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Call center Headset etiquette – a guide for users
Telephone headsets are a commonplace sight in the modern office, but as with all new inventions it can take a while to adapt to the etiquette of proper use; when emails were first introduced to the workplace it took time for a convention to be created for how to use the new communication method, and when introducing headsets to a workplace there are also issues that need to be considered to make their use easy and pleasant for everyone.
In an ideal world, everyone would have their own telephone headset, but in large organizations, such as call centers, with staff working in shifts this is not always practical. When headsets are shared, it should be company policy that they are cleaned in between users – especially the microphone and cover and the earpiece. Sickness can be spread very easily in an office environment and even the strictest of cleaning and hygiene rules cannot prevent the spread of a cold or flu around an office, but ear infections and other airborne illnesses can be passed on very easily through headsets.
Antibacterial wipes are great for cleaning telephone headsets with leatherette ear cushions. Foam ear cushions are much harder to clean, so organizations where headsets are used by multiple people should opt for the easy clean option. Supervisors should also keep a stock of antibacterial wipes handy for staff at shift switch over times, ideally in a cleaning station with antibacterial hand gel and screen wipes for monitors.
If a colleague is on a call, it is very impolite to talk to them or otherwise distract them – especially if they are using a monaural model, which leaves one ear free to pay attention to the surroundings. Similarly, conducting conversations within earshot of colleagues on calls is unprofessional, as the person they are speaking to may overhear what is being discussed. As with any professional conversation, delicate matters should be dealt with in private, and personal conversations should be kept for break-times or after work. Using headsets with on-call indicator lights are one way of ensuring that staff members can see when their colleagues are on a call and then will know not to disturb them.
On the flip side, telephone headset users should not try and have side conversations if the person they are calling is otherwise distracted. It is polite to give your full attention to the conversation at hand, and to save other chats for later. In conference calls, this is especially important as it could derail an otherwise productive discussion. If the headset has a mute function, this is the time to use it! Simply holding your hand over the microphone will not block enough sound, so don't be tempted to take this short cut and risk your lunch order being overheard by several people who won't be interested.
Another thing to bear in mind when using a headset for a conference call, is that everyone on the call will be in different environments; while some people may be in a quiet meeting room, you may be in a noisy office, so mute your microphone when you are not speaking so that your background noise does not distract the others people on the call. If you are listening more than speaking, you can keep yourself on mute for much of the time (and may even get away with having a snack as no-one will be able to hear you munching away).
When using a headset with wireless capabilities, it is vital that the user remembers they are still on a phone call, and that eating or using the bathroom is not acceptable, even though they have both hands free and are not tied to the desk. The person on the other end does not want to hear chewing, rustling wrappers or the sound of a flushing toilet, so always remove your headset before eating or taking a comfort break.
With all these rules, it might seem like using a telephone headset is beset with as many potential faux pas as attending a silver service dinner at a high-end restaurant, but actually these are mostly borne of common sense and good manners. The basic rule is to have respect for others around you, the people you are talking to with your headset, and anyone else who may have to use the same headset as you. Once you have been using a telephone headset for a few days, it will be second nature to follow these suggestions.