Knowledge Workers: to the Contact Center!

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by  Holger Reisinger

Today, contact centers are a vital part of business, handling customer service through multiple communication channels, and more often than not, the setup is technologically state of the art. However, we have not yet seen the full potential of the contact center. I dare to venture that big data’s entry into the data center will bring better and smarter products and services to light and wholly new types of central job opportunities for the trail blazing knowledge worker.

Contact Center

We are witnessing a silent revolution. The contact center revolution has been a quiet one, and the industry is changing before our very eyes. Odds are, you have spoken to at least one contact center worker recently, and according to the 2013 Global Contact Center Survey by Deloitte, you will do so again tomorrow.

There are some interesting take-aways from Deloitte’s 2013 Global Contact Center Survey. For instance, while the financial crisis was still with us in 2013, 77% of the 526 respondents in Deloitte’s survey reported that they would grow or maintain their current size in the next 12-24 months, with more than 60% viewed customer experiences provided through contact centers as a competitive differentiator. These figures are equally interesting and surprising. However, the most interesting finding was that 82% recognized “accuracy and quality of information” as the most important customer experience attribute.

Accuracy and quality of information is naturally a priority one job. However, it has a slightly larger meaning, too. You see, it reminds me of a conversation I had with my good friend, Norman. He runs a contact center in Virginia and is very passionate about the development of the sector, and over dinner, he told me that he has begun to employ handpicked, specialized analysts and use big data in his contact center, providing clients with even more customer information, views, and insights about brands, products, and customer satisfaction to his clients.

This makes total sense to me. I am sure that while this development will not happen overnight, we will see contact centers become much more specialized in the future – providing additional services, which require more data-driven value creation. I can see how the knowledge worker may appear out of place in our image of contact centers today, but there are opportunities here and truly interesting jobs and opportunities to make a difference for the curious knowledge worker, with the goal of occupying a central position in a data-driven industry – and, it has already begun.

The contact center is where companies have direct contact with their customers and can collect important knowledge about the way your products are being utilized. From the customer interaction, you can learn if customers are using your products as they were intended, be inspired to develop new products and designs, learn if your manuals and guides are user-friendly, or build your marketing campaigns on real market insights.

So, like Norman, I think this is the future of contact centers: providing accurate and qualitative information on a whole new level, but collecting it as well, to provide better services, better products, as well as new products and services, created to some degree just by listening to what customers have to say about it.

So how may you help me, you ask? Continue the revolution.

Noise cancellation in headsets: What exactly is it?

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by  Daniel Gniazdo

If you’ve ever shopped for headsets or headphones, I bet you’ve heard the term “noise cancellation” used once or twice. I can also bet that you weren’t always quite sure what it meant. It’s not your fault: Depending on the context, noise cancellation can mean a number of things, and companies aren’t exactly consistent in how they use the term. Let’s try to unravel the riddle.

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First off, there are two broad types of noise cancellation – one in the microphone(s) and one in the headphones themselves. The first type helps the person on the other end of the line to hear your voice instead of the ruckus in the bar you’re calling from. The second type protects you – the wearer – so that you aren’t disturbed by that same bar noise.

Now let’s look at each one of them in a bit more detail.

Noise cancellation in the microphone

This doesn’t actually benefit you directly. Instead, it helps others hear you better. Noise-cancelling microphones are built to pick up your voice while ignoring the background noise. We’ve already covered noise-cancelling microphones in an earlier post.

This noise cancellation can be achieved in different ways, including microphone shape and positioning, digital signal processing, and other tech words. Some headsets even come with a special wind sock that practically eliminates all wind noise.

More advanced headsets use multiple mics to truly take noise cancellation up a notch. How? In a nutshell, the two mics have some distance between them, which means one of them is closer to your mouth than the other. While the first one picks up your voice, the other one picks up more of the surrounding noise. Combined with some digital algorithms, they “subtract” the surrounding noise from the equation, leaving just your voice. This may sound like voodoo, but it works.

Companies use different branding for their dual-mic noise cancellation. Jabra call theirs Noise Blackout™, for example. In the end, the basic principle is the same: Your voice gets the green light, while the background noise is stopped at the door.

So if you don’t want to be the friend who always sounds like they’re in a wind tunnel or on the set of an action movie, a headset with noise-cancelling microphones might be for you.

Noise cancellation in the headphones

This is what most of us tend to think of when we hear the words “noise-cancelling headphones.” It’s what helps the wearer drown out ambient noise and focus on talking to someone or listening to music. You see people wearing these types of headsets on long flights to tune out screaming babies and airplane engine noise.

