Is Call Recording Big Brother?



In the book 1984, author George Orwell paints a bleak picture of a dystopian future where people conform because “Big Brother” is always watching them.  Big Brother has become a symbol of government oppression and executive leadership gone bad.  The phrase ‘Big Brother’ is associated with companies who spy on their own employees out of mistrust and fear.

Recently I was asked, “How do you handle call recording being perceived by employees as Big Brother?”

There is a fine line between using call recording for positive and productive purposes compared with employees seeing it as Big Brother.  I’ll tell you a story about my appointment setting firm, Vorsight, to illustrate.

In 2012 I was approached by the then CEO of a company called TeamVisibility.  He asked Vorsight to become a beta customer of their SaaS technology that used a camera on top of the computer monitor to capture audio, video, and a screen scrape of a salesperson’s computer.  The idea was to create game film of the day of a sales rep which would then be used to help him or her improve.

I convinced our CEO, David Stillman, to move forward.  TeamVisibility came into our office to install cameras on top of everyone’s monitors and their software on the computers.  We waited for a few weeks of ‘game film’ to be captured and sent to the cloud.  Then one day David and I sat down with the TeamVisibility folks to have a look.  Here’s what we were supposed see:

Screenshot of Team Visibility, the precursor to ExecVision

But instead David and I stared at something that looked like the surface of the moon.  We couldn’t figure out what it was.  Then it clicked – we were looking at the ceiling tiles in our office.  The BDAs had revolted and flipped their cameras in the air as an act of defiance.  We had unintentionally gone Big Brother on them.  Yikes.

That wasn’t the intent.  Our motives were pure: by watching game film we could help the team get better at sales and make bigger incentive checks.  We were doing this for them as much as for the business.  Neither David nor I had or have the time to hang around in our offices spying on our team members.  Want to look at Facebook or ESPN on your computer?  All good.  After all everyone needs a break.  But despite best intentions, the perception was Big Brother all the way.

In retrospect I was a naive fool.  How could putting a camera on top of someone’s computer NOT be perceived as Big Brother?  Duh.

Our CEO, David, took control of the roll out of TeamVisibility and changed two big things:

  1. He made a pact with the team members in writing that no one would watch any of their game film without them knowing about it. It was almost like Rousseau’s The Social Contract.
  2. He made the camera optional so each member of the team could decide for themselves to keep it on or toggle it off. Audio would always be on.

David announced the changes at a company pull up meeting followed by an email.

After a few days, mistrust among our team members turned into embrace.  More than 70% of the team actually elected to have the camera on.  They flipped the cameras down from the ceiling tiles so that we could now see their faces.  They also started bringing specific calls to our attention where they would ask for help.  We’d coach them, and they’d get better.  This magical transformation from Big Brother to ‘we love our bosses’ only took two weeks.

Fast forward to April, 2015 when Vorsight acquired the technology assets of TeamVisibility and re-branded it ExecVision.  Our CEO, David, made two additional changes:

  1. Ditch the camera entirely in favor of integrations with phone systems, dialers, and screen sharing tools to automatically pull in call recordings of audio and audio/video when screen sharing or video is used in the buyer/seller interaction.
  2. Thought up by our genius Director of Sales Ops, Eric White, when a sales rep logs a conversation in their CRM or dialer, they have to fill out this one mandatory field:

Choosing if you want feedback on a call

These changes completely eliminated any thought of Big Brother at all.  How do I know?  Check out this data.  The percentage of calls where our sales reps want coaching goes up every month.  You don’t ask for more coaching every month when you perceive your employer as Big Brother.

Percentage of conversations where Vorsight reps requested coaching

At Vorsight we went from a Big Brother inspired revolt in 2012 to the present day virtuous cycle of:

Rep asks for coaching

    ↳ Reviews his/her own call and shares with another

        ↳ Gets coached

            ↳ Gets better

                ↳ Asks for more coaching

                    ↳ Tells all new reps how great ExecVision is.

In a morning pull up meeting I asked the team to raise their hand if they had listened to one of their colleagues calls in ExecVision in the last two weeks. This video says it all:

Here’s an example of a call where our BDA, Brian, reviewed and commented on his own call then asked for coaching and got it from his manager Shay:

ExecVision Call Card

I caught up with one of our top BDAs, Chris Roberts, in the elevator ride up to our office.  I said, “Hey Chris, shoot me straight here.  Do you think of ExecVision as being Big Brother?”  He had a confused look on his face then said, “No.  I never thought of that.  Recorded call coaching is part of what we do day in and day out.  We all listen to our calls and mark comments on our calls.  We all share our calls and learn from each other.  Learning from call recordings is part of Vorsight’s culture.  I’ve gotten a lot better and made more money because of it.”

Well said Chris!  The answer to, “Is call recording Big Brother?” is “It depends on your company culture.”

How about you?  Do you think call recording is Big Brother?  Before you comment about recording calls legally, please read this article on practical advice for sales leaders on call recording laws.

What stories do you have about call recording being/not being Big Brother?  Comment to tell your peers.  This is a fun topic.  Let’s keep the conversation going.

Written by Steve Richard|ExecVision