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Getting jerked around? Here’s how to record customer service calls

There are few things worse than needing to call a customer service agent for help. Stubbing your toe? Maybe. Working on Christmas? Probably. Hearing the final score of a game you DVR’d? Definitely. The calls take too long; you never end up getting what you want; and the customer service agent lacks in the one area they’re supposed to excel in: customer service. But no matter how much you try to avoid a customer service call, it ends up finding its way in to your life in one way or another.

Over the past couple months, the cable giant Comcast has given new meaning to the term “customer service call from Hell,” and made headlines for all the wrong reasons. In July, tech journalist Ryan Block endured a painful eight minute call in which he was simply trying to cancel his Comcast service. Thing is, the customer service rep he spoke with wouldn’t take no for an answer and repeatedly pestered Block to answer why he wanted to cancel. Luckily, Block recorded most of the conversation and posted his awful experience online for the World to see. Comcast was quick to apologize and maintained it doesn’t train its employees to handle calls in such a way. Incident solved — kind of — and Comcast got back to business.

Until it tried to pull a fast one on yet another customer.

This time, Comcast tried to impose bogus charges on its customer Tim Davis‘ monthly bill. Comcast offered Davis a free equipment exam by one of its reps, but after the visit Comcast tried to charge him for various services and equipment. Once he received his monthly bill, Comcast tallied up the visit at a cost of $181.94. Davis called to get the charges removed but was only able to whittle the charges down to $82 before he revealed he had a recording of his original call guaranteeing the free visit. When Davis asked if there really wasn’t anything they could do if he didn’t have the recording, the Comcast rep replied: “Yes, that is correct.”

So the clear moral to both the above stories is this: record any, and all, customer service calls you make. Plain and simple. To help, we’ve put together a simple guide on the best options you have when recording your phone calls. Though before we get in to those options, we do need to cover the legality of recording a call.

Related: Comcast abandons a customer on hold for three hours, then closes

U.S. federal law requires notification of a recording to at least one party — that’s you — taking part in any phone call. Yet, some states require notification to both parties before any recording takes place. This is where recording customer service calls get tricky. As a general rule of thumb, it’s always best to announce your intent to record a call at the beginning of any conversation, regardless of the state. For quick reference, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons has a handy guide on its website of all one party, and two party consent states. As long as you either state your intent to record at the beginning of a call, or abide by a state’s consent law, you’re in the clear to record calls as openly and freely as you want.

Now with the legal side out of the way, lets get to the real reason you’re here: the best way to record a phone call. So to help you get started, we’ve found two general avenues available to you for recording the phone calls you make. Simply pick your preferred option of the two and you’ll be recording those pesky customer service calls in no time.

Option 1: Smartphone applications

Responding to the budding need to record phone calls, a litany of smartphone apps have released in the past year. Of the two major operating systems, Android proves much more compatible with recording applications than iOS. For Android users, apps like Call RecorderAutomatic Call Recorder, and RMC: Android Call Recorder are all viable recording options. Though these applications cost nothing, they do come with a series of caveats. None work 100 percent of the time and often produce low quality, or grainy, recorded audio. Still, for the price of free, these certainly get the job done — when they work. Also, not all smartphones prove compatible with these applications and it’s recommended you try the free versions first. Unfortunately there isn’t a master list of all compatible phones and applications, so expect to do some guesswork and experimenting.

TapeACall doesn’t charge by the minute or call, which can save you a hefty chunk of change if you plan on recording many calls.

Apple loyal iOS users have a much tougher time when it comes to finding a worthy, inexpensive recording application. Furthermore, Apple doesn’t permit third-party applications to record through the iPhone’s mic during a phone call. To get around this policy, several applications route phone calls through a VoIP service and charge an arm and a leg to do so. So while a recording application like Call Recorder Free has the word “free” in its name, the only free thing about it is the download itself. Once you use the application you’ll need credits or upgrades to record calls.

Still, if you plan on making a short customer service call (do those exist?) or want to dispute a large errant charge, Call Recorder Free does pay off. Applications like Call Recorder – IntCall or Call Recording Pro also route calls through VoIP services and charge by the minute and call, respectively. One thing you do avoid by paying a premium for these services are the pitfalls which beset the free applications on Android.

The application TapeACall is yet another call routing service, though it does come with a one-time $10 fee. Unlike the applications above, TapeACall doesn’t charge by the minute or call, which can save you a hefty chunk of change if you plan on recording many calls. Able to record both outgoing and incoming calls, TapeACall proves a reliable option for any Android or iOS user and offers unlimited recordings. Additionally, recorded calls download from your Android or iOS powered phone in seconds, making it easy to manage all your recordings.

The other application option we recommend is Google Voice, which offers a unique approach compared to the other services listed. Of all the applications listed here, Google Voice records calls the easiest. The unique part? Google only allows the recording of incoming phone calls. This is most likely done to avoid unwanted legal issues stemming from the failure to qualify permission to record. Still, if you plan on having a customer service agent call you, it’s beneficial to set up a Google Voice account. Google allows you to sign up for one Google Voice number for free, before charging $10 for future number changes. Once you create an account, and choose a new number, any calls made to your new number ring through on the Google Voice application on your native number’s device. To begin recording the incoming call, push the number 4 then hang up or push 4 again to end the recording. Access the recorded file through your Google Voice account either through your smartphone or computer.

Option 2: External recorders

The second — albeit prehistoric — option for recording calls is via an external voice recorder and your phone’s speakerphone function. The audio quality isn’t going to blow you away, but if you have a spare recorder laying around your house it’s worth a try. If you don’t have one hiding away in a storage closet, they typically run around $30-$40 on Amazon. Most smartphones even have a voice recording function, though you’d need to have a spare smartphone around if you wish to record externally. Some laptop and desktop PCs  also have an audio recording function you can use. The audio quality suffers with this method, though does get the job done in a pinch.

There are also several call recorders that plug directly in to a phone’s 3.5mm headphone jack. Products like the Esonic Cell Phone Call Recorder or the Forus FSV-U2 Recorder simply plug in to your phone, record any incoming or outgoing calls, and have the ability to save hours of conversations. Though incredibly reliable, both of the mentioned recorders run upward of $100 so this won’t necessarily qualify as your cheapest option.

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