Telstra's trial of a new system designed to record all call centre conversations provoked staff anger last week and union threats of action to prevent the telecommunications giant invading both customer and staff privacy.
Telstra, meanwhile, describes the monitoring, initially at its Box Hill (Victoria) call centre, with plans to roll out to all centres by year's end (pending a successful trial), as a training' exercise intended to address the organisation's customer service' gap.
Staff are concerned that their private conversations made on the job would be recorded and kept by the company, said Stephen Jones, national assistant secretary, The Communications and Public Sector Union (CPSU).
"[The carrier] says it wants to improve customer service, but if Telstra were really serious about improving customer service, then it wouldn't be cutting 10,000 jobs from customer service; we are very sceptical," Jones said. "We believe it doesn't need to tape-record calls to check on the service delivery of staff."
The CPSU threatened an ongoing campaign if Telstra didn't abandon its call recording plans.
According to Jones, Telstra already monitored conversations for training and quality assurance purposes, but those conversations were not recorded and kept indefinitely. He also believes that Telstra planned to use the recordings to be more competitive in the telecommunications market, by using the information gathered to cross-sell other products to customers.
"We believe it is to gain advantage over [Telstra's] competitors, particularly Optus and AAPT, to win back customers who are using those companies as their carriers.
Telstra spokesperson Anne-Marie Bennet rejected union claims that the system would be used to monitor and ultimately dismiss nonperforming staff.
"The system is for coaching and to enable us to deliver better customer service," Bennet said.
She said that all customers will be advised when a call will be recorded and if they don't consent then the Quality Improvement Program System' would be turned off.
"It is exciting for Telstra as it fills a gap in our training, [but] customer privacy is paramount to us and that's why we give them the option not to be recorded," she added. "The system is for coaching and to enable us to deliver better customer service."
"If the customer gives consent then a team leader can look back on calls with the call centre operator and say this is where you did well and this is where you can improve," she said.
Jones said a sensible outcome from the union's concerns would be that only certain transactions were recorded.
"Let's say someone wanted to change their carrier from Optus to Telstra; then Telstra will need a record of that, so instead of faxing [a signed contract], it might be easier to make a recording of a voice agreement, but not [to record] the entire call."
This voice signature' would work as a signed contract.
"We hope [Telstra] will review the situation and hopefully we can get a sensible outcome," Jones added.