Headsets have become the universal symbol for contact centers, and contact center agents, and for good reason. For it is through these essential appliances they connect with customers, supervisors, and colleagues.
While text-based communications have grown, and will no doubt continue to increase in popularity, there will always be those who need or prefer to interact in real-time with live humans through voice.
And there are no better means to effectively enable those conversations than headsets as they limit interfering background noise while freeing up agents to use their keyboards, screens, and mice.
To find out what is new with headsets, with issues like how their use has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lies ahead in today’s new normal, Contact Center Pipeline recently interviewed Vern Fernandez, Senior Manager, Contact Center Excellence, Jabra.
Brendan Read: What changes have there been with headset features and functionality?
Vern Fernandez: Headsets have become indispensable tools for contact centers. These headsets are used by agents who are often located in noisy rooms and are handling calls one after the other. This environment can present unique challenges for the agents, so choosing a headset that’s equipped with the necessary features is crucial to a contact center’s success.
There are many types of headsets from single and dual earpieces to over the head or behind- the-ear earpieces. Most contact centers utilize dual earpieces to ensure maximum audio quality for the user and the caller.
Also, secure, wireless DECT headsets are growing in popularity as well so that agents have the freedom to find answers, move around in their environments, and work in dense workplaces. In addition, DECT headsets allow zip tones and whisper tones to pass through to agents where Bluetooth wireless headsets cannot.
Quality, durability, and overall comfort are also key factors to consider when choosing a headset. Headsets that can be easily broken or damaged reduce contact center efficiency, increase frustration among employees, and can be costly to replace.
This environment can present unique challenges for the agents, so choosing a headset that’s equipped with the necessary features is crucial to a contact center’s success.
More contact centers, quite rightly, are turning towards headsets made out of quality materials, such as surgical steel, and ones that are lightweight and ergonomic to help increase end-user satisfaction. Ergonomically-designed headsets also allow more natural, less restricted movement, which offer added health benefits to the agents.
Most importantly, headsets need to be equipped with noise cancellation features as the job of a contact center employee quite literally depends on being able to have clear, noise-free conversations with customers and clients.
Modern headset technology can make a loud contact center sound like a quiet library, offering great customer experiences (CXs) and also flexibility for the agent to work anywhere. This feature can then result in better agent satisfaction and retention.
Just as important, noise cancellation provides more accurate data for artificial intelligence (AI) that uses voice for speech analytics, biometrics, gamification, and translation applications.
Brendan Read: The pandemic drove contact center employees home and many of them are permanently working remotely full-time and/or hybrid working. How has this new normal impacted headset functionality and use?
Vern Fernandez: The pandemic forced many contact centers to become truly digital. Contact center agents suddenly became remote workers after years of being tied to desks and phones. This had to be replaced quickly, which is where UC /CC (Unified Communications/Contact Center) platforms and softphone solutions came in to help smooth the transition.
Cloud technology made it possible for a contact center to operate remotely, freeing agents from the office and allowing for hybrid working.
Indeed, home working certainly has some advantages for contact centers. But they also bring about a unique set of challenges. The noises in the home environment can be just as distracting—if not more so—for agents than what they face in a contact center.
For instance, typically, contact centers invest in various acoustic treatments like white noise generators, wall panels, and higher cube walls to mitigate noise for better customer experiences.
But at-home and flexible agents do not always benefit from these investments, so the headsets must make up for them and provide great sound from wherever the agents sit.
Another resulting challenge and trend of the pandemic was to purchase any headset that could be found on the market—a prosumer approach to purchasing a headset.
As agents have discovered, however, there is a difference in quality amidst the many choices. Professional headset companies partner with voice platforms to certify devices and ensure that voice quality is of a higher standard and that software can be easily updated.
The continuation of hybrid work can be successful with the right technology in place. Headsets and software once used only in the office have proved adaptable enough to provide companies with the reliability and flexibility to continue their operations remotely and make the transition quickly and seamlessly.
Brendan Read: With the heightened health concerns as a result of the pandemic has there been any changes in how headsets are provided and deployed?
Vern Fernandez: With the rise in remote working in the contact center field, the practice of sharing headsets has undoubtedly declined. At-home agents now require their own headsets, which can’t be easily shared between shifts.
For agents working in contact centers, companies have rolled out a range of new policies to combat heightened health concerns caused by the pandemic. This varies by contact center, but could include social distancing, increased cleaning of surfaces, and masking policies.
