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May 13, 2009

Supplier Q&A on Headsets with Sennheiser


By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

 

This month’s Supplier Q&As with leading customer interaction/CRM solutions firms features headsets.
 
Replying for Sennheiser is William J. Whearty Vice President, Sales Consumer Electronics, Telecommunications and Audiology.
 
 
Top trends and drivers
 
We have seen a reduction in wholesale exchange of headsets in call centers of all sizes. Customers are extending the life of older inventory that may have been discarded or used as a trade-in prior to this economic cycle. Sennheiser expects a four to five year life for a headset under normal usage. We consistently review our products and have done multiple rolling upgrades transparent to the customer to improve durability, comfort, and performance of our existing line. While it would be more cost effective for us to not undertake these improvements, Sennheiser is, and has been since 1945, committed to providing the world’s greatest audio products.
 
 
New products, services, and enhancements
 
We have created new wireless products and will release additional wireless products for use in small offices through large call centers. We will be releasing new mobile products in 2009 to address the demands of mobile customers. We create these products in conjunction with market feedback from consumers, manufacturers, and our dealers. We have upgraded several of our most popular call center headsets to improve the durability of products many customers agree are already the most durable available.
 
A large contact center has a critical need for products that can stand the rigors of a high volume center, that can reduce down time, and that can reduce talk times. Sennheiser products are uniquely positioned to fill those needs due to our durability, outstanding noise canceling microphones, and receive sound quality.
 
Customers should always measure the cost to own a headset; it is far higher than the cost to buy. As an example, if you buy a low priced headset that has poor noise canceling performance, your reps will spend more time repeating themselves to their customers, the call center will be louder due to the other reps trying to compensate so that their customers can hear them, and inevitably reducing customer satisfaction while increasing costs. After many years in this business, I have found that people that believe all headsets are the same usually learn a valuable lesson too late.
 
Where does their firm fit in the marketplace?
 
Sennheiser Communications (News - Alert) is seen as the premium product in the space. We are still fairly new to the market, having delivered our first products in December 2003. We quickly grew to an estimated #3 market share position, and despite the economic challenges, managed to grow our telecommunications business organically in 2008, a testament to our products in a market that saw the majority of our competitors decline. Our strengths continue to be durability, sound quality, safety, comfort, and innovation.
 
We will continue to add products and pursue the mobile market, office wireless, PC gaming, as well as develop product for call center applications across all spectrums. The Sennheiser dealer and distributor network is large, not all carry our telecommunications products, but the access to the consumer and corporate markets is in place for the right products.
 
State of technology with headsets
 
A call center headset has to do a few things well; provide clear voice transmission and receive quality, be comfortable for long periods of time, safeguard the user from acoustic spikes, and be durable. Nothing wastes time like a call center employee walking around with a broken headset. We make a great headset, and we will continue to invest in call center wired headsets, we don’t see that segment declining, especially as call centers that were outsourced to other countries come back to the U.S.
 
We do see more wireless units going into traditional call centers, but those are generally for managers. The market that most headset manufacturers wants to penetrate is the office worker, the person that spends time on the phone, but does not see themselves wearing a headset. That person, once they understand how much more productive they can be working hands free, typically wants a wireless, sleek and comfortable, with extended range so that they can get up and move, get a file, etc..
 
Mobile applications
 
We have products that address this requirement, and we are seeing the demand increase monthly. The potential demand for this product segment is higher than traditional call center products simply because the target market encompasses so much of our U.S. workforce.
 
Shape of contact centers and their industry moving forward
 
We certainly see some short term declines in select markets, such as the financial sector for call center products, however, even within banks there is some demand as banks add staff to handle defaults and troubled consumers. The contact center market will continue to be a steady market for us in the long term as we continue to gain market share.
 
The highest growth we target is office wireless, followed by PC products for gaming and Internet telephony and video, followed by traditional wired headsets. Post downturn, we see pent up demand for new products and applications, we feel we will be well positioned to serve that demand as our development teams have never slowed during these recent times. We continue to invest in the markets and products we predict will grow now and in the future.
 
Buying, installing, and getting the most value from their offerings
 
Our best advice for a call center is to try our products. We offer units for trial for up to two weeks; we really want people to compare Sennheiser headsets to our competition. The very simple reason we want people to compare is that if we tell you our headsets are the best, you might not believe us, but if you prove to yourself Sennheiser is the best, you are far more likely to consider upgrading to Sennheiser.
 
As mentioned earlier, compare the cost to own versus the initial cost to buy. A low priced unit may look good on a spreadsheet, but in the real world when you have to send in units for repair, buy spare units, buy expensive accessories, and have the agent downtime due to failures, the cost to own skyrockets.
 
Another cost to consider is the talk time, if you have a product that transmits clearly, has great acoustics on both receive and transmit, the consumer is more satisfied, the agents are more satisfied, and talk times are reduced as agents and customers do not have to repeat themselves as frequently. A great example is one we see all the time when we visit a contact center, we see reps pressing their headsets into their ear to hear the consumer, which defeats the purpose of a headset as the rep is no longer hands free. If you are buying for a group that is loud, whether due to high number of people or tight space, we always suggest a noise canceling microphone.
 
The best advice we offer is to buy the right product for the application. Buy from a dealer that has a direct relationship with multiple manufacturers, as an example, there are several headset dealers that have proprietary relationships with one manufacturer. Asking them for headset advice is like walking into a BMW dealership and asking the dealer about buying an Audi, you might not get an objective opinion as the dealer tries to sell you on what is in the dealer’s best interest.
 
 
 
For more, be sure to check out the Headsets channel on TMCnet.

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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