To make things even more confusing, there are two kinds of this noise cancellation: passive and active. What does that mean? I’m glad you asked…

Passive noise cancellation

This refers to noise cancellation achieved by the headset’s physical features, like design and materials used. It’s really just a fancy term to describe the effect you get from simply wearing the headset. Those bulky earmuffs you see construction workers wearing? Yup: passive noise cancellation.

Passive noise cancellation is best for filtering out irregular, high-frequency sounds, like your colleague Bob who won’t stop talking excitedly about the last episode of his favorite TV show. While this is typically used in music headphones, some new office headsets are also designed to fully cover your ears and block external sounds. If you work in a busy open office, these can be a godsend!

Active noise cancellation

Active noise cancellation uses more advanced technology to – surprise – actively counter noise. Basically, it detects and analyzes the sound pattern of incoming noise and then generates a mirror “anti-noise” signal to cancel it out. The end result is that you hear a drastically reduced level of noise.

This type of noise cancellation works best for steady, low-frequency sounds, like ceiling fans, engine noise, or that same colleague Bob who won’t stop humming the theme tune from his favorite TV show. You usually find active noise cancellation in stereo headsets, which have the chance to block both of your ears and truly eliminate noise, but some mono headsets also use it to help you hear better.

Most modern headsets use both microphone and headphone noise cancellation to make the conversation sound better on both ends of the call.

What Can Technology Roll-Outs Learn from the Pioneers of Medicine?

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by  Holger Reisinger

What do today’s technology roll-outs and mid-19th century medicine have in common? Both have struggled to get users to embrace the latest innovations, despite their obvious benefits. Find out what the IT professionals of today can learn from the doctors of old. 

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I recently came across a fascinating article, published some years ago in The New Yorker, which discussed the introduction of anesthesia in surgery. It got me thinking about the IT industry’s criteria for success when introducing new technologies, especially our obsession with “on-time and on-budget” over actual adoption of the technology.

Now, no one in their right mind today would have a tooth pulled, appendix removed or broken arm set without the benefit of anesthesia. But that wasn’t the case in the mid-1800s. I’ll spare you the agonizing details, but the experience can be summed up as nothing less than excruciating.

What fascinated me about the article was the medical community’s response to this groundbreaking invention. While some accepted it, many others remained steadfastly opposed.

This new technology – one that could spare patients indescribable misery – wasn’t fully embraced by the medical community for a full seven years.

The more I read, the more I began to see parallels between the pioneers of medicine and what we as IT professionals do to help workers collaborate more closely.

Of course, I’d never equate our work with the lifesaving duties medical professionals carry out. But what’s interesting – and perhaps unsettling – is that many inventions, even ones where the benefits are obvious and perhaps even life-changing, struggle to gain acceptance.

We see that today in Unified Communications (UC). This new way of interacting doesn’t just promise great benefits to companies and employees alike, it actually delivers. Organizations benefit from better collaboration among employees, greater productivity and lower infrastructure costs. Employees benefit from additional flexibility in how they do their work, where they work, a less stressful work environment and a greater sense of job fulfillment.

And yet, despite all these positives, employee adoption of UC is only about 10 percent, according to one study. That’s pretty abysmal when you consider the millions today’s organizations spend on it.

Why?

It’s pretty simple, really: Old habits die hard. (Don’t believe me? Try living without your smartphone for a week.)

What isn’t so simple, though, is how to break those old habits. The previous ways of introducing technology in the workplace – deploy and hope for the best – don’t work, especially when workers are reluctant to give up previous ways of doing things. These legacy deployment strategies are ineffective because they don’t give users a compelling reason to break from the old and embrace the new.

New methods are needed. And that’s where we can learn from the medical practitioners of yore. These pioneers found that the key to getting doctors to accept their new technology was to show them how it could make their lives easier – eliminating the screaming and thrashing of anguished patients, so they could perform their delicate work with more precision – and then gently nudge them into adopting new behaviors.

In the present-day world of technology, UC deployments are beginning to incorporate new theories and methods from the world of behavioral economics to similarly overcome employee resistance to change. This usually involves using indirect suggestions and positive reinforcement to influence choices, instead of the traditional model of mandating behavior.

Examples of some of these new methods include creating spirited competition between workers to use UC; building online communities to share experiences, ask questions and get advice; and recognizing and rewarding workers or departments for embracing new UC technologies.

These methods – along with several other strategies, which we discuss in a new business brief - are working. Companies that have incorporated them into their deployments are seeing increases in the percentage of workers choosing to embrace UC.

