Agent Headsets

By Peter DeHaan

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of Connections MagazineHeadsets were an invention, born out of necessity, to prevent the fatigue and strain caused when agents worked all day on the phone. In order to free both hands for operating equipment, handwriting messages, and filing papers, operators of yesteryear could not hold a telephone handset with one hand, but would pinch the device between an upraised shoulder and sideways tilted head. Then, when the neck and shoulder became tired and sore, agents would switch the handset to their other side. Various means were used to position the receiver (speaker) near the ear and the transmitter (microphone) in proximity to the mouth, thereby eliminating this need for these contortions. The results of this effort were the first headsets. Some of the early implementations are laughable and quite heavy in comparison to today’s standards. Nevertheless, the headset was born.

With advances in technology, modern headsets are lightweight and durable. Virtually all feature noise-canceling properties and come in a variety of styles with different options. A mute switch is a common and handy feature. Volume controls allow users to adjust audio levels to their own liking and preference.

Headsets tend to be a personal thing as well, for which little neutrality of opinion exists. The model that one agent loves, another will hate, though it is often hard to find out precisely why. The model that one call center finds to be of high quality with low breakage rates, another operation may judge to be substandard and prone to failure. As such, headsets and headset use often become a management challenge.

Today, nearly all call centers require agents to use headsets. In fact, many do not even have a handset at their agent stations. The reasons for this are numerous. Headsets increase productivity, improve agent comfort, and reduce workplace injuries caused by long-term use of telephone handsets.

Many call centers provide a personal headset, at no charge, to each agent upon hire. Other centers require agents to buy their own headset, either one specified and provided by management or one of the employees’ choosing from an approved list.

One option is for the make and model of the amp to be determined as standard for all stations, allowing agents to select from two or three options of compatible headsets, according to their preference. This provides an option for an interesting economy, since headsets are comprised of two parts. The amplifier can be left at the agent station and be part of the standard equipment at that position, while the “top” portion, or actual headset, is needed for each agent. This means that only one third to one fourth as many amps need to be purchased as headsets, as three or four agents will generally use the same station over the course of a week.

Typically, the headsets become the responsibility of the agent to which they are assigned or owned. The employee is then responsible for repairs resulting from abuse and misuse, as well as replacement should the unit become lost.

There are many of headset manufacturers from which to choose. Headsets can often be bought directly from the vendor, as well as from a vast array of dealers, resellers, and retailers. Many distributors carry multiple lines, thereby offering greater options and more selections to consider.

When selecting a headset, especially if it will become the standard for your call center, there are several items to consider. Price is the least important of all. First, and foremost, there needs to be buy-in and acceptance from the staff. If the agents are not supportive of the headset model selected, the amount of grief generated can quickly escalate into a management nightmare. Often, when call centers select a new headset, team leaders and members are asked to test and evaluate various models (or at least the top two or three under consideration). Sometimes a committee or task force is convened to reach a consensus and make the selection. These steps not only result in a superior selection, but also enhance the likelihood of agent acceptance.

The second criterion is repairability. Regardless of the quality of the headset and amp selected, it will eventually break and require repair. What will be the process and turnaround time for repairs? A third and related issue is warranty and warranty replacement. Compare warranty time and coverage. Also, determine if an advanced replacement is sent out during the warranty period and whether the defective unit is repaired or replaced.

Fourthly, consider the support that will be provided. Determine what the process will be to address any issues, purchase additional units, and procure consumable items (such as ear pads, mic covers, and tubes) and accessories (such as clips, training adaptors, and in-line mute switches).

When all of this has been accomplished, then price can be considered for alternatives that are deemed comparable. Unfortunately, price is all too often the first criteria that is applied. This can summarily eliminate what may be the better options. Although saving $10, $20, or even $50 can quickly add up when buying 20, 50, or 100 units, it is often a false economy when the four main criteria are fully considered.

To research and purchase headsets, you can either select a distributor or go directly to the manufacturer (or their dealer network).

Headset Distributors

There are many headset distributors. One, in particular, focuses on the teleservices industry. This is RLY and Associates in Chico, CA. They sell Plantronics, ACS, GN Netcom, Unex, and VXI headsets and headset accessories. (RLY also sells monitors, keyboards, and other telemessaging equipment, such as T-1 channel banks, cards, operator consoles, and complete chassis for expansion or spares.)

RLY & Associates
Rick@rly.com
800-841-0841

Headset Manufacturers

Acoustical Innovations
800-747-9615
sales@aiheadsets.com

GN Netcom Inc
800-826-4656
salesna@gnnetcom.com

Hello Direct
800-435-5634
Xpressit@hellodirect.com

Plantronics
800-544-4660

Starkey Earborne
800-262-8611
dave_olson@starkey.com

Peter DeHaan PhD is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From Connection MagazineSeptember 2003]