We look at the many ways to reduce background noise during phone calls, focusing specifically on contact centre conversations.
Background Noise Is Still a Major Problem
In early 2020, almost two thirds of contact centres (65.9%) were still being negatively impacted by background noise that caused conversation repetition. This is highlighted in the chart below.
While background noise problems only occurred for most at peak call times and shift changes, in 10.3% of contact centres it is a more frequent challenge that caused traditional contact centres to become “very noisy”.
In these environments, background noise can make the advisor’s job much more challenging, as it can become a distraction, not only for them but for the customer too.
On a more positive note, 33.8% of contact centres had no problem with background noise and have a “relatively quiet” working environment.
Being in a quiet environment, with good acoustics, can help to:
- Boost staff retention
- Improve productivity
- Lower stress
- Reduce absenteeism
- Increase call quality
- Lower errors
- Reduce misunderstandings
- Improve customer satisfaction
Yet, despite all of these contact centres’ good work, many are now working with remote advisors, who may be working in loud environments…
The ABC of Acoustics
The ABC of acoustics is an acronym that is explained in the graphic below:
This ABC philosophy was once taught to us by Colin Rawlings, the Technical Director of Acoustics By Design, during our webinar: “How to Reduce Background Noise in the Contact Centre“.
But how can you practically apply this thinking to a traditional contact centre?
To absorb sound, we can dissipate it. This may mean spacing people out in an enormous room or, more practically, absorbing it with soft materials.
While this initially wouldn’t sound highly effective, you can invest in ceiling tiles that absorb sounds instead of reflecting them.
Then there is the matter of carpets and walls, for the latter of which you can use resorb wall panels. These are covered with fabric, with a special foam layer behind them. The fabric allows the sound to travel through it, while the foam absorbs the waves from behind.
For most, when we think about blocking, our mind goes straight to those ugly screens that “border up” desks. There is no doubt that these can make a big difference as to how far sound travels across the room – but there are other ways to block noise.
For example, you can angle an advisor’s desk so they are not directly facing another advisor and therefore cause less of a distraction.
You can angle an advisor’s desk so they are not directly facing another advisor and therefore cause less of a distraction.
A more obvious alternative is to choose a headset that covers both ears. Advisors won’t necessarily mind this, as long as the headset is lightweight and, preferably, cordless.
To cover sound, we can mask it with “white noise” and this, in a contact centres, will likely consist of a set of speakers that emit a noise similar to a rush of air.
Normally these speakers are stationed above the contact centre, as part of the ceiling, so they are tucked away and hidden.
These white noise machines will generate a background sound of normally around 42-50 decibels and most people won’t even know that they are there, unless they see you install them!
One Final Addition to the Acoustic ABCs
Alongside our ABC “formula”, we can add a “D” for Discipline.
In contact centres, it can be commonplace to hear advisors shouting across to supervisors or maybe even vice versa. We should remind ourselves of the negative influence this has on call quality.
Some contact centres may even show people from other departments or new recruits around the contact centre and have a conversation next to someone taking a call. That not only adds to the background noise, but can be very irritating for the advisor on the phone.
There also can be other loud sounds like the “sales bell” or some sort of claxon for winning a prize. This can be great for a bit of motivation – but maybe let’s avoid setting this off during peak periods of the day.
You can find other ideas for motivating advisors, aside from sales bells and claxons, in our article: How to Motivate Staff in 25 Ways
Quick Tips for Reducing Background Noise in the Traditional Contact Centre
So far, we have issued an number of tips for how to reduce background noise, which will work well for a traditional brick-and-mortar contact centre:
- Using noise-cancelling headsets, with special microphones within the mouthpiece
- Installing white noise machines
- Implementing acoustic ceiling tiles, especially within your problem areas
- Angling desks so that advisors aren’t talking directly at one another
- Experimenting with “resorb” panels onyour contact centre walls
However, there are lots more ideas for reducing background noise, such as the five that we have highlighted below.
4. Fill Up Your Walls With Your Advisors’ Art
You can add special panels, with fabric covers, to help absorb noise in the contact centre. But there is no reason for them to be drab.
If you know that certain advisors like art and design, why not task them with decorating these big fabric covers? Your advisors will appreciate the chance to exercise their hobbies at work.
5. Install Soft Furnishings
We’re not just talking about walls and desk screens here. There are other small things that you can do to help muffle and reduce background noise.
If you fit padded chairs, blinds or curtains, and thick carpets, you can go the extra mile…
Sound can bounce around busy, open-plan spaces. But if you fit padded chairs, blinds or curtains, and thick carpets, you can go the extra mile in your efforts to quieten the contact centre.
6. Place Low Barriers Between Advisors
Desk barriers can be ugly. They can add to the negative stereotypes of the contact centre. They can even damage morale by making advisors feel boxed-in. But they do work in reducing background noise.
So there may be a balance to be struck. You can place low barriers that partially block the noise and don’t hinder advisors from talking to one another.