As modern-day professionals, we can learn some lessons from the medical practitioners of the 1800s. No matter how beneficial your new technology may be, not everyone will share your passion for it. To generate acceptance, you need demonstrate how it benefits them personally and gently steer them toward embracing it.

I think we should be grateful to the doctors of old—and thankful we never spent any time on one of their operating tables!

 

Make your UC pay off with professional-grade headsets

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The headset market is booming. A big reason for that is the growth of Unified Communications. Deskphones are becoming a thing of the past. More employees work from home or spend their time on the road. Many of them have less space and privacy than they used to as companies move to open office spaces.

Unified Communications can help address these challenges and keep the workforce productive and happy. But how do you make sure that those UC deployments pay off?

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There’s been a ton of buzz in the press about the important role headsets play in UC adoption. To learn more about why professional headsets have such a big impact for such a small device, we caught up with Urban Gillis, Sales VP at Jabra.

“A recent report stated that 48% of companies implementing a Unified Communications solution expect a return-on-investment in one year, but only 10% realize that return,” says Gillis. “The primary reason is lack of user adoption, which usually means negative user experience. There can be many reasons for users not taking advantage of the new tech – lack of training, lack of bandwidth or corporate culture, but the reason professional quality headsets are so important is that, more than anything else besides computers, they are the endpoints that connect users to their UC experience and make it come to life.”

A recent report from Frost & Sullivan goes even further, stating that high-quality professional headsets actually improve the return on UC investment. How so? Well…

Four ways professional-grade headsets improve UC adoption

“Knowledge workers expect to have a professional experience when speaking with other business people, and businesses demand value and low total cost-of-ownership,” explains Gillis. “This is why companies look towards business-grade headsets like Jabra’s to ensure employees can hear and be heard clearly, background noise is eliminated, and they are able to get more done without ever worrying about the performance of their audio endpoint.”

Here are four ways in which high-end headsets deliver value to your business.

1. Comfort

Professionals usually spend many hours a day wearing their headsets and talking to others. If the headset is not comfortable, knowledge workers are not going to wear it…at least not for long. If users opt out of wearing a headset, your UC deployment won’t be as successful.

On the flip side, comfortable professional-grade headsets will make sure the users keep them on, which increases user adoption.

2. Quality

Consumer-grade headsets can break down quickly. Businesses want their headsets to last – ideally for the full length of UC implementation. They don’t want to worry about replacing the headsets every 12 months.

Sound quality also tends to be much higher on professional-grade headsets. They have noise-canceling technology built into the speakers to reduce noise from a busy open office. On top of that, their noise-canceling microphones make sure the person on the other end of the phone only hears the party they are speaking with.

3. Convenience

Businesses need headsets to be plug-and-play and certified to work with their specific UC platform. IT teams have to manage a fleet of headset and automatically update firmware on all of them, when necessary. Employees should be able to easily switch between phone calls, listening to music, and blocking out background noise to focus on a specific task.

Professional-grade headsets are equipped to deal with most of these demands.

4. Financing

There are some creative solutions in the market that allow businesses to finance headsets and other non-software aspects of a Unified Communications deployment via their operating (OpEx) budget. This lets companies include non-tangible items such as services and soft costs and eases cash flow for the entire solution.

The little things can often make all the difference. Professional-grade headsets and their positive impact on UC adoption is one of those situations. It pays to spend the time to find the right headset that will deliver comfort, the right technology, the right support, and the right value.

How to Find the Data and the People that Will Help You Succeed

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by  Holger Reisinger

We lose billions of dollars every year and waste hours and hours of valuable time and talent by failing to share information and make data and skills available to our colleagues. This constant reinvention of the wheel will eventually impact your nightly rest, as well as your budget.

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“Right now, I am staring into the abyss, Holger!” gasped Lena, a newly appointed COO of a large technology vendor. She was talking to me about the shared drive: the center of her new organization’s heart and history, containing every sales pitch, product manual, and budget ever made. “The other drives all look the same. I wonder how anyone gets anything done – I don’t even know where to start!”

Lena is not alone here. We, as corporations, often run into this problem, constantly and continuously reinventing the wheel. Granted – it happens across large organizations, indifferent departments, and different teams, but it is nonetheless the same wheel, invented over and over again, because we struggle to share information with the rest of the corporation.

This, I feel, is deeply connected to another issue – the organic networks within our organizations often turn out not to be large enough to have any real impact. This, coupled with the fact that company biography rosters are rarely up to date, means that teams spend excessive amounts of time trying to find information or in-house experts – and failing at it, only to end up hiring outside help and leaving the in-house help with idle time on their hands.

