Your phone calls are being recorded


A few years ago a man came to my office unannounced and delivered a bundle of papers to me and to one of my salespeople. They were a full set of documents ready for filing in Court and included a statement of claim and supporting sworn affidavits.   The covering barrister’s letter gave us seven days to pay substantial compensation to the aggrieved purchaser failing which litigation would be commenced forthwith and without further notice.
The allegation was that in selling his client a property we had failed to disclose a number of problems for which he required us to compensate him for his considerable costs and losses.      This was a total surprise to us because no-one had ever expressed any concerns about the sale which had been made several months earlier.
I was delighted to be able to reply with an extremely short letter (two lines from memory) simply stating to the barrister that his client was mistaken.  My salesperson and I were then able to focus on current and future business with minimal distraction or concern.
The reason we could do this with confidence was that we had, and still have, a 27+ minute recording of a call between my salesperson and the purchaser which took place prior to the purchaser making an offer of the property. In that call they discussed in detail the very points which it was claimed we had not disclosed.   It also records the purchaser discussing the price he would offer and that the offer took into account the cost of the remedial work he would be doing.
A number of interesting points arise out of this experience.   First, we never heard from the barrister or the purchaser again.   Second, we made no attempt to put our side of the situation, simply the two line letter stating that they were mistaken. Third, at no time did we advise them that we had the recording. 
This was just one of many times that selectively recorded (contentious, malicious, vindictive, frivolous, significant or just plain difficult) phone calls had saved my company and my team a lot of money, aggravation and time. 
I happily tell real estate licensees that I have been recording calls for almost 30 years and recommend they do the same, even if merely to ensure that they maintain quality notes of the call.   However, some have suggested that in doing so I have acted immorally. Well I do not agree. What I consider immoral is when someone is prepared to blatantly lie in an attempt to cheat me, my family, my salespeople and their families out of what can be considerable amounts of money.
Many people also still think it is illegal to record calls without that annoying warning advising the other party.   In fact it is my understanding that we are the only country in the western world where it is legal to do so without a warning, and long may that continue.
I therefore continue to be disappointed at the number of our Members who do not use this wonderful tool.    Many organisations in this country do record calls, including insurance companies, banks and government departments.   When visiting the Tenancy Services telephone advisory centre as the Real Estate Institute Councillor for property management a few years ago, I was told that all calls are recorded.   Each month 10 calls by each adviser are selected at random and reviewed by them and their supervisor in order to monitor the quality of the advice given.   No wonder they do such a great job.
And it is a fact that Real Estate Agents Authority investigators record their calls when discussing a complaint with you.   The transcript is then made available to the parties as well as to the CAC or Tribunal in some, if not all cases.   I have no problem with this as it ensures the quality of the investigation and the accuracy of the responses.
Yes, some organizations do advise you that the call is being recorded (for training purposes!), and they do this primarily for one of two reasons.   Firstly the warning is built in to their phone system and cannot be removed or, secondly, their call centre is overseas and they are legally obligated to do so.
It is my belief that real estate agency is now, in commercial terms, the most high risk business in this country and Members who do not appreciate this could be in for some nasty experiences at some future date.    My recommendation, now more than ever before, is that everyone should have a phone system that is capable of recording calls by the push of a button and without a warning beep or message. In fact when I last installed a system into my office, I would not even consider a system that could not do so.
What I have found to be interesting over the years is that I have resolved many disputes and complaints relatively easily while holding such recordings, but have rarely ever told the other party of its existence.    I believe that the confidence of having the recording conveys itself to them sometimes through body language when meeting personally, sometimes over the phone or in writing, and people do simply back off.
There is now an estimated one CCTV camera in Britain for every fourteen people and apparently we are not that far behind.    Recording calls without giving a warning is also common now and will become even more so as we become progressively more litigious.   We all owe it to ourselves, our families and our teams to provide such protection in a commercially dangerous world.
And finally, recording yourself on a phone call has three other benefits.   Firstly (especially for salespeople) it is great to be able to review your own performance with general business calls.   Secondly, if the call is contentious, knowing that it is being recorded and may be listened to at a later date by other parties tends to keep one cool, calm and professional.   Thirdly, it gives the ability to share and review the actual call with advisers when necessary.
Even if you are not prepared or able to use this technology yourself, please remember that some of the calls that you make will be recorded, without your knowledge and can and perhaps will be used against you one day.
Our Privacy Laws apply to recorded calls therefore they must be used appropriately and with caution.
There are a number of smart phone Apps available (Iphones and Androids) to enable calls to be recorded, many of them are free. 
Michael Pinkney  FREINZ AAMINZ
Note, this article was written in November 2011 but has not been published except on this website