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Make sure your audio devices live up to the promises of unified communications technology.

Channel Partners

September 6, 2013

4 Min Read
Achieving Last-Mile Intelligibility

By William J. Whearty

Up until now, audio quality in the contact center and office (CC&O) environment has been somewhat of an afterthought.  Headsets are often included in a unified communications (UC) solution, but with little regard for audio fidelity and reliability, and its crucial contribution to a successful customer service process. Therefore, many would-be state-of-the-art contact centers and offices are often equipped with poor quality, uncomfortable headsets that suffer in both audio clarity and dependability, despite advances in both UC hardware and software. Many of these headsets provide tinny reception, allow random surges of background noise and deliver poor intelligibility that can impede the flow of communications. These devices, which represent the last point of communication between an enterprise and the customer, simply do not live up to the promise and advanced features that otherwise might distinguish a sophisticated UC deployment. 

The tendency to offer low-end headsets has been dealer- or distributor-driven, to avoid a significant cost addition for what has unfortunately been considered a peripheral commodity.  But this contradictory paradigm is changing and the mandate comes from end users.

Fortune 500 organizations are now realizing that the customer communications experience is of critical importance and is no place for compromise  especially when it comes to equipment and peripheral devices. The end customers the people who count when it comes to selling the solution are demanding highly functional wireless audio devices that deliver clear and precise vocal quality. They are typically the first in the channel to realize that no matter what array of functionality your technology makes claim to, without audio clarity the solution ultimately fails to increase productivity and realize greater customer satisfaction. Audio is that last mile of communication with the consumer and is what makes a telephony infrastructure truly effective.

Lets face it: Phone-based customer service has not always been renowned for being a positive experience. Yet that customer experience is tantamount to success in business, so the prevalence of sub-par contact center interactions must be corrected if we are to justify selling high-end UC solutions. 

The Productivity Gains of Quality Audio

Although software features such as unified messaging and presence management certainly provide productivity benefits, businesses confirm that voice quality is vital even more critical than any accompanying visual component. If UC technology is to truly realize a next-gen infrastructure, wireless devices need to deliver nothing less than exceptional audio clarity. 

In call centers and businesses, it is well known that greater intelligibility creates ROI, resulting in reduced call times, less repetition of information, fewer dropped calls and reduced hold times. Improved audio quality also maximizes every second an operator spends with customers, potentially generating more business and effectively resolving issues in a more compact time span. High-end headsets also provide the requisite clarity to facilitate sophisticated IVR (interactive voice response) systems which can become handicapped when there are shortcomings in voice clarity and audio quality.

In the case of large deployments, sometimes hundreds of agents occupy warehouse-like spaces, with employees separated by nothing more than chest-high partitions. With commoditized, no-frills headsets, callers often experience bleed-through banter and associated unwanted office noise. In this setting, it really doesnt matter if your end user has a million dollar solution the companys customer service calls sound garbled and less than premium. The benefits of even the most robust UC system can be negated or masked by poor voice quality, making a solution seem no more advanced a call to your local switchboard in 1980. So much for leading-edge technology and the promise of unified communications.

While most of us recognize the overall lack of high quality audio solutions in the telecom marketplace, we can address this issue by aligning our UC infrastructures with premium headsets. Very often, this may not be the least expensive route, but any business making significant hardware and software investments to UC infrastructure would be better served with a high quality headset that brings greater intelligibility and therefore value to the customer experience.

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