This is bad for two reasons: aside from the obviously unnecessary expense, it keeps important knowledge and expertise outside the organization, which prevents us from creating the corresponding in-house expertise and specialist skills. And, it prevents us from sharing best practices and working towards knowledge and becoming the learning corporation that we all want to become.

We lose billions by not sharing

Tactically and strategically, not sharing knowledge and information in a structured and dynamic way on a day-to-day basis is inefficient and expensive. In fact, Fortune 500 companies lose roughly $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge. Thirty-one point five billion dollars! For the sake of comparison, that is just a little shy of the entire 2014 profits of ExxonMobil – the sixth largest company in the world.

Fortunately, new networking tools and work methodologies can make the entire organization available at the click of a button. All we really need to ask ourselves is: “Am I tired of spending development time and money on absolutely nothing?”

I bet you are. Frankly, you would be foolish not to, because you know, as well as I do, that many of the resources, plans, and templates, which are routinely re-invented, are available somewhere in the abyss of information and data on that all-encompassing server, just as the people with the right experience and skillset are often just across the hall, and are more than likely eager to help. So, what should you do?

Three steps to managing your knowledge gold mine

There are a few more than three steps, I concur. For example, Lena will be spending a good deal of 2015 planning and implementing her new knowledge management structure. However, here are three main points, which will get you on your way to increased productivity and knowledge mining.

Culture

Just like the old saying goes: “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king!,” so that can also be said about those few of your employees who know their way around the system. Often, companies with a poor record for sharing information, have a culture of individual performance. Basically, this means that accessing data, which is available to only a few employees, becomes a personal success parameter.

This is a culture which you need to change, either before you start or during the first phases of planning the new structure. Those who stand to lose the most in terms of personal advantage will be your greatest opponents, but they can also be your greatest assets. Get them involved in the planning of the new structure. Not only do they know where the data is hidden, they can also enjoy the admiration of their peers, which softens the blow and initiates a cultural change in favor of all employees.

Technology

Getting that one button I mention above requires a system. But don’t go overboard. My first rule of thumb is not to get the coolest system with all the bells and whistles, if that particular system does not fit your needs. That goes without saying, right? Nevertheless, I see it over and over again that the project takes off and suddenly a multi-client-introspective-synergizer with double complete wiki function sounds like just the ticket for your on-site sales team. It isn’t, though – I just made up that gibberish, but my point is that you need to make up your mind about what your people need and what may be useful in the next couple of years, should your strategy succeed. Once that is decided, stick to that decision. It may not be the newest and most shiny knowledge management system, but gizmos and gadgets have never ensured success, and your employees are more likely to be able to use it to increase production, thereby saving you the extra costs for tools, time, and resources.

Measurement

Take stock of collaboration, efficiency, and productivity before you start and then measure continuously during the phases of the roll-out. Do this religiously. It is the efficiency, productivity, and collaboration you are aiming to improve with this exercise, so at the beginning and/or end of every phase, measure and celebrate improvements. Get human resources to help – they often know a trick or two about measuring productivity, and, just as importantly, they will be a great link to retrieving honest feedback, which otherwise doesn’t always reach the management team.

Also, if you measure diligently, you will avoid costly mistakes, and you will have knowledge to share with the board of directors and be able to build a great best practices story for the new structure.

Good luck – and happy mining.

Here’s How to Master the Third Wave of Knowledge Work

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by  Holger Reisinger

The knowledge worker has finally been liberated from the mindset of the organizational, industrial production line. Collaboration technology gives us a cheaper, better, and more purposeful way of knowledge sharing and working together. Are you, as a manager, ready to manage the third wave of knowledge?

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I have always found how we mentally define work interesting, and how that definition affects the way we manage our employees. Because, honestly, it really should not matter at which desk we carry out our work assignments. Yet, to quite a few managers, this seems to be of great importance.

Many have spoken about this conundrum – this definition of work as a place rather than a product. According to my dictionary, there are three different definitions of work: work as a physical location, the actual task at hand, and the level of effort. My message is that we modern managers have to liberate ourselves from the first to be able to focus on making the second and third one a success.

Liberation from a physical location might just make your employees happier and more productive.

Perhaps this sounds a bit too holistic for your taste, but recent Stanford research points to a 13 percent increase in productivity in organizations which allow remote working. According to this study, employees got nine percent more work done when they worked from home, because they took less time off to take the kids to the dentist, their breaks were shorter, and they were four percent more effective, while they were working. As it turned out, after having tried working from home, not everyone found it to their liking. Consequently, a fair portion of the employees returned to the office to work, but just having the option of working from home made overall productivity soar at a full 22 percent.

