Credit: Illustration: Harry Campbell

When people who have seen one of its ads call Lifetyme Exteriors, in Boston, the call is recorded. Though this is not a widespread practice in the home improvement industry, it's a growing trend among U.S. businesses generally. According to the American Management Association, in 2001 9% of companies recorded workers' phone calls. Today, 19% record the calls of employees in selected categories.

WARM-CALL OVERSIGHT At Lifetyme Exteriors, for instance, call-recording began with inbound leads and moved from there to confirmers. By playing back recordings — available on a Web site as digital sound files — owner Chris Ripley can monitor to ensure that callers' questions are effectively being answered.

The benefits, he says, are three-fold: more incoming calls become appointments, the appointments are of higher quality, and those employees answering the phones begin to self-police.

“The problem with just going in and giving people scripts,” he says, “is that guess what happens after you read a script 150 times a week? You're either off-script or you're on-script but are no longer effective.”

Jim Steffes, owner of New Windows for America, a replacement company in Shoreview, Minn., records the 3 to 10 inbound calls that reach his office each day. He can then listen to them on a Web site operated by Conversion Associates, a Boston-based marketing organization that sells its recording services along with dedicated phone numbers for lead tracking.

From listening to the recorded calls, Steffes says he found that employees sometimes couldn't answer key questions or couldn't obtain critical information, such as details regarding one-legs. So he retrained those employees who are answering the phone to ensure that that information would be taken.

MISSING LINK Nick Goggans, director of interactive strategies and design at Conversion Associates, says that, for company owners, the best part is that listening to recordings will allow them to know what prompted prospects to call — whether it was the product, energy savings, or a specific discount — and how well that customer contact is being processed.

Systematic disconnects quickly turn up and can be corrected. Home improvement company owners “spend so much money on advertising and so much time training the salesforce,” he says, but pay little time or attention to “the aspect of the business that connects those two entities: the customer's first impression.”

Both Ripley and Steffes say that playing back recordings at employee meetings typically backfires, since employees who mishandle a call feel embarrassed. Steffes says he wants those answering the phone to sell the appointment. “I [have given] them access to the Web site, so they can listen to themselves.”