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Speaking Softly In Your Ear:
The Annual Headset Roundup

By David R. Butcher, Assistant Editor, Customer Inter@ction Solutions


 

Headsets, like other considered 'trivialities' in the call center and enterprise business, are so very important but so often overlooked in their importance. Sifting through the available options to find the headsets that best fit your company is a difficult but necessary matter.

'With significant investments being made to implement VoIP in contact centers, it's vital not to forget about the 'last three feet,'' GN Netcom President and CEO Hans Henrik Lund told Customer Interaction Solutions. 'Your choice of headset does matter.'

When it comes to this piece of equipment, though, there are so many options and factors to consider. There are wireless headsets, corded over-the-head headsets, corded over-the-ear headsets, cordless phone headsets and computer headsets. There are headsets for MP3 players, cellular phones, PC and video games, PDAs, airline pilots, musicians, astronauts and NASA mission-control engineers. For each of these uses, there are both different and similar requirements and preferences.

In the telecommunications domain, however, headsets have specific abilities required across the spectrum of small, large and home offices, and enterprises and call centers of all sizes. No longer foreign attachments or alien appendages, these headsets are required contributors to the quality of the call center and enterprise; they should allow users to communicate with others, and they should do so clearly, distinctly and comfortably.

They should offer the best that headset technology provides, and they should be made to last. They should be comfortable, versatile, compatible, cost-effective, reliable and, yes, perhaps even attractive. Above all, they should do exactly what you want for exactly the price you're willing to spend (if not more for that price).

'This is a piece of equipment your employee has to wear: it has to be comfortable, have great sound quality to hear and be heard, and in larger offices, be able to reduce conversations that may be occurring elsewhere in the office from being transmitted out to the customer,' Bill Whearty, Sennheiser Communications' vice president of telecommunications and vice president of sales, recently noted to Customer Interaction Solutions.

Also consider the following: Poor productivity in the call center or enterprise isn't always a staffing problem or a system problem. The fault can lie in the staff's equipment, and headsets are a significantly contributory piece of equipment, which makes headsets not simply picayune luxuries ' rather, they can be genuine cost savers.

'One of the most important aspects of any loudspeaker, earphone or headset is the accurate reproduction of sound, whether it is music or speech,' Dr. Mead Killion, president and CEO of Etymotic Research, Inc., told Customer Interaction Solutions editors. 'The telephone bandwidth is so narrow that much of speech is unclear and needs to be repeated, particularly if the person is trying to hear or be heard when there is background noise ... In short, clear communication is paramount for both the talker and the listener.'

Background noise is a major source of migraines, literally and figuratively, for those in the contact center. For agents, it's simply more straining to hear precisely and accurately each word the caller is speaking; as well, it's unprofessional for background office noise to be broadcast across the phone lines to callers. And for call center managers, when dealing with large volumes of calls, every fraction of every second is worth revenue. So when the manager's agents are straining and repeating and requesting the caller to repeat, the seconds ' and consequently the dollars ' add up.

'A good noise-canceling microphone reduces the amount of ambient sound being broadcast out of an office or call center,' said Whearty, 'improving reliability, professionalism and, in some cases, security for the call center.'

Superior noise-canceling microphones are a critical technology for ensuring quality sound and strict security when used in busy call centers. Reducing ambient noise can, in fact, save millions of dollars a year for a single customer. In short, less repetition equals better communication equals happier customers equals lower costs equals happier business.

Also, acoustic shock is a growing headset issue worldwide. Caused by a number of factors ' fax bursts, loud sounds from the callers, lightning strikes, etc. ' acoustic shock is often outside of the call center's control. The problem is made worse if the earphone has a 'peaky frequency response,' noted Killion.

'Noise safety regulations are becoming more commonplace, so make sure you choose headsets that guard wearers against sudden loud spikes of noise and have a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) below 118 dB,' offered Lund.

Call center operations and businesses today expect consistent and reliable headset performance, which can often be difficult to achieve when headsets go through so much wear and tear under normal daily stress, abuse and punishment. Companies invest in their technologies and equipment with faith that the investment is long term. Headsets should be no exception. A headset should not simply be considered a commodity item once an affordable phone system is in place.

'Contact centers and other businesses should look at purchasing headsets from the point of view of total cost of ownership rather than cost of acquisition,' Chuck Yort, Plantronics VP of Office and Call Center, told Customer Interaction Solutions. 'They need to look at the purchase as an investment, not as a mere afterthought.'

Whether it is through a reselling source or a manufacturer, the supplied contact information is intended to assist with the future purchase of headsets in the telecommunications domain. We encourage readers to visit the Web sites of the following companies to learn about the latest and greatest offerings in the contact center headset market. As with any cardinal technology product you plan to buy for your contact center or enterprise, you should be prepared and option-knowledgeable before buying headsets. They should not be afterthoughts. They are not trivialities.

Said Whearty: 'Headsets are a technology product, and [their] review and purchase should be undertaken with the same rigor you apply to any technology purchase.'

The following organizations either manufacture or resell (where indicated) headset products. Please contact these companies' Web sites for more information.

Ahern Communications (reseller)
www.callcenterheadsets.com
800-451-5067


Big D Communications (reseller)
www.bigdcom.com
800-444-5217

CommuniTech (reseller)
www.communitech.com
888-795-7222

Danacom USA
www.danacomusa.com
877-736-6434


Dowumi Corp. (under the Vonia brand)
www.dowumi.com
866-811-7771/Vonia: 630-629-1897

eMicrophones, Inc. (reseller)
www.emicrophones.com
914-302-6558

Founder's Telecom (reseller)
www.founderstelecom.com
800-333-0020

GBH Communications (reseller)
www.gbh.com
800-222-5424/818-246-9900

GN Netcom (a GN Great Nordic company)
www.gnnetcom.com
800-826-4656

Headset Discounters (reseller)
www.headsetdiscounters.com
800-440-7639

Headset Innovations (reseller)
www.headsetinnovations.com
800-820-1744

Headset Zone (reseller)
www.headsetzone.com
800-533-4014

Headsets.com (reseller)
www.headsets.com
800-432-3738

Hello Direct (part of the GN Netcom/GN Great Nordic family)
www.hellodirect.com
800-435-5634

JABRA Corporation (part of the GN Netcom/GN Great Nordic family)
www.jabra.com
630-442-6900

Phonemaster Communications, Inc.
www.etelephonesystems.com
800-339-4588

Plantronics
www.plantronics.com
800-544-4660/831-426-5858

Pro Tech Communications, Inc.
www.protechcommunications.com
772-464-5100

Sencommunications, Inc. (reseller)
www.sencomm.com
800-654-2993

Sennheiser Communications
www.sennheisercommunications.us
860-434-9190

SpeechControl (reseller)
www.speechcontrol.com
914-302-6558

Tape-Tel Electronics (reseller)
www.tapetel.com
800-228-1751

VXI Corporation, Inc.
www.vxicorp.com
800-742-8588

Windows to Technology Ltd. (reseller)
www.win2tech.com
613-961-1571/800-964-8810

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