This trend is bound to continue. In 2015, IDG predicts that the worldwide mobile workforce will amount to a staggering 1.3 billion. We are also becoming ever more mobile, and thus, Forrester predicts that the number of mobile broadband users will exceed the number of PC broadband users in 2016.

So, how do we, as managers, master and exploit the full potential of the third wave of knowledge work?

  • Create a culture of collaboration. With a mobile workforce managers will be required to lift collaboration to a strategic level by setting goals and creating a culture of collaboration for better, faster, and more integrated innovation.
  • Reconstruct infrastructure. Make the most of your remote talent and ensure an equal footing with the office-centric employees. Exploiting global talent and mobile workers can only become valuable if the workflow and work process can “make use of” their input on a daily basis. Gathering your employees on a collaborative platform will move the project forward quickly and has the potential to create a very tightly knit community, despite its members being physically distant.
  • Rethink your own mindset toward the physical workspace. It is more important than ever to rethink the use of office space. Knowledge workers should not be forced to commit to mindless “presentism.” Instead, interaction should be accommodate the individual worker’s work style and not be restricted to an organizationally perceived need for people to be present in the office. If you provide options, you will be rewarded with an increase in productivity.
  • Invest in intuitive technology. Intuitive technology is quickly adopted for the simple reason that it is just that – intuitive – and therefore compatible with the way most users think and act. IT must comply with human behavior and present the user with a relative advantage. Otherwise, no matter how expensive a setup, it will be dropped like a hot potato. Technology requiring hours of training or the alteration of a mindset is doomed to low adoption rates.
  • Recognize idiosyncrasy. Work/life balance is very important to the knowledge worker. Individualization and customization is important for any employer to accommodate. This includes different ways of working, different needs for devices, media, and platforms, and different needs for training and education, which can all be addressed with the productivity and motivation of the individual employee in mind.

Wow, that was quite a mouthful and to be honest, I think we still have a long way to go. We need to change our mindsets and our organizations to accommodate this trend, because otherwise we run the risk of failing to attract and retain the talent we need to make our businesses successful.

Play – Not Work – Will Help Your Company Succeed

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by  Holger Reisinger

Is it going to be all work and no play at work today? Yes? Maybe you should reconsider. Enterprise gamification is making a big entry into business life, and soon we will all be playing, leaving disengagement and lethargic productivity in the past. It is your move!

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For years, we managers have had an odd problem on our hands: overly engaged employees. I call it a problem, because, somewhat surprisingly, it takes up so much of our time to attend to their needs and ensure that we engage the ten percent of overachievers, so they don’t burn out and leave us, if not the labor market altogether. The time spent discussing self-management and work-life-balance pros and cons and the efforts to move the next ten percent towards excellence, has cost us much (well-spent) time.

As it turns out, though, the problem is not so much the time spent communicating with and about the overly ambitious employees. Rather, the problem is the consequence: neglect of the rest of the workforce. According to a Gallup poll, disengagement in the workplace is now a 370 billion dollar problem in the US alone, and, according to Gartner, 70 percent of business transformation efforts fail due to a lack of engagement among the employees.

Luckily, there are new tools available, which can help to regain the attention of your entire workforce. A new trend has seen the light of day which seems effective in the fight against disengagement: enterprise gamification. A trend which I am not alone in finding interesting, seeing that it has grown from a worldwide market of 242 million dollars in 2012 to a projected 2.8 billion dollars in 2016. In other words, workdays should not only be productive – but also playful – enabling our employees to make games out of their daily work routines. Eventually, this leads to new goals and territories, because the games are likely to engage employees on a more personal level, thereby establishing friendships at work and thus strengthening the ties between the workplace and the workforce.

Google’s climbing wall

Gamification in the workplace is not necessarily a new phenomenon. In the 1990s, Google introduced play to the modern workplace with toys such as an in-office climbing wall, which drew the employees closer together and favorably blurred the barrier between work and play. Other companies without the funds for toys of that size introduced foosball and table tennis with similar results.

Now, before you start worrying about the noise a foosball table makes in an open office, let me clarify: a workday is supposed to be productive. But adding a bit of playful competition successfully increases the level of productivity. Games are as good for engagement as they are for the bottom line.

With the digital revolution, it is easier than ever to introduce gamification to your company. Most of us are inherently competitive, so the instant gratification of enterprise games will drive commitment, collaboration, and productivity to new levels (and save you from the noise from midday foosball matches).

Medals or money?

