voice mail that free up their employees to be productive in other ways.

CadCom Telesystems VM III is a full featured voice mail system that offers call screening, v-trees, multiple timed greetings, auto attendant, auto answer, and much more. Running on a Windows NT platform, VM III can interface with T-1, DID, and ISDN-PRI lines.

Providing DID numbers to his voice mail customers helps Ron Schlossberg, owner of Advance Communications, win many accounts. “We are in competition with the phone company for voice mail customers; however, they do not offer a telephone number to go with the voice mail box. We can offer to someone who simply wants a mailbox, and no live operator option, a number that his or her business line can be forwarded to. In fact, we will let them use the number for their business and let them advertise it in the yellow pages. Also, we can charge a significant amount more than the phone company can because they are not giving them a separate number. This works well for those individuals who do not want to receive business calls at home.”

Ron Schlossberg believes that voice mail is a real money-maker. “We know that it makes us competitive with other telephone answering services. If you are not using its many features, you are really missing out on profitable opportunities.”

Voice mail allows for call screening mailboxes that let its users record a message or greeting to be played for callers. This mailbox can be set up to tree to other mailboxes, or allow the user to leave a message.

Charlie Webb of Hirons and Co. has a lot of customers that use v-trees for their menu options. Right now, most of his customer base is medical groups, real-estate agencies, and property management. “A lot of our customers use multiple boxes for after hours calls. When the caller reaches the voice mail box, they are presented with an option–press one for sales, two for manufacturing, etc. This is also where they can press seven for an operator revert.”

Call screening is another important application that owners of telephone answering services want. Kay Mills, owner of Professional Communication Services, knows that this option helps save her operators time and allows them to spend their time more efficiently and profitably. Two-thirds to three-fourths of all medical calls are taken care of in voice mail. “I allow my customers to have a voice mail box that gives the users the hours of the office and the option to revert to an operator in an emergency situation.”

Mark Brown, owner of Venture Communications, uses the notification features to provide extra benefits to his medical suites. “One of our medical suite customers has different on-call doctors every night. The same pager is passed between the on-call doctors. Because of the stamp I can put out with the notification feature, I can constantly have the DID number and password the doctor needs to access their voice mail. This saves time for the doctors because when they are notified, all the information they need is right there.”

These applications are also beneficial to office suites, apartment complexes, and just about any other business that is not manned 24 hours a day. Sam Carpenter, owner of Central Telemessaging, uses grouping capabilities to enhance the usability of voice mail for his clients. Most of his clients are real-estate agencies, and he groups all agents from one agency together. This allows for group messages to go to everyone in the group and allows for a dial by name directory for the agents. “The flexibility we give to our customers is incredible. When I have forty or fifty mailboxes that can be grouped together to send messages to each other, it is really important. These are the kind of accounts that stay with me for years and years.”

Mark Brown, who is also a vendor of other voice mail systems, uses VM III to fulfill the needs of small companies with simulated in-house voice mail applications. “If a user wanted the basic, lowest level two-port voice mail system, it would cost them at least $2,500. I can give them all separate mailboxes, v-trees, custom busy greetings, and scheduling options, all for smaller fees per month. This simulates an in-house voice mail system.”

VM III can operate as a stand-alone single solution provider for all of your messaging needs. Not only does it perform all basic functions of a voice mail system; it has incredible faxing options that allow for faxes to be stored in a voice mail box for later retrieval. Also, messages and faxes can be retrieved, stored and manipulated using a desktop PC, VM III Messenger and a LAN.

To learn more, call 800-422-3366 or visit www.onvisource.com.

[From Connection Magazine – May 2000]

Logging Recordings: The Right Answer?

By Stewart Settles and Teresa Fudge

The practice of recording telephone communication is a growing trend in today’s business environment. In some industries, logging recorders are as commonplace as fax machines and copiers.

What is a logging recorder? A logging recorder is a device sometimes referred to as a communications or voice recorder that records verbal communication over the telephone in various applications over an extended period of time. It files the information by time and date for retrieval and playback at the users’ discretion. In other words, a logging recorder is to speech as a computer is to data.

Logging recorders have been around for decades. Some of the earliest applications include our military. During World War II all forms of communication between ships, aircraft and various military installations were recorded. Even submarines were fitted with a reel-to-reel recorder designed specially for this space-sensitive application. One of these unique recorders is in active duty today in Harold Carbo’s message center in Houma, Louisiana.

With the advancement of radio communication in the aviation industry, the logging recorder found itself on aircraft and in airports around the world. The “Black Box” found in aircraft today is yet another example of a specially designed logging recorder.

In the last few years telemessaging services around the country have recognized the importance of voice recording. He said this, she said that, all a part of the day to day issues that are inherent in the message center industry. Remember, verbal communication is the very nucleus of your service. So what about storing the speech? After all, once words are spoken, they are gone forever.

