Fraunhofer IDMT presents a solution for call and service centre workplaces at the Call Center World

Individual hearing settings and improved speech intelligibility on the telephone

Press Release /

Oldenburg/Berlin. Working in call and service centres demands a high level of concentration. Employees have to access information from different databases during communication with the customer. Listening to other people talk for hours on the telephone also demands mental effort – particularly if a large number of employees are talking on the phone at the same time in an open-plan office and the background noise level is correspondingly high. Scientists at the Fraunhofer IDMT will present a software application at this year’s Call Center World in Berlin from 23 to 25 February which allows service staff to adapt the telephone signal output to their individual hearing needs. Studies show that the technology permits a significant improvement in speech intelligibility particularly in conditions with ambient noise or poor signal quality.

© Fraunhofer IDMT/Daniel Schmidt

The Fraunhofer software can be integrated directly into existing telephone systems. Individual sound adjustment is performed by means of a simple user interface on the PC. Users can choose from different presets to select the sound pattern and volume which they find most pleasant. An intelligent signal processing module optimises all incoming calls to match this hearing profile.

"In our evaluation studies, we were able to show that the technology offers significant benefits if the speech intelligibility of the unprocessed signal is categorised as being less good," says Dr. Jan Rennies-Hochmuth from the Project Group Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology of the Fraunhofer IDMT. "The very large differences between the sound preferences of the individual participants were quite surprising – independently of whether they were young or old or whether they had normal hearing or incipient hearing loss. This suggests that a great benefit can be achieved for employees through sound personalisation, something which has not been possible with previous systems."

In everyday working life, poor speech intelligibility often means a higher mental strain, which can lead to fatigue. In a field study, the Hörzentrum Oldenburg showed that speech intelligibility in a call centre is significantly impaired by the ambient noise. Using a hearing test, the hearing comprehension of the employees was measured first in a quiet environment. The employees heard the offered speech signal via the telephone system with binaural headsets. A second measurement was then performed under full-load conditions with a background noise level typical for call centres of 50-60 dB.

Dr. Markus Meis, medical psychologist at Hörzentrum Oldenburg: "With the background noise under full-load conditions, over 40 percent of the study participants with normal hearing had insufficient hearing capability."

In further surveys on workplace satisfaction, more than two thirds of the study participants were dissatisfied with the acoustic situation according to Meis. He adds that this also has an influence on the dialogue with customers: More than half of those surveyed either partly or fully agreed with the statement "I have to frequently ask the customer to repeat something because I didn’t understand what was said". Almost half said that they had to often or always ask the other person to speak more loudly.

The Project Group Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology will present the software for individual hearing adjustment at the Call Center World in Hall 2, Stand 2A5a.

About the Project Group Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT

The goal of the Project Group for Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology of the Fraunhofer IDMT is to implement scientific findings on auditory perception of normal and impaired hearing in technological applications. Scientists carry out applied research and development on behalf of industrial companies and public institutions in the fields of telecommunications, multimedia, health and care services, building technology, transport, industrial production and security. The project group was established in Oldenburg in 2008 as a branch of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT. Through scientific cooperations, it has close links with the hearing research facilities in Oldenburg and is also partner in the cluster of excellence »Hearing4all«.  

About Hörzentrum Oldenburg GmbH

Hörzentrum Oldenburg GmbH is a leading company in the field of application-oriented audiological research and hearing system evaluation in Germany. The goal of the hearing centre is to improve the possibilities of hearing diagnostics and rehabilitation of persons with impaired hearing. The interdisciplinary team at the hearing centre evaluates and optimises new hearing systems and audio technology. A further specialist field is research into psychoacoustic effects on behalf of industry and public institutions. In addition, the hearing centre is also a contact point for persons with impaired hearing and offers regular diagnostic consultations as well as sales-independent hearing aid advice.