Telephone Monitoring While on Hold

When we telephone a customer support line, we all hear the recording saying that the call may be monitored. What we don’t realize is that we may be monitored even when we’re on hold.

Monitoring is intended to track the performance of call center operators, but the professional snoops are inadvertently monitoring callers, too. Most callers do not
realize that they may be taped even while they are on hold.

It is at these times that monitors hear husbands arguing with their wives, mothers yelling at their children, and dog owners throwing fits at disobedient pets, all when they think no one is listening. Most times, the only way a customer can avoid being recorded is to hang up.

There’s an easy defense for those in offices and with full-featured phones: the “mute” button. But people believe their calls are being monitored “for quality or training purposes,” and assume that it’s only the part of the call where they’re actually talking to someone. Even easy defenses don’t work if people don’t know that they have to implement them.

Posted on January 25, 2005 at 8:00 AM14 Comments


egeltje January 25, 2005 8:25 AM

You want a phone that transmit all conversation for 5 secs after the customer hangs up. That will really tell you what the customer thought of the service you just provided. 😉

Israel Torres January 25, 2005 9:36 AM

It is common sense to figure when using a powered device that transmissions will occur when the device is on. In this instance it should even be more obvious. Being on HOLD does not mean you are now back in your “Private” world. No, you still are connected to the service that you called or that called you. Not only do you not know how many are on the other side of that line (especially if you are using a wireless phone, you also don’t know that your world is leaking out through your phone line whether you like it or not. The best part is that not only are these calls monitored they are also converted to mp3/wav format and passed around the internet for all to laugh at you. Here is a fine example:

Gridlock January 26, 2005 5:44 AM

I’ve always assumed that the hold portions of any call I’ve made were also subject to monitoring, and used them to inform the companies precisely what I think of being put on hold.

Ian Grey January 26, 2005 7:44 AM

Whether the caller is recorded or not whilst on hold depends upon the type of call recording implemented.

Some systems span the incoming phone lines from the carrier (generally T1 or E1) and capture everything that passes that point, whether talking to an Agent or listening to music on hold. They will know when to start recording through detecting silence, or (more elegantly) through detecting call progress conditions either in the signalling timeslot or via a CTI (computer-telephony interface) link.

Other types of systems record on the agent side, so whilst they don’t get the full caller experience, do capture everything the Agent does, which might include talking about the customer whilst supposedly on hold (going on hold does not necessarily mute the speech on the path to the phone system).

The scale of recording & the reason (quality or evidential) will influence the approach taken, both have their advantages and pitfalls.

Re Gridlock’s comments, a legendary curmudgeon on uk.telecom known as Peter Strangman (RIP) used the same approach when dealing with IVRs, he simply swore at them until he got a human.

Jamie M. January 26, 2005 8:46 AM

That isint compleatly true I am on the quality team here at Sykes on SBCYahoo! DSL and your “Recorded Calls” are used for training or scoring our techs. Our Training Classes listen to calls every now and then, although it is manily jsut for quality so we can get that rude or not knowing tech that cheated on their test off the phone then after that your calls are suspost to be promptly removed from “The system” so no one can hear them… Yes I know not EVERYONE folows the rules we all know this and Israel Torres’s link just proves it although we do hear about 500 calls a week in our entire center sometimes less and if you think about it around 400 techs a day are on the phons just in our center and thay each take about 30-40 calls a day that is 500 that we hear out of 84,000-112,000 calls a week. so the chances of you getting herd on our phone systems atleast is very slim or none at all in most cases now if you ask for a manager though you might as well have pushed that record button yourself that is when you get recorded no matter what but only from that point on….

                          Just thought you may like to see it from a quality tech's side

Ed M January 26, 2005 8:50 AM

If this is problematic, wouldn’t using the Mute button be appropriate, if you were, say, in the middle of a conversation (harangue?)that you wished to continue privately?

Zwack January 26, 2005 12:16 PM

I would love an automated system that allowed me to rate the customer service rep at the end of the call. For example I had to call Qwest a lot recently and out of four calls, over a period of two hours, I had two people who did their utmost to help me. I also had two people who did the bare minimum and obviously didn’t care. It would be nice if I could, at the end of the call, rate the rep. I would imagine that some of them would try harder, and the ones who got consistently low marks would have more QA checks.

I think more of a problem of this (from a security point of view) would be if, while you were on hold you, or someone else audible on the call divulged some sensitive information (passwords, purchasing plans,…) Remember Walls have ears. Time to bring back those WWII posters I think.


Nicholas January 26, 2005 12:31 PM

I did tech support several years ago. I can’t vouch for other call centers, but at Earthlink at that time, we didn’t have a button marked “Hold” on our phones. We only had “Mute.” If I told a customer to hold while I looked something up or consulted a supervisor, I was really only muting my end, and could still hear everything the customer said. This was by design–it kept us appraised of the customer’s mood while we did whatever we needed to do. I’d be surprised if we were the only call center with this policy.

Davi Ottenheimer January 26, 2005 1:32 PM

A classic example. I might have put it differently: “you have to be smarter than the phone to keep your conversations private”.

All the counter-espionage and privacy measures in the world can not do a bit of good if you operate them under a false premise of who/what you can trust and when.

Brian Parsons January 26, 2005 2:16 PM

This worked to my advantage once. I was “on hold” with my airline trying to change a ticket and I ranted to someone next to me about how I had all these upgrade points but could never use them. When I got to the airport I had been mysteriously booked into first class and it didn’t cost me any update points.

John February 5, 2006 2:16 PM

Having worked in a call center, I completely understand this. Once after my wife repeatedly failed to get satisfaction from a call center, I called. After the female customer service representative placed me on what I hoped was mute, I carried on an imaginary conversation with my wife: “Yes dear, I’m on hold. What? Yes, she’s very nice, she’s trying to
be helpful. Plus she understands the situation. She seems pretty sharp to
me, I’m confident she can help.” When the call center woman came back on the line, she was much friendlier and informed me she issued a credit to our account.

magpie September 13, 2006 6:52 PM

what about when your customer is not on hold and they think they you can’t hear them? i have had many customers who i am searching to see if we have a custom item for them and they turn to the person next to them and make fun of you or refer to you in a demeaning way.many times in our call center we are asked to do things that take a few seconds of searching and are refered to as stupid or other more colorful adj. by our customers.oh and when someone says “just one moment please” when they are searching for your info. do not scream “hello” over and over doesn’t make the computer screen pop up with the information any faster.if you are a pig and want to get some technical assistance,don’t ask to speak to a man.ask for someone who can help answer some technical questions on a certain product.the rep can transfer you to a tech line (if they have one) or surprise surprise that lady might have been trained on different technical info for the products (along with her call center brothers who have been working there less time).i once answered the door at my parents house and the guy asked to speak to my husband.i was so tempted to say “me mail order bride me
know nothing”.instead i told my father that there was some guy at the door wanting to know if we wanted some yard work done and apparently now we are married.boy will mom be confused.

Ajax June 12, 2013 3:35 AM

Just for clarification. When an agent actually places a customer on HOLD, nothing is heard.

It’s just that lot of the time, when the customer is placed on “hold”, they are actually placed on MUTE.

The Boss May 22, 2015 4:30 PM

When I call customer service and the call are so-called “recorded” in a one party notification the other party also has the explicit right to record as well. The bottom line is, if you do not want your calls recorded just hang up. To me what gives the customer service or companies that want to record conversation the right to record in the first place?

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.