In case enterprise gamification is a new concept for you, let me explain. Gamification may increase the fun in throwing out the garbage by rewarding the thrower with a sound, a blinking light, or a merit badge, making throwing out the garbage into a little game. In terms of enterprise gamification, it could be a project management program, which awards employees according to their progress on a to-do list.

Companies have tried out many different strategies for how to engage the individual employee. Some have tried money as an incentive, but gamification is not about remuneration in financial terms. Besides, I find that monetary rewards breed expectation rather than entertainment.

Instead, individually, employees – or gamers – prefer working towards honors, medals, and merit badges as we have seen with the boy scouts, the social media platform, and Foursquare, for example. These merit badges are displayed to the community at work, thus bettering the individual’s social status in the workplace.

Enterprise gamification is even more effective in improving teamwork. There are some really good results from Microsoft which has tried several reward systems and found that the extrinsic rewards did not make gamers, who work with software testing, any more productive. However, when the teams worked together to collect funds for a charity, chosen by the team, and Microsoft’s contributions to the charity was tied to game (and productivity) results, the team members collectively increased user feedback and bug identification by a whopping 16 times over their non-gaming peers. That is impressive.

The wining team

I can see how that is possible. We have all been on great teams where nothing seemed impossible: winning teams; teams in which we are so engrossed with a common goal that little else matters. A game engine, I imagine, would amplify the experience enormously.

The more I see of enterprise gamification, the more interested I am in seeing one in action over a longer period of time and seeing some long-term results on the business, on the budget, the productivity, and the people involved. According to Gartner, 40 percent of the top 1,000 companies will use gamification in 2017, so it is something we will see much more of in the future. With this kind of momentum, I cannot help but wonder whether my future business cards, in addition to name, title, and contact information, will show a few merit badges and my high score on the corporate leaderboard.

I am game, if you are.

Wireless Headsets in Contact Centers: Benefits & Challenges

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Businesses have previously looked at contact centers as cost centers: an important, customer-facing cost of doing business. Over the past decade or so, that has begun to change. Organizations now look for ways to turn contact centers into profit centers. At the very least, companies want to make contact centers run as effectively and efficiently as possible. That’s where wireless headsets come in.

Contact Center

Several years ago, it seemed like contact centers were in a race to the bottom when it came to driving costs down. Now, leading companies look at their contact center as a key part of their brand, and at their agents as knowledge workers. These agents are now empowered to help companies reach higher levels of service. As such, companies need to invest in these employees – by training them and giving them the technology they need.

Wireless headsets deliver return on investment

One way to improve the quality of your contact centers is by switching to wireless headsets.

According to Chris Schultz, the Director of Marketing for Demand Generation at Jabra, giving agents the freedom to leave their desks can revolutionize how contact centers operate. “Depending on the type of organization and their processes, freeing agents to move around while still on a call can result in dramatically shorter call times, fewer transfers, and improved first call resolution.”

Fewer call transfers

“One of the real benefits of mobility in the contact center is a drastic reduction in call transfers,” explains Schultz. Many transfers to supervisors or escalations to a subject matter expert can be eliminated when an agent can simply get up from their desk and walk to ask that person a question.

“A cruise line we work with moved to wireless headsets, and the number of calls transferred to supervisors was cut by more than half. The agents simply stood up, walked to find the supervisor, and asked their question, significantly reducing the overall call time,” says Schultz.

Another example was a tech company with many complex products, including years worth of legacy products. When a customer required service that was beyond an agent’s area of expertise, the agent had to put the customer on hold until a subject matter expert was available, bring that expert up to speed, and then transfer the call.

“That company saw a reduction in calls transferred from 26,000 to less than 9,700 in the first month, as the agents simply walked over to their colleague’s desk and asked a question, allowing them to get back to the customer quickly and improving first call resolution.”

Shorter calls

Businesses can also greatly reduce call times when agents get to move around and have hands-on access to the products they’re discussing.

“Although there was a good knowledge management system in place, the agents often needed to have hands-on access to the devices so they could resolve questions quickly. Allowing the agents to stay on the phone while they found the correct make and model in question and then talk the customer through the problem, as opposed to putting the customer on hold and walking back and forth while they waited, resulted in reduced call times and happier customers,” explains Schultz.

With improved first call resolution, reduced transfers, and shorter call times, this company was able get an impressive 1,300 percent ROI on its wireless headsets. Not too shabby, especially since the use of wireless headsets also led to a much greater agent satisfaction.

Challenges of switching to wireless headsets

With success stories like that, you have to wonder why more companies aren’t rushing to implement wireless headsets in their contact centers. According to Schultz, that is the growing trend, but the decision to go wireless depends on the company’s business case, and there are some challenges to be aware of before making the transition.

