3 key takeaways from IRIS Audio’s ‘The impact of background noise in contact centres’ report.

The call centre industry is no stranger to the issue of background noise. When the phones start ringing and your agents need to talk customers through often dicey situations, decibel levels can quickly turn into a cacophony of sounds. Meanwhile, the industry’s rapid rise in hybrid working has added a further level of complexity, with the tactics traditionally used by call centres — such as noise-absorbing partitions — hard to replicate in the work-from-home environment.

To investigate the impact of this background noise, including how hybrid working has changed the landscape, IRIS conducted a research study including:

  • A survey of 500 customer service agents in the UK and US
  • Views from leaders within the sectors
  • Industry research from sources such as Gartner, ContactBabel, and McKinsey

They’ve compiled the findings from our research as well as potential solutions into their report titled ‘The impact of background noise in contact centres’. We encourage you to read the full report to explore all it has to offer, but to give you an initial taste, here are three key takeaways.

  • Agents want to continue to be able to work remotely

Whilst the initial period of agents shifting to remote brought teething problems (Average Handle Time increased 10+ minutes and 75% of consumers said customer service worsened), the industry has come out the other side. With restrictions (hopefully) gone for good, things can go back to normal, right? Not so, according to our research. Today’s normal is now considerably different, and agents don’t want to go back to how things were before. 

Compared to before the pandemic, the 500 customer agents we surveyed work remotely on average 41% more after the pandemic, and the number of agents entirely prohibited from working remotely has dropped 13%. Whilst this shows movement towards a hybrid future, the industry still lags behind global trends — and agents want more.

In fact, 61% of the agents in our study want to work remotely more often, and decision makers agree this is where things are headed. Gartner found that 81% of service leaders believe between 30% – 80% of their workforce will primarily be working from home two years from now. Conclusion? Remote is here to stay.

  • Noise is an issue whether you’re at home or in the office

Whilst many things are different between working from an office and working from home, the issue of noise still remains.

In fact, their study found that when in the office, agents saw background noise around them as their biggest blocker, and noise around the customer as their second biggest blocker. Agents working from home found noise around them as the biggest issue, and noise around the customer as the third biggest issue. Regardless of where the call is taking place, noise at both ends of the call is a persistent problem.

The main difference between these locations is the types of noise you encounter, and the methods you’re able to implement to remove them. Instead of ringing phones and busy colleagues, you have barking dogs and boiling kettles. Evidently, the industry needs to find a solution that addresses all of these soundscapes in order to keep up with the hybrid trend.

  • Noise affects customer experience, productivity, and wellbeing

Here’s the crux of the findings in our whitepaper. The takeaway that really stood out was just how disruptive background noise was on agents. In short, if the conversation fails to flow, it’s nearly impossible to achieve positive outcomes and everybody — be it the customer, the contact centre, or the agent — suffers.

From a customer experience perspective, 84% of the agents we surveyed said that background noise has a negative effect on the customer experience they deliver, whether that’s background noise around themselves or around the customer. Considering more than 50% of customers across all age groups still prioritise a phone call over other customer service channels, the magnitude of the pain point is evident. 

From the organisation’s point of view, 89% of our call centre workers said background noise impacts their KPIs, and 85% said they waste time repeating themselves or asking customers to repeat themselves because of it. In an industry where significant time, money, and effort is put into marginal gains to achieve better outcomes, fixing background noise seems an obvious place to start.

Finally, from the agent’s side, 69% of agents said background noise during customer calls negatively impacts their health and mental wellbeing. It’s easy to imagine how already frustrated customers can become even more difficult when background noise impacts their conversations. In an industry with staff churn of 30-45%, there’s a massive opportunity to do better.

  • There is a fix for this

Here’s a fourth insight for free. Background noise is costing you your best customers, your best agents, and your bottom line — regardless of where your agents are working. Read about potential solutions to this headache, including voice isolation tools, by downloading IRIS Audio’s full report on ‘The impact of background noise in contact centres’.

About the Author

Jacobi Anstruther – CEO & Founder

Jacobi Anstruther is an audio entrepreneur who has made it his mission to reinvent the way we interact with sound, putting the listener at the heart of the
audio experience. On founding IRIS in 2018, Jacobi’s objective was to reconnect humans and audio through scientifically-proven technology. IRIS’ patented products have been proven to improve focus, engagement, and wellbeing by stimulating our neurology and creating Active Listening™