The Call Center of the Near Future is on the Agents' Heads
January 07, 2014
By Tracey E. Schelmetic
, TMCnet Contributor
Since the call center debuted in the 1950s and ‘60s, it has undergone many changes, but in some ways, it has stayed the same. Most contact centers are still physical locations with rows of agents sitting at desks and wearing headsets. While the underlying technology has changed greatly, the goal is still the same: providing the best possible customer support for inbound and outbound customers.
Many of the technologies in the contact center have evolved in subtle ways. Externally, the most notable tool of the contact center agent – the headset – hasn’t changed much. While it may look a little sleeker on the surface today, and it may be wireless, it’s still a band worn over the head with earpieces and a microphone. It’s the underlying technology that has changed radically in response to other technological changes in the contact center. In a way, today’s headset is the end result of many contact center advances.
It might be carrying VoIP calls. Rather than traditional telephony, today’s headset might be optimized to carry voice over IP (VoIP) traffic, which has revolutionized contact center telephony, allowing for unprecedented flexibility and call routing. Improvements in sound quality in today’s headsets ensure that agents have the clearest possible connection.
It needs to cancel background noise. Today’s contact centers are often even larger than the earliest facilities. Hundreds or even thousands of agents might work in the same building, and background noise is a distraction both for the agent and the customer. Modern headsets feature noise canceling technologies that are absolutely necessary for call quality and to maintain the customer experience.
It needs to prevent injury. Little known in the 1950s and 1960s, acoustic shock is a trademark injury of contact center agents, along with repetitive motion injuries. The phenomenon occurs when agents are repeatedly exposed to loud levels of noise over the headset. Since customers can often be unpredictable (some people are unaware of how loudly they speak or exclaim), it’s the headset’s job today to moderate the sound levels the agent is exposed to.
It needs to multitask. While it might seem that headsets have only one job – to carry voice calls to the agent’s ears – Plantronics’ (News - Alert) Richard Kenny, writing for the UK site Call Centre Helper, says the headset of the future could wind up being a multi-use tool for contact center agents.
“The major step forward for contact center workers will lie in integrating the headset with the tasks conducted in the contact center,” writes Kenney. “In many ways, the headset will become a skeleton key for the contact center worker to access all of the tasks they do throughout the day. It will be their authentication to access the network (and even the building), and will automatically log them in to their system based on a combination of whether the device is on the head, where the worker is in the building, and what their diary schedule and UC [unified communications] presence indicates.”
One thing the headset of the future won’t be, according to experts, is smaller. Since the earliest days, headsets have gotten smaller and lighter, but without the human head shrinking (we hope), designs have become about as small and light as possible as is optimal.
Given the number of headsets the average contact center goes through each year, however (as well as their relatively high price), one area where headset improvements would be most welcome would be in making them completely indestructible. We can hope.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson