• December 1, 2014
  • By Leonard Klie, Editor, CRM magazine and SmartCustomerService.com

The Role of Wearables Expands in the Call Center

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Google Glass hasn't even hit the market yet, but already significant buzz has hit the call center industry about wearable technology.

Headsets are perhaps the most basic type of wearable device, and they are certainly not a new technology. But Plantronics is out to change the call center landscape with a new generation of wearable headsets that could, for example, alert a manager when an agent is experiencing stress on a call. The manager can then provide backup or coaching.

And while that technology might not yet be ready, Plantronics' latest line of Encore Pro headsets is not lacking in innovation. Mute detection is just one of the unprecedented breakthroughs.

With other headsets, when an agent sets her headset to mute, the next caller can still be routed to her, and all that caller will hear is static and dead air. Mute can also be used as a way for agents to get rid of difficult callers without those calls being logged into the system, because most systems log holding times and hang-ups, not mutes.

With the new headsets, supervisors can be notified when the agent mutes a call and address it, whether it is something that is happening inadvertently or on purpose. "Now we can track and log mutes, and supervisors can look and see if an agent needs additional help or training," says Nick Eisner, senior product director for customer service products at Plantronics.

The system can also alert managers when agents go on break without logging out of the system, possibly leaving sensitive customer data on their computer screens and calls to be routed to their empty workstations. "The headset can recognize that the agent is not there," Eisner says. "The supporting systems can lock the screen, reroute calls, and track the agent's break time."

Other innovations in the pipeline include the ability to track an agent's volume during calls. "It can tell when an agent begins to raise her voice, likely due to frustration," Eisner says. "With tonal analysis, we can tell the emotional state of the agent."

Headsets, he adds, can even keep track of an agent's preferred settings and automatically tune to them regardless of the computer to which she connects.

Even the headsets themselves have changed. New polymers and other equipment upgrades have made modern headsets stronger and lighter, and better audio quality is possible with IP telephony and wider broadband, according to Eisner.

Additionally, a new line of digital adaptors can connect contact center headsets to the USB ports on any computer, giving contact center agents seamless access to "lots of new things," Eisner says, including additional power, processing, and software.

And by making its technology available to partners, such as Avaya, Genesys, Cisco Systems, Interactive Intelligence, Aspect, and Alcatel, via its application programming interfaces, Plantronics is enabling its headsets "to behave more intelligently," Eisner says.

"There are so many new things you can do [with headsets] today," he states. "You can let your mind run rampant thinking about all the new capabilities."

And while there are a number of forms that wearables could take, Plantronics remains committed to the headset. "But, we're making our contextual information available to our partners," Eisner says, and it's anyone's guess what they might do with it down the line.

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