According to many leaders in the industry, and I think most of you would agree, the number one customer complaint is rude operator behavior. If the truth were known, the customer is not always right. However, services that have installed a voice recorder will tell you that once recording begins, the rude behavior miraculously ends. Go figure?

Over the years, I have heard many interesting stories from message center owners around the country relating to the subject of voice recording. Here’s one that will make you think.

Late one evening in Beaumont, Texas, Monroe Telephone Answering Service received a call from a woman whose husband needed his doctor’s immediate assistance. The service then contacted the doctor at his home to relay the message. The next morning, Larry and Deborah Cooper, owners of the service, were contacted by the doctor’s office. The patient had passed away overnight. They were accusing the service of negligence because the doctor claimed he had not been contacted. Once again their trusty reel-to reel logging recorder saved the day, as it revealed that not only was the doctor properly notified, but his patient’s phone number had been repeated to him four times.

Many message centers pull double duty by monitoring alarm systems. These monitoring houses are known as central stations.

Tom Morris, owner of All Guard Security in Memphis, Tennessee reflects on many an occasion that his logging recorder bailed him out of a potentially sticky situation.

“Occasionally, alarms are set off in the late evening or early morning hours. After determining that it is not a false alarm, the police are notified. We then contact the individual designated on the account to go evaluate the situation. On many occasions the owner or supervisor of the company will call us the following morning complaining that notification of the triggered alarm was not made the night before. From time to time the individuals on call-back lists will deny being contacted. They probably roll over and go back to sleep. We then supply the company with the name of the person contacted and a copy of the recorded conversation. End of story. I don’t see how a central station can operate without a recorder.”

Raymond Baggarly, owner of Answering Metro Atlanta, says that he has saved many accounts because his service records. “The ability to play back the conversation as it occurred allows us to police and diffuse conflicts between our operators and our clients. The logging recorder is a valuable tool for training operators.”

Ellen Fagan, owner of Fagan Answering Service in Victoria, Texas got a “splash of cold water” w hen she nearly lost an account generating $1,000 monthly because of a dispute. Had this conversation been recorded, this issue would have been resolved immediately. Ellen purchased her logging recorder the following day.

I am often asked about the legality of voice recording. Recording telephone conversations is legal in every state; however, at the time of publication, the states of CA, DE, FL, IL, MD, MA, MI, PA and WA, have a two-party notification law. Most states require single-party notification, meaning that only your operators need to be aware of the recording. In a two-party notification state, there are procedures of notification that can be implemented without irritating or intimidating your operators and callers.

When shopping for a logging recorder, several questions need to be answered. What channel capacity do I need? What functions are right for my service? What features do I not need?

The answers to these questions will bring you to another major consideration: w ill a digital or an analog recording system best serve my needs? Both analog and digital recorders will produce the same end result. Although, the digital systems are far more flexible, require minimal time to operate, and perform the search and playback function without interrupting recording.

To the best of my knowledge the only multi-channel analog recorder currently produced is the Teac CR-310 and CR-320. These VHS recorders retail between $8,500 and $10,000 new. A new digital logger will start in the range of $7,000 for an eight-channel and graduate upwards depending on channel capacity and features. Most, if not all, digital recorders can be upgraded in the field. This allows you to expand the channel capacity, typically in four or eight channel increments, by purchasing a channel card from your dealer.

Most message centers record the operator stations and not the incoming lines. For example, a service has eight operator stations and 15 incoming lines. If the stations are recorded, then an eight channel recorder will accommodate this application. If the lines were recorded the channel capacity of the recorder would need to be at least 15, adding anywhere from $3,000 to as much as $5,000 to your initial cost. Also, performing a search for a specific call is much simpler when the stations are recorded. You can assign your operators to a channel with this method, making locating a call far easier.

It is my opinion that a service with anywhere from two to as much as even five operator stations, need not invest in a digital system, but perhaps locate a pre-owned analog, smaller channel capacity VHS setup. These recorders are typically very reliable, especially the Teac CR series, and are very marketable when the decision is made to upgrade to a digital recorder. Your initial investment will be far less and this setup is the most common in message centers today. If you can afford to make the leap financially into a digital system, then consider a small channel capacity recorder and expand it as your service grows.

Digital logging recorders are available in many configurations, some with features that typically are not necessary in the telemessaging industry. Make sure you familiarize yourself with each function of the system you are considering purchasing. Most standard features on digital recorders today will accommodate your services needs, however be aware that some digital recorders come packed with features that you will never ever utilize and will drive up the cost of the recorder.

There are many reputable dealers and manufactures that advertise in this publication. Any one of these should be able to help you determine the right recorder for your service. So are logging recorders the right answer? You make the call.

[From Connection Magazine – May 1999]