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Designing space for contact - the unique workplaces that are Contact Centres
21 March 2018
Call Centre. Two words that historically conjured an image of a sea of tiny desks, staffed by an ever changing and over supervised staff and often associated with a frustrating and unsatisfying job. The reality today is starkly different. Leading edge, innovative, satisfying, fun, cool, a great place to work…all descriptions we have recently heard used around contact centres.
What has happened? Businesses see the true value in contact centres and are investing to create amazing workplaces withn them. When they approach STACK we apply our Reality Based Working methodolgy providing a design solution for the unique requirements of their contact centre.
Instead of sticking to outdated ideas of what a call centre environment should be, STACK has helped recent clients turn those notions on their head. By starting from a deep understanding of their business, these companies know that the customer experience is everything, and the people delivering that experience are their front-line staff. They are the brand. The contact centre delivers brand experience.
By making the work environment the best it could possibly be, focused on enabling employees to give the best customer experience imaginable, clients/businesses are leveraging value, growing their business and creating both happy employees and happy customers.
Call centres 1998
Call centres 2018
The fundamentals of successful contact centre design
First off, don’t assume anything about the nature of the work people are doing. Each company takes a different approach to their contact centre operation, but always one that deeply supports their company culture, values and vision. Here are two examples.
For the contact centre STACK designed for recent client Online Republic, the environment is evocative of the business they are in - a relaxed holiday vibe harking back to the heyday of travel when it was glamorous, exotic and something truly special. The culture is fun, irreverent, with a couple of the contact centre staff overheard commenting "This place is so cool and the coffee is great, we prefer to hang out here on our time off than go home".
Another client deals with insurance claims – in other words, when things go wrong in people’s lives. This company has an incredibly deep ethos of caring, both for their customers and for their staff. They recognise that the contact centre environment is high pressure, often stressful. Staff are dealing with emotional issues for customers. Spaces to chill out between calls, or decompress by playing high energy games, have been made available and easily accessible to the contact centre staff.
Interestingly, neither of these two businesses use allocated desks for their contact centre. Instead they take the view that staff should be able to choose where they sit when taking calls. This contrasts with the traditional view that, of all staff in an organisation, the contact centre would be the most ‘tethered’. Nevertheless, where contact centres are organised in shifts, it makes sense to share desks. Furthermore, the call centre job is highly rigid. Toilet breaks are monitored and break times are extremely short. The job itself is pretty stressful. By putting some control back in the hands of the staff, empowering them to choose where they sit or stand to do their job is giving some control back to the employee. Not a silly thing, given the amount of evidence showing improved productivity from increased control over your own work.
A downside of desk sharing can be that it feels quite clinical, and many staff prefer to be able to personalise their space. Providing staff with their own lockers and with caddies helps to resolve this. People can quickly set up a workstation with personal items for their shift, and pack them away at the end.
Other factors, or constraints we consider when designing contact centres include the flexbility to cope with high volumes of users at a time. Short lunch breaks can mean large numbers using the lunch room or cafe simultaneously - the layout needs to allow high flow through and very efficient organisation to avoid people getting in each other’s way when preparing and clearing away their lunch. As the lunch room is possibly the only chance for a change of scenery they get during their shift, it needs to be a light, healthy, happy environment to be in. Real focus needs to go into making this space an enjoyable environment that allows staff to switch off from the demands of the job for their short break. Despite this, contact centres do tend to be high-density, which places additional loading on air-con, air quality, lighting, toilet facilities and fire safety requirements. All these factors need to be thought through when designing a contact centre.
Gaming space 2018
Training facilities are another key area of focus in the design. Contact centres tend to provide intensive training to new hires, as well as ongoing training or coaching throughout. Combine this with the high levels of staff turnover typically found in contact centres, this means that in-house training facilities are in high use, for prolonged periods. Careful thought needs to go into assessing the training requirements and ensuring the spaces work well for both trainers and trainees. In addition, there is often a requirement for coaching space, where one-on-one call coaching can occur in private.
A need for space, not sardines
One myth that sadly persists is that contact centres are high-density areas where companies can get away with packing staff closer together. On the contrary, staff often need at least dual monitors for their call systems and need to be able to talk to clients without lots of background noise from other calls. Contact centre staff need for a little more space and better attention to the acoustics than non-phone based staff. With call centres becoming more digital than paper based these days, space once required for storage can be freed up to provide more working space per person.
Contact centre staff often benefit from close proximity to their teams, to be able to help each other on trickier calls. Small clusters of desks and lower dividing screens often work better for easier visibility and communication although staff sometimes have to be reminded that their voices carry even through the dividers! In terms of workstation ergonomics, electric sit-to-stand desks which are becoming more affordable all the time, offers enormous benefits to contact centre staff. Other staff can get up and go for a walk whenever they need to, but for contact centre staff tethered to headsets and monitors through the shift, being able to change posture and position easily helps with any pain or discomfort to reduce the risk of workplace-related injury.
Companies that recognise the important role their contact centre plays in developing and maintaining good customer relationships are investing more in contact centre design. By taking a Reality Based Working approach to meet the specific needs of the contact centre staff, both the staff and the business are winners. No longer relegated to the back rooms and darkest parts of the office, the contact centre is becoming a great place to work, contributing to the brand, reputation and bottom line of these businesses.
Get in touch if you have any questions about how to optimise your call centre design - we'd love to discuss how we can help you.
March 2018 Articles
- Exploring 20 years of workplace design
- Designing space for contact - the unique workplaces that are Contact Centres
- Delivering workplace design beyond Auckland
- Back to all news items
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