How the Right Headset Affects Call Center Productivity and the Bottom Line

by Jim Hanks

Call center metrics: it's all about the bottom line
Most call center managers understand that background noise isn't good for business, but they may not always realize the enormous losses it can cause. When you're dealing with a large volume of calls, every fraction of a second is worth a great deal of revenue. In order to maximize profits, the average time a call center individual spends with a customer—known as Average Work Time (AWT), Average Handling Time, or Average Talk Time—must be closely monitored.

One of the biggest factors that adversely affect AWT is ambient noise. In a recent study on the effects of background noise, ACS Wireless found that by decreasing AWT by a mere 0.6 second, one customer saved $8 million annually.

This figure sounds incredibly high, but when customers and call center staff have to repeat themselves due to background noise, businesses lose money in many ways, including:

1. Increased long-distance charges - When noise makes it difficult to hear customers, it takes longer to acquire necessary information; meanwhile, long-distance charges are being incurred. Additionally, if customers can't hear well either, they might hang up before getting all the information they need and will have to call back later (thereby creating more charges).

2. Decreased employee output - The inability to hear due to background noise reduces the speed at which call center employees can attend to customers. As a result, other customers must wait or additional staff must be hired to make up for the slack. Even if your staffing levels are sufficient, the frustration employees experience due to background noise decreases their performance.

3. Customer dissatisfaction - In addition to the obvious annoyance of extraneous noise, if a caller can hear other conversations in your call center, they worry about their own privacy. Would you want to give your credit card number to someone (and have them repeat it back to you) when you know that other callers can overhear?

When many call center individuals encounter background noise, they exacerbate the problem by raising the volume on their headsets. Not only does this action distort the signal, it also creates what is known as "temporary hearing fatigue" (or "temporary threshold shift"). This industry concept basically means that when your reps are exposed to loud sounds for extended periods of time, their hearing (and therefore their productivity) will suffer by the end of the day.

Additionally, when employees crank up their headsets' volume, they will naturally speak louder, thereby increasing background noise…which leads co-workers to increase their headsets' volume and speak louder (thereby further increasing background noise)... until eventually customers can't distinguish between background noise and call center attendants' voices.

How the headset remedies the problem
Call center managers don't have to take a combative stance with background noise, because they can eliminate it very easily. All they need to do is equip their staff with well-engineered headsets. A superior-quality headset offers any number of the following features that ensure that employees and customers can be heard.

Noise canceling
Microphones on lesser-quality headsets deliver whatever sound is in the immediate environment. This includes background noise as well as voice transmission. Better headsets, however, are equipped with noise-canceling microphones that significantly attenuate many different kinds of noise, from both near and far, allowing you to better concentrate on your call.

Compression
As call center workers can tell you, the sound characteristics of every call are different. Sudden shifts in decibel levels (also known as "spikes") are an annoyance to both sides of the conversation. The amplifier that comes with a well-made headset compresses sound to a constant level in order to deliver constant clarity.

Quick disconnect
This feature allows call center attendants to walk away from their desks to disconnect from their workstations—but not from the call itself. Without the convenience of quick-disconnect cords, consulting with sources across the room requires them to end the conversation, hang up, and call the customer back later—thereby incurring more charges and increasing AWT (that is, again, Average Work Time).

Quick-disconnect cords also significantly reduce After Call Work (ACW) time since employees can leave their headsets on when performing non-call duties. Many of the headsets sold by Hello Direct have quick-disconnect cords.

Binaural headsets
Sometimes it's good to have one ear exposed when you work in a call center. If your sales folks commonly consult fellow workers, for example, they don't want to be closed off from their environment. But if the majority of their contact is with customers, binaural (versus monaural or one-ear) headsets will significantly increase call clarity, and the ability to consistently get (and convey) all the right information during each call. Dual-ear headsets also prevent temporary hearing fatigue in call center staff, by eliminating ambient noise.

Summary
Poor productivity isn't always a staffing problem or a system-response problem; often, the fault lies in the staff's equipment. In order to reduce AWT (Average Work Time) and maximize profits in your call center, understanding what is said during every single phone call, every single time, is a primary objective. Hello Direct offers a large variety of high-quality headsets on their web site, HelloDirect.com, nearly all of which are engineered to significantly reduce background noise.

Spend a little extra on good, commercial-quality headsets. They should make you far more money than they cost.