Try saying the old tongue twister “What noise annoys an oyster? Any noise annoys an oyster! But a noisy noise annoy an oyster most!” and you’ll likely tie your tongue in knots. But it’s true: noise is annoying, and the louder it is the more annoying it is likely to be. Contact centres are, by their nature, noisy places. How big a problem is this, and what can be done about it?A problem it certainly is. Plantronics, a company that makes, among other things, headsets for contact centre agents, has produced a report Noise in the Customer Service Center. It cites the results of a survey of employees in general (ie not just contact centre agents) saying 93 percent were adversely affected by noise, 80 percent found workplace noise distracting and 55 percent had brought at least one noise complaint to the attention of management.
A more general study, Productivity at the Office - Challenges 2015, from another headset manufacturer, Jabra, surveyed close to 2,500 office knowledge workers from 10 countries about the challenges and pain points in their office space. In a list of “issues that negatively impact productivity at work” noise came out on top, cited by 46 percent of respondents. “Too many interruptions from colleagues” came second at 43 percent and “temperature” third with 33 percent.
The study suggests the noise problem is exacerbated by the increased population density in today’s offices. “According to Gensler Architects every office worker could enjoy 50 square metres to themselves fifty years ago: in 2020 that number will be reduced to 10 square metres.”
In the context of the contact centre, Plantronics says: “The noise within open plan environments requires employees to strain and raise their voices to be heard. At a time when many customers come to the contact centre with complex queries, this has an adverse effect on the overall experience.”
One solution, of course, is noise-cancelling headsets, like those you can buy for air travel. The report says “Active noise cancelling technology removes the surrounding ambient noise—or lower frequency sound—for the user when wearing the headset.It is best at isolating and cancelling out steady ambient noise, such as that in busy contact centres.”
Microphones can also help: “Look for a multiple microphone array in a single headset device for increased noise cancellation in contact centres,” the report suggests.
Or you can get away from the noise. “Headsets that offer wireless connectivity allow staff to move away from their desks, and find a quieter place to continue the conversation.” Yes, but that takes the operator away from the screen with all the customer information on it, so seems to be an option of limited value.
More news about the impact of noise in the contact centre comes from yet another headset maker, Sennheiser, in the June 2016 issue of Contact Center Pipeline magazine. “Independent studies of business environments that employ some method of ‘sound masking’ reported productivity gains of eight percent to 38 percent, stress reduction of up to 27 percent, and job satisfaction increases of 125 percent to 174 percent, according to an audio industry report,” it says.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: “As per findings by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, ambient noise also affects people’s health by increasing general stress levels and aggravating sensitive conditions such as high blood pressure, coronary disease, peptic ulcers and migraine headaches. Continued exposure does not lead to habituation; in fact, the effects worsen.”
Not surprisingly, Sennheiser is also promoting the benefits of noise cancelling headsets, but it says these benefits can extend beyond simple noise cancellation. “Technologies exist that can modulate distractions not only from voices and general noise escalation but also that reduce sounds right down to crinkling pages and keyboard noises.”
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