The problem with noisy call centres

The problem with noisy call centres

If you look up ‘noisy call centres’ on the web you will find a lot of information about the welfare of call centre staff. Often working in open plan office environments side by side, with many people speaking at once, ringing phones, office equipment hum and in some cases loud music in the background, you can understand why the welfare of staff is top of mind.

The ability to concentrate and do your job well in these environments can be severely hampered by all these distractions. Try selling and servicing in these conditions – it can be very challenging. Especially for those people who may have auditory processing disorders where a person struggles with decoding speech in noisy environments. The impact on effective listening, problem-solving, and concentration can be especially strong on these people. I know, as I have issues with auditory processing myself.

That is why you will see all manner of equipment to reduce the background noise for call centre staff usually by way of sound cancelling headsets which, these days, work very well by all accounts.

That is great for call centre staff, but has anyone in these call centres considered what it is like from the customer’s perspective?

The background noise in these call centres, in most instances, is so loud that is makes it hard to hear the person we are speaking with. This background noise is transmitted right down the line via those microphones to our headset on the other end. We can hear everything. And in most cases it is not pretty.

Only this week did I get a call from a job board provider telling me about their services, and all the while there was loud music playing in the background and lots of chatter from other staff mixing in with the person I was trying to listen to. It was very distracting and just came across as very unprofessional. And besides, this excessive noise can lead to increases in stress-related issues amongst call centre staff, which can affect productivity.

This isn’t an isolated incident, it happens with lots of call centres whether we are calling them or they are calling us.

So what impression are you trying to create with your call centre? How do you want to be received and perceived?

I have been speaking about this with many colleagues and friends, gauging their experiences, and all of them without exception did not like the background noise that emanates from these noisy environments. One person mentioned to me his experience with the Apple Help Desk which, in contrast, was very quiet and professional. There was no background noise and the staff member was very focused and attentive. It was, by all accounts, a very pleasant experience for my friend.

If call centres want to become a key sales channel for businesses they need to lift their game and work towards more professional standards, which include having the right environmental conditions to begin with.

When researching this piece, I came across some useful tips to help minimise the background noise and create call centres that are more conducive to professional sales and service cultures:

Ways to minimise the risks from background noise include:

  • use sound absorbent materials and partitions of a suitable height in the design of the contact centre work stations and breakout areas
  • ensure office equipment such as printers and photocopiers are separated from the immediate work area
  • identify and remove faulty telephone lines and headsets
  • hold team meetings and briefings outside the immediate work area
  • encourage workers to not speak loudly or to hold conversations near call handlers, particularly during shift changeover
  • train call handlers to control voice levels
  • reduce the level of background noise in the contact centre
  • ensure damaged equipment and network faults are repaired promptly
  • When setting up a contact centre, consideration should be given to locating it away from main thoroughfares and other areas such as lunch rooms, meeting rooms, amenities and outside smoking areas where large groups of people are likely to congregate and use mobile phones. This will help to minimise the risk of mobile phones interfering with headset use.

If we make call centres quieter and more conducive to effective communication, where both parties can listen and interact without distracting background noise, I wonder what the effect would be on sales and service? 

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert  sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L Partners works with its clients to improve their sales operations. 


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