Density issues

As we’ve previously discussed, packing too many agents with wireless headsets into a tight environment without proper planning can lead to interference issues, especially when using DECT headsets.

“Busy contact centers with hundreds of agents benefit from performing an environmental assessment ahead of time in order to determine the best case scenario,” says Schultz. Clearly defining the needs of all users and the best combination of DECT and Bluetooth headsets can help avoid density conflicts and keep the agents and customers happy.

Shrinkage

Unlike wired headsets, wireless headsets are – well – mobile. That means they can walk out of the building. This is something businesses need to be aware of and train their employees on.

“Many of our customers keep the headsets connected to individuals and even inscribe them with a name or number. Making each employee responsible for their own headset goes a long way to keeping shrinkage down,” says Schultz.

While the headsets themselves are mobile, the headset bases are attached to the workstations. When the second shift agent comes in, they bring their charged headset, sit down at their desk, put the headset on the base, and it pairs automatically.

Keeping the headsets charged

The biggest change to a contact center’s day-to-day routine is having to to keep wireless headsets charged and ready to use. Good wireless headsets have up to 10 hours of battery time. Ideally, they should be charged overnight (or for the entire next shift) to keep them fully powered up. “Making each agent responsible for their own headset also extends to keeping it fully charged. Setting up charging stations can really help,” says Schultz.

As anyone with a smartphone knows, battery life starts to suffer a bit after a few years. According to Schultz, “Companies are addressing this by planning on replacing devices every three to five years, which is the same approach most contact centers take with corded headsets as well.”

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If you plan on deploying wireless headsets in your contact center, Jabra is one good place to start.

Why You Should Call Someone – NOW!

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by  Holger Reisinger

In these digital times, e-mails seem to have become the order of the day, but why are we more likely to write e-mail after e-mail, when picking up the phone offers so many more opportunities? Has social media numbed our person-to-person conversational skills to the extent that we are so connected that we never talk anymore? We should communicate more in the old-fashioned way – by phone – because we stand to gain significantly from the “meaningful conversation.”

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I write A LOT of e-mails. There is no point in denying it – but having said that, I have recently noticed an interesting trend, especially among millennials. In two out of three cases, they wait for a reply on an e-mail, rather than picking up the phone and just calling the person they want to ask a question. How is that effective?

This is my own observation, but I spoke to my friend, Howard, about it a couple of weeks ago. Howard is the CEO of a major public relations outfit, a sector that relies on building relationships and which lives on pitching his clients’ stories to major news outlets. In recent years, he has seen the same trend and has spent quite a lot of time and effort implementing policies for effective voice and face-to-face conversations in a fast-paced industry, where idle waiting for a response on your part only benefits the competition.

Granted – we can do other things while waiting for a reply. But why don’t we feel inclined to speak to one another? In a symbiotic relationship, like the one Howard has with the media, one should think that both sides would welcome the personal interaction. If anything, it should make the media mill spin faster.

According to the Radicati Group’s annual report on worldwide communication, more than 108 billion business e-mails were sent and received every day in 2014 – and this number is only increasing. Consequently, the business e-mail is projected to account for more than 132 billion e-mails sent and received per day by the end of 2017. No matter how important the e-mails are, this is bound to distance us from others, and distance is not good for business – not Howard’s, not yours, and certainly not mine.

We need to talk!

I venture the thought that you put your most important business relationships at risk if you fail to interact, whether by voice or by face-to-face interaction, because it is very easy to delete e-mails – either intentionally or by mistake. But when we talk to one another, either face-to-face, over the phone, or through video conferencing, we create an emotional bond that will only be strengthened the more you do it – a bond that makes a difference for several reasons.

One, it is immensely gratifying in the working environment to have great customer and partner relationships.

Two, e-mails make it much easier for recipients to immediately turn down any requests, compared to over the phone or in a personal meeting with someone, with whom they have a business relationship.

Three, e-mails provide you with none of the peripheral knowledge and the subsequent opportunities you will get from regularly chatting with clients and partners. When you listen, you will often learn a great deal: What are they working on now? What are the main difficulties? Which things could you possibly help with? How would you pick that up in an e-mail? Reading between the lines of the e-mail can only get you so far!

Conflicts and disagreements are also more easily and immediately resolved, if you nip them in the bud. Such resolutions and solutions are easier on the phone, because intent is better conveyed in person than by e-mail. Talking simply saves time and a considerable amount of unproductive back and forth e-mail exchanges.

Pick up the phone

I think that there are several reasons for this shrinking use of personal interaction, but the pace of the modern business world is one of them, and the fact that heavy use of social media and e-mail has made us accustomed to distanced connectivity.