7. Encourage Advisors to Talk to One Another in Quiet Spaces
It is natural for advisors just to wander over to the person that they want to talk to and hold a discussion. But this could influence the quality of a phone call nearby.
So, in induction training, make a point to hold those discussions in a quiet space. If it still becomes a problem, listen to call recordings with advisors and nicely show them how loud they can be.
8. Hang Sound Diffusers up Around the Contact Centre
Way back in 2016, we visited the General Motors (GM) contact centre in Luton and we spotted the ceiling hanger in the photo below.
These are called “sound diffusers” and help to absorb soundwaves to reduce background noise on the contact centre floor. They also are decorative and can help to tie in colour schemes.
For more ideas like this, but this time suggested by our readers, read our article: 20 Ways to Reduce Background Noise in the Contact Centre
Ways to Reduce Background Noise When Remote Working
Children, pets, doorbells and traffic can be key sources of background noise, which can really distract remote agents from concentrating on customer queries.
With this in mind, here are a few great tips to share with your remote agents, to help them work in a peaceful environment.
9. Leave Notes for Delivery Drivers
If advisors live in a safe place, encourage them to leave a note for delivery drivers, so instead of ringing the doorbell, they just leave it on your porch, so it can be picked up later.
10. Move Your Desk
If advisors have their desks near windows by noisy roads or are sitting next to thin walls, they may be picking up lots of unnecessary noise. So ask the team to consider where the quietest place in the house is.
11. Fill Up the Room
In empty rooms, advisors may pick up echoes from all of the sounds that come from inside and outside of their workroom. Moving rugs, paintings and cushions into the room can help to guard against this. Plants can also help!
12. Move Closer to Your Microphone
Putting the microphone closer to your mouth is a great way to reduce background noise from the customer’s perspective. The position of the microphone is key, as you also want to make sure that fans and air conditioners are at a reasonable distance from your mouthpiece.
13. Discuss the Importance of Having Quiet
Explaining to children why quiet is so important for your work is, of course, key. One idea to help – if your children are old enough – is to give them a set of reasons for when they can come and talk to you.
This is all great general advice, but what more can contact centres do to support their team? Noise-cancelling headphones are one tool that you’ve most likely considered before…
Do Noise-Cancelling Headsets Work?
The short answer to this question is “yes”. But many of the noise-cancelling headsets that are commercially available won’t work in the contact centre.
To understand this, we need to understand the two key aspects of noise cancelling. One is the ability of the headset to block out the noise of the surroundings.
The second noise-cancellation technique is where the headset produces a counter-wave to act as a “sound eraser”. This process is called “destructive interference” and visual demonstration of how this works is shown in the graph below.
These counter-waves are especially good for erasing consistent sounds, like hums from air conditioning machines – for example – but it’s not that good in terms of “background talk”, because it has to be a very standard “hum” or “hiss” noise.
The best technology – in terms of noise cancellation for contact centres – is special noise-cancellation microphones, which are stored within the headset’s mouthpiece or its “boom arm”.
After all, the goal is for the customer to hear nothing apart from the voice of the agent. So, we want to get a good microphone right in front of the user’s mouth, while having the advanced techniques and digital algorithms to get rid of everything that isn’t the voice of the user.
Testing Noise Levels in a Traditional Contact Centre
While noise-cancellation headsets, with special noise-cancelling microphones in the mouthpiece, can be great at reducing background noise for the customer – there is still the issue of background noise distracting advisors. This is a key consideration if you plan to move back to a traditional brick-and-mortar contact centre.
Why? Because before you rush into deploying other strategies to reduce contact centre background noise, it is good to first test to see just how bad the problem is.
Many headsets now have the ability to feed the noise levels back to central command.
Of course you can do this the conventional way and bring in consultants with big noise machine and microphones, who walk around contact centres and pick out the noisy areas. But many headsets now have the ability to feed the noise levels back to central command.
You can measure noise levels on an agent-by-agent basis with these headsets and the IT manager can monitor the noise around every agent, in order to see who is having the biggest problem with noise and make a real-time change.
For instance, if there is a lot of noise around, you can turn up the side tone on a particular agent’s headset, so that they don’t have to shout if an unexpected noise disrupts one part of the contact centre. We can also reroute calls to remove this noise disruption.
The results of your background noise tests might show you that you have a significant background noise problem in certain areas of your contact centre.
To combat this, and better safeguard the advisor experience, it’s good to know the ABC of acoustics.
Background noise is still a problem in almost two-thirds of contact centres.
The obvious solution is to invest in noise-cancelling headsets. But many of these headsets only work effectively for consistent humming or hissing noise. Look instead for models with microphones in the mouthpiece or boom arm.
But that’s not the only solution. Remember the ABCs of acoustics and how you can apply ceiling tiles, white noise machines and other design techniques to absorb, block and cover background noise.
Many contact centres now work from home. Quick tips like giving notes to delivery drivers, moving their desks and talking to housemates may be all the advice they need!
For more on the topic of reducing background noise and contact centre headsets, read our articles: