Call Center Headsets: Designed For The Customer By The
BY ROLAND NUTTER, GN NETCOM, INC.
Telephone headsets in the call center drive productivity. In a true partnership between
customer and headset manufacturer, headset innovations and enhancements can make a
significant improvement to the call center's performance because they are a result of a
customer-focused research and development process.
Whether improving current products or developing new ones, the first step in any
product development process is gathering, understanding and validating customer needs.
Call centers can be proactive in this stage by making use of their relationships with both
sales representatives and product marketing managers to provide feedback and new ideas.
Market-driven manufacturers welcome feedback on their headset systems in order to design
and develop new products. They manage the research and development process by
concentrating on three key elements: a clear customer focus, a documented development
process and skillful engineering integration. In headset system development, the
successful integration of these three elements creates headsets that provide call centers
with increased employee performance and morale and give superior sound quality, durability
A Strong Customer Focus Creates Continuous Innovation
The highest quality, most useful product developments and enhancements are the
result of a true partnership between customer and manufacturer. Both call center managers
and individual agents have suggested changes as simple as a longer cord on the headset, as
complicated as the ability to pick up and hang up a telephone handset from a remote
location, or as surprising as colored headsets.
While call centers may not realize it, they are also delivering a very specific message
whenever they return products. By carefully monitoring returns and analyzing failures,
research and development can direct their research efforts to eliminate the top return
issues. Achieving a return rate of one percent or less over the life of a headset is a
goal of a good, continuous improvement process.
One of the clearest examples of a true partnership between call center and manufacturer
occurs when an application is so specialized a headset or headset system just doesnt
exist for it. Workstation configuration constraints or headsets for disabled agents are
two examples that might require custom headset system development. In these instances,
creating a proprietary product becomes the best solution.
Within the call center environment, managers consistently try to increase efficiency,
reduce operating costs and identify opportunities to improve performance. The headset
manufacturer research and development team has the same goal and is constantly working to
find a better solution. Often times, a recent technology innovation can solve a
customer-identified need. For instance, developments in materials have made pliable
earhooks for over-the-ear wearing styles possible and allowed colored plastics to be made
into headsets. Knowing that outbound call centers wanted new ways to increase productivity
was the starting point for development of an analog headset telephone system. This
particular headset system replaces two pieces of equipment and achieves the dual
objectives of greater productivity and more desk space.
Before a new development process begins, product marketing explores the need in detail
with the user in order to understand the opportunity. Discussing the particular
application ensures that the project turned over to engineering is the right one. If the
headset cord is going to be lengthened, should it be increased by two feet or three feet?
Or is there another way to find a solution that would be more generally applicable across
other headset users? How and where would customers be using remote hookswitch operation?
Why are colored headsets important? Without this crucial step of understanding what the
real need is, weeks and months of effort may result in a project that misses the mark.
Documented Development Produces The Right Headset
Listening to customers or following a research and development process only
occasionally does not produce consistent results. Call centers want and need
to be sure that a new headset product will give them the promised benefits. Experience
with a particular manufacturer is a key indicator. Another is ISO 9001 certification, the
accepted and desired benchmark in any manufacturing environment. The certification process
establishes procedures for all company disciplines, including manufacturing and research
and development. The research and development effort is focused on turning the marketing
vision into a tangible product. And the effect of continuous product improvement is
evident in the introduction of breakthrough, standard-setting, hands-free communication
Customers can send engineers back to the drawing board at any time. In a series of
focus groups during the alpha and beta testing, different user groups have the opportunity
to tweak and fine-tune the headset concept and prototype. Their input on whether the
headset system works well, stands up in actual use and provides a real solution assists
engineering in the adjustments and production throughout the process.
In the final testing step before production and launch, a new group of users field-test
final prototypes as well as the user guide. It is possible, even in these final stages,
for feedback to result in product changes. In one instance, the color of the flexible
portion of the pliable earhook was changed to distinguish it from the pieces that cannot
Skillful Engineering Integration Creates Superior Headsets
Industrial, mechanical and electrical engineers all play key roles in headset
research and development. From measuring ears to understanding compression algorithms and
protocols, engineers use a breadth and depth of knowledge to create the best solution
available given current technology.
An extensive and continually expanded database of ear measurements is the basis for
deciding what headset shapes and flexibility will work from an ergonomic perspective. When
designing the flexible earhook, engineers could calculate which part of the earhook needed
to be firm around the top of the ear for wearing security and which could be pliable for a
more comfortable, custom fit around the back of the ear.
Superior sound quality is the result of a good understanding of intricacies of
microphones and speakers and rapid advances in acoustics. Even materials such as smaller
circuit boards and lighter plastics play a part in improving performance and comfort for
the headset user.
Headset systems should help call centers reduce costs, decrease time per call and
improve employee performance and morale. That happens only when a good partnership exists
and when all three components of research and development customer focus,
development processes and engineering work seamlessly together.
Roland Nutter, product marketing manager for GN Netcom, Inc., is responsible for
development of product programs for the ACS, GN Netcom and UNEX brands of headsets. GN
Netcom, Inc., headquartered in Nashua, New Hampshire, designs, manufactures and markets
hands-free communications products including telephone headsets, accessories and specialty
products for the telecommunications industry.