Call center technology provider Avaya has been working on prototypes of wearable hardware and software for use in the call center. It is now moving some of these developments from their labs into customer trials, CITEworld has learned.

Headset-maker Plantronics is getting set to release its next iteration of the Encore Pro on Oct. 1 that will include a number of interesting upgrades. But the sleeper news at the company is that it is getting ready to launch a second prototype of its wearable concept headsets that could, for example, alert a call center manager that one of his reps is experiencing stress in a call, giving him the option to provide back up or coaching.

Call center vendors, in short, are, as intrigued by wearable technology as everyone else -- and they are moving forward to incorporate it into the contact center ecosystem.

Not that they believe it will happen any time soon.

"Call centers are pretty slow to adopt new technology," Christopher Thompson, vice president of Enterprise Product Marketing at Plantronics tells CITEWorld. "So I would first expect wearables to show up on the edges of the formal call center, such as help desks over the next two years. I would say it will be closer to five years before we see a large-scale deployment of wearables as part of the infrastructure in the formal call center."

Which is just as well because these early initiatives are exactly that -- early. The vendors are feeling their way to a viable business case by taking measured steps. Plantronics' release of the Encore Pro next month, for example, is not exactly a bona fide wearable headset -- although as Thompson points out all headsets should be considered wearable -- but some of its innovation will provide information that will lead to the next generation of headsets that will be.

Mute detection, for example, will be one feature on the Encore Pro. Mute detection refers to an agent who has muted his or her line to catch up on work or wrap up a previous call. Unfortunately the next caller is still routed to him but all the caller hears is static noise. "It is bad behavior frankly and by detecting when it happens the supervisor can be notified," Thompson said. "Perhaps the agent needs coaching on the workflow or perhaps it is happening inadvertendly." The data gathered from mute detection will be parlayed as the company considers its moves into wearables.

"We are working with partners like Avaya, Genesysis, Cisco, Interactive Intelligence, Aspect, and Alcaltel on exposing context into applications like the ones we described," he adds.

Wristbands versus headbands

Eventually, Thompson envisions a wide range of technologies and form factors that can be deployed in customer service centers, which is why these early steps are so important. "For instance, is it better to have wrist bands for supervisors to receive these notifications or a headset that vibrates, or possibly an intelligent name badge."

Indeed there are a number of form factors that wearables could take in the contact center, Lee Odess, general manager for IoT startup Brivo Labs, tells CITEWorld. "New technology in the call center will boil down to the wearable devices with displays and those without them," he says. "The reason this is important is because it will dictate how the wearable will function. There are two routes wearable devices in a call center might take: using wearables without displays for tasks like signing in, turning on computers or getting meeting reminders, or using wearables with displays to communicate internally, receive notifications and/or metrics, view trainings, or even handle calls directly from wearable glasses."

The contact center rep also stands to benefit from these advances, Odess says. "These new technologies will lead to a movement called BYOW -- Bring Your Own Wearable -- where employees will be bringing their own wearable devices into a place of work," he says. "These devices will carry their identity and can be used to let them into the building, sign in to their computer, and also create the environment curated to their liking and working needs," such as having the office light turned on in a certain way and the temperature set at 78 degrees.

Avaya's version of wearables: a portable call center

Avaya is also exploring its own version of wearables in the contact center. "We have been hearing about the Internet of things and tend to think in terms of machine-to-machine communication," Avaya CTO Brett Shockley tells CITEWorld. "But wearables have the potential of letting people be part of IoT -- and the contact center can facilitate that."

Wearables can also expand the notion of the contact center far beyond physical walls, he continued. Consider the example of a couple looking to buy a new house. The wife might view a house when her husband is not available but he could still see what she is seeing as she tours the home via a wearable. Also on the "call" would be experts such as the home inspector the couple have lined up for an initial view, and possibly a decorator as well. And of course, whatever slew of friends and family members that want to weigh in on the purchase decision. It will be the contact center technology that ties all of these people together and allows them to communicate in real time, Shockley says. Providing health care to a remote patient is another example, he says.

Such collaborative scenarios are basis of the prototypes Avaya has been developing and is prepping for customer trials, Shockley says.

"You'll be hearing about these trials in the coming months," he promises.