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Technology Highlights
April 2003

The GN 9120: The Evolved Headset From GN Netcom

By Rich Tehrani, Group Editor-in-Chief, TMC

Headsets stink. They really do. They get tangled in everything, your hands, your hair and your clothes, and if you aren't careful you can momentarily strangle yourself if you get up without disconnecting. Yet millions of us use headsets daily because they make us so much more productive by keeping our hands free to click the mouse, type, make paper airplanes or whatever else we do while talking on the phone. There are some good Bluetooth headsets out there, but no really good wireless office headsets' I've tried a few but none so far have been worth the effort to even write about.

So when I heard GN Netcom was introducing something revolutionary in headsets, I chalked it up to PR-speak for, 'We want to come see you and show you our new headsets in all the colors of the rainbow,' or something equally technically uninteresting. I guess I'm jaded. After all, there haven't been many really good office headset innovations in years.

A Great Surprise
I've been writing about products for enough years to know that you get blown away by new products when you least expect it, and this was one of those situations. GN Netcom showed me beta units of their new GN 9120 wireless headsets (production units will be shipping by the time you read this). The headset runs on the same 2.4 GHz frequency shared by WiFi and Bluetooth networks, but has advanced power management which translates into about eight hours of continuous talk time. The kicker is the 300-foot range and the fact that there is no battery pack to carry around. The headset converts from over-the head to over-the-ear and is extremely comfortable. Keep reading until the end if you want to know what really makes this headset unique.

Stumping The Headset
After years of WiFi use, I know all the WiFi dead-spots in our office and I assumed the headset would succumb to these same areas. I immediately took a tour of these zones with the 9120 and was extremely impressed by the sound quality of the headset regardless of where I went. I was told by the GN Netcom representative that a WiFi access point may interfere with the headset if the two units are in close proximity, so I immediately made a beeline to an access point and tried to stress the headset to the point of sound quality degradation. No luck. So I then took out my Bluetooth phone and set it to search for other Bluetooth devices, thinking this would generate sufficient interference to trip up the GN Netcom unit. I then took my phone and touched it to the headset, expecting the sound quality to diminish. Once again, no luck. The one ultimate test I didn't get to try was to bring the headset near an operating microwave oven and test for interference. As you may know, microwave ovens are the bane of 802.11b users, as they interfere with this early version of WiFi.

Can You Keep A Secret?
Readers might be asking, 'What about privacy?' I'm told the headset uses the Digital Spread Spectrum protocol with frequency hopping 90 times per second and 64-bit digital encryption. What this means is that the headset can avoid interference from other devices while making eavesdropping very difficult, if not impossible.

Going The Extra Mile
If the designers of the 9120 stopped here, they would have done a great job and blown away every other wireless headset on the market. The great news is that they didn't stop; they decided to endow this headset with a feature I have never seen in any other design ' conference calling. At the touch of a button, you can connect up to four headsets together so they are effectively conferenced. The advantage is that there is no need for people to gather uncomfortably in the center of a conference room and shout at the conferencing device to be heard. Once conferenced, headset wearers can walk freely up to 300 feet from the base station initiating the call.

Need A Lift?
One drawback to wireless office headsets is that you aren't near your desk to lift the handset when the phone rings. The solution in the past has been to attach clunky devices to the phone that lift and replace the receiver. The answer to this dilemma is the GN 1000 Remote Handset Lifter, which will automatically lift the receiver once you go off hook on your 9120 ' even if you are 300 feet away! It worked well in the brief demonstration I witnessed in our office.

Is This Headset For You?
The target audience of this headset is contact center supervisors as well as executives that are looking to be more productive. Small offices can use these headsets instead of central conferencing units and of course the early-adopter crowd (you know who you are) are all likely purchasers of this exciting new headset.

What I saw in my brief demonstration impressed me and I am looking forward to doing a long-term review with both the headset and the headset lifter, as my experience has been in the past that headsets and lifters diminish in performance over time. I'll let you know if theses GN Netcom products differ from my past experiences. Other important points: you can have about 50 of these devices and they come with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that last about two years. One final impressive feature is that calls aren't dropped when you move out of range'they wait for you to come back into range. 

The retail price for the 9120 is $349, which is a steal if you can use the conference calling features of the headset instead of a separate conference calling unit that could retail for about $1,000.


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E-Learning From etalk

As anyone who has ever had anything to do with the operation of a call center can tell you, agent training is perhaps the costliest and most time-consuming, not to mention the most painful, element of operations. You take your agents into a classroom, disrupt the staffing schedule, risk being understaffed when call spikes happen, only to find that the agents absorbed only 10 percent of what they learned in the classroom. To add insult to injury, the few that did learn more than a little in the context of classroom training left the company five days after you finished training them.

E-learning has been garnering quite a lot of attention in the call/contact center industry lately, as it presents a solution to many of the problems of classroom training. Experiments with e-learning have shown that retention rates are higher, agents become more skilled than they would have via classroom lectures, work schedules are disrupted far less, if at all, than they would be when taking agents off the floor, and the quality of the training and the feedback agents receive is much higher. 

e-talk Corporation, a provider of performance impact solutions, recently made the announcement that it has ventured into the realm of e-learning with the launch of its new integrated e-learning solution called etalk Expert. Expert was designed and introduced to interact with etalk Advisor, the company's system for measuring and evaluating agent performance, thereby allowing contact center managers to link e-learning directly to performance evaluations. Expert is a component of etalk's suite of Performance IMPACT solutions which were designed to create a cycle of quality improvement in the contact center. 

Notable Features:
Foundation and performance training. Expert was designed to facilitate a more effective blended training program for newly hired agents. Combining Expert's e-learning tools with classroom instruction can help reduce costly ramp-up time for new agents. Additionally, Expert can aid in simplifying the delivery of ongoing training programs such as product and service updates, legal issues or other topics, skills training and professional development courses.

Ongoing performance measuring and coaching. Expert provides measurement criteria by allowing managers and supervisors to test the agent's ability to recall and implement course information. Expert's quiz feature was added to help improve coaching techniques by incorporating coaching comments directly into quiz answers. 

Maintaining production. Expert delivers training directly to the agent's desktop, which helps make training more easily accessible and allows agents to continue to work when needed, especially during peak periods, when it would be inconvenient and expensive to have the agents off the call center floor in a classroom.

Improving analytical capabilities and implementing agent motivation. Customized reports within Expert allow contact center managers to monitor training, track effectiveness, view trend retention data and correlate data with other contact center metrics. This is accomplished via:
' Automatic course delivery based on skill and performance levels, 
' Supervisor delivery of courses based upon evaluation results, 
' Manual delivery of courses based upon training program needs, and, 
' Agent-initiated training to promote professional growth.

The goal of the creation of Expert was to allow companies to deliver online learning directly to an agent's desktop in a less disruptive manner. Using the call center's existing communications and technology infrastructure, training can be completed by agents during downtimes, helping make them more productive and available for peak business cycles. By employing a browser-based system, Expert helps provide consistency from a single source of training content delivery and affords agents the opportunity to reference previously viewed courses for maximum training effectiveness. etalk Expert can enable customer contact centers to conduct more efficient and effective ongoing training of contact center employees.

Expert can be used in conjunction with etalk Advisor, etalk's evaluation and analysis tool and includes a Windows-based authoring tool for custom content creation. Expert is licensed on a per-student basis and ships with a complimentary five-user trial license of Advisor. 


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