Contact centers are considering different reasons to bring agents back to the office. For some, security and PCI compliance is of the highest concern. Others will bring back only the agents who need additional training or more help. Then again, some are considering reservation policies for office spaces.
In every case, hygiene matters. For instance, many contact centers are used to side-by-side training using corded headsets which puts agents in close proximity to supervisors. As a solution, managers can deploy wireless DECT headsets to train multiple people using the same headset base, allowing more distance between people.
Brendan Read: Video is becoming an important channel for customer interactions and for internal communications. Has the adoption of video changed headsets?
Vern Fernandez: Video and headsets are complementary to each other, especially in the contact center context.
You can’t maintain good video call quality without crisp sound quality, background noise cancellation, and a reliable and clear video feed.
For this reason, the adoption of video has not changed headset use—as both in tandem are essential to maintaining call quality.
Feature-wise, the demand for UC-certified headsets remains strong, as companies look to ensure their headsets are compatible with the communication platform they’re using.
By having a headset that is completely compatible with the platform they’re hosting video calls on—both internally, and externally with customers—companies can mitigate potential quality issues and ensure calls run smoothly.
From an agent perspective, we see video use growing in the future.
From an agent perspective, we see video use growing in the future. Given the rise of chatbots, IVR, and other AI tools, agents receive only the most complex calls. This increases the demand for empathy, the ability to de-escalate conversations, and for employees who are communications professionals.
Contact centers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and a personal touch using video can help CSAT and NPSs. In addition, some contact centers use cameras as security devices to ensure that agents are performing optimally and providing the best and most reliable CX. Either case means growth in the use of cameras.
Brendan Read: Going forward, what changes, if any, do you expect in the design and use of headsets in the contact center, whether in home/remote or office environments?
Vern Fernandez: The traditional contact center, where staff were tied to desk phones, is now in question. As contact centers adapt to hybrid and remote work, and become increasingly digital, the design and use of headsets and technology solutions will continue to change with them.
Like a premium car provides data through cameras, sensors, and alerts for drivers to travel safely, the primary goal of an intelligent headset is to provide guidance to the agents using data that helps them stay in the optimal conversation lanes with customers.
This data can include information on crosstalk, silence, malfunctioning microphones, battery life, the number of times an agent mutes, and the decibel and noise levels around the agents as it pertains to call quality and audio exposure in relation to agent health and hearing safety.
We’ve already seen great advances in the past year in terms of intelligent noise-cancellation for headsets, which has proven crucial for contact center staff as they take calls remotely. Additional features included with premium headsets, like multi-colored status lights, have also aided agents and supervisors to understand agent status whether they are available, occupied, on or off the queue.
There are even system integrators that will level you up in a game using data from the headset and the multi-colored lights to increase friendly competition on KPI performance.
As solution providers look to release their latest headset models, remote capabilities will be top of mind. I expect to see further advances in terms of noise cancellation and the development of features to ensure that users have solutions that enable them to work productively, even in a less controlled environment.
Part of this will include easy at-home configuration, to ensure agents can set their headsets and technology solutions up wherever they may be, without the help of IT.
Additionally, we’ve already seen contact centers pair professional, digital headsets, with sentiment analysis, gamification, and workforce management software. I expect that we will continue to see advances in how these solutions complement each other.
With live guidance, like on-screen microphone direction and real-time analytics for the business, we’ve already seen how software/hardware integrations can deliver better customer call experiences by allowing agents to self-coach themselves wherever they work.
I expect, then, that further analytical capabilities will be added to the solutions, providing contact center agents and staff with the insights and tools to deliver the best customer service.
Brendan Read: What best practices do you recommend in order for contact centers and employees to maximize the benefits of headsets and the value of these tools?
Vern Fernandez: While most contact center staff are already maximizing many the hardware features of their headsets, like noise cancellation, many are unaware of analytics and integrations offered by leading enterprise headphone providers. The analytics can be used in conjunction with other contact center KPIs like CSAT, NPS, and FCR and measuring average handle times.
In order for contact center agents and managers to get the most of their premium headsets, they should look to leverage the metrics that are captured by their premium headset provider in real time during every call.
From rapidly identifying and resolving headset configuration issues, detecting background noise conditions that are detrimental to customer experience, analyzing speaker metrics and agent/customer crosstalk, and to even protecting employee auditory health and safety, the benefits of headset-software integration and analytics are numerous.
Contact centers should be sure they are aware of all the features, and services, offered by their headset providers to ensure they are getting the most out of the tools they are already using.