I will call Howard this very instant to get his tips on how we can do it better, and the next time you have a question or comment, you should call someone, too – just like we did back in the day. I guess you can call it going back to the future…

Noise-cancelling headsets: How exactly do they work?

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You know that sound you hear when you walk onto a busy trade show floor? That loud, intense human buzzing? When you enter a busy contact center, you can hear the same thing. The difference is that when someone calls into that contact center, they don’t want to hear a trade show in the background. Enter noise-cancelling headsets.

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Let’s look at how this tech actually works, especially when it comes to noise-cancelling microphones.

“As employees become more mobile and businesses increasingly turn to UC solutions, the use cases for headsets utilizing noise-cancellation technologies are growing,” says Dennis Majikas, a service engineer with Jabra, “Whether that is a sales guy walking through a crowded airport, or a HIPAA regulated contact center making sure the customer never hears the agent in the next cubicle repeating credit card information, noise-cancelling tech is quickly becoming critical for businesses looking to deliver a professional call experience.”

Noise-cancelling microphones come in many flavors

Noise-cancelling headsets incorporate a lot of technology that can be scaled up to meet the needs of any knowledge worker.

Level 1 – Noise Cancellation: This is when the microphone is not equally sensitive to sounds from all directions. This type of headset is ideal for noisy open offices. It will filter out most background noise, as long as the microphone is relatively close to the mouth.

Here’s how it works: Background noise is relatively far away from the microphone. As a result, this noise puts the same pressure on both sides of the microphone’s diaphragm. Because the pressure is the same on each side, the diaphragm will not vibrate, so no sound is transmitted.

On the other hand, sound pressure from someone speaking into the mic is much higher on one specific side of the diaphragm. As a result, the diaphragm will vibrate and clearly transmit the speaker’s voice.

Level 2 – Ultra Noise Cancellation: This is when the microphone is designed to only pick up sound from your mouth and eliminate virtually all background noise. Such headsets are ideal for very noisy environments, like busy contact centers.

In this setup, the microphone’s components are placed away from the entrance to the diaphragm, making the openings on both sides of the diaphragm symmetrical. This essentially eliminates any noise from 270 degrees in front of and around the user. Only the speaker’s voice gets through. Great stuff for those contact centers that sound like a trade show.

Note: It’s usually necessary to place the mouth about two fingers away from the mic. Otherwise, your voice will get filtered out as well!

Level 3 – Noise Blackout: This is what you need if you are outside or on the road and are subject to wind, trucks rumbling by, jackhammers, and so on. This can be equally important for a utility worker up in a lift or a sales VP that spends 80 percent of his time out of the office.

“These devices have shorter – and in many cases much shorter – boom arms and take advantage of information picked up by two microphones,” explains Majikas. “By adding information from the second mic, it is possible to distinguish sounds from different directions, improve the clarity of transmitted speech, and eliminate the pickup of disturbing noise sources like wind or that super-loud colleague sitting right next to you.”

What you should know when rolling out noise-cancelling headsets

There are a few things you should know if you’re rolling out noise-cancelling headsets to your team.

First, microphone positioning. “If you have a good noise-cancelling headset, your mic needs to be right next to your mouth,” explained Majikas. “I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen team members with their mic boom flying way out to the side, and they wonder why people can’t hear them, not to mention that the noise suppression isn’t working effectively.”

Another thing to watch out for are the “transmit” levels. This dictates how loud your mic broadcasts your voice. Most of the time, the default should work fine, but the levels can be adjusted in many different ways – through your operating system, a softphone, a UC client, or the headset itself. “80 percent of the time we have an issue reported, it is because someone has set their transmit levels too high,” says Majikas, “This not only results in a hypersensitive mic picking up conversations three cubicles away, but ironically in the user not being heard well by the customer. The simple answer is to turn the transmit levels down.”

One of the reasons people can’t hear a you when your transmit levels are high is because of automatic gain control (AGC). AGC uses sampling to keep the conversation volume consistent. This becomes a problem when multiple devices with AGC are involved, like when a headset with AGC is plugged into a phone with AGC. According to Majikas, “Then one automatic gain controller will automatically lower the transmit level, while the other increases it. You don’t want to get in an AGC war. Sometimes, you have to lower the transmit levels to make everyone happy.”

As if that wasn’t enough, UC clients like Microsoft Lync or Cisco, have their own approach to the transmit levels on calls going over their platform. That’s why it’s important to have headsets that are certified to work with specific UC platforms to avoid AGC conflicts. The last thing you need is to add another AGC to the struggle.