A lot goes into an outstanding call center—the kind customers love to connect with and agents don’t want to leave. Start with an empowered team and supportive leaders, add a well-oiled performance management program, and top with a hearty dollop of recognition and rewards.
Many customer service leaders believe this is the recipe that drives agent and brand success. And they’re mostly right. There’s just one key ingredient they’ve overlooked: the physical workspace.
For decades, customer service agents spent their days cooped up in dreary, impersonal workstations designed for budgets rather than people. Fortunately, some brands are starting to think outside the cubicle. And they’re seeing amazing results across the board: higher retention, improved performance and productivity, lower operational costs, and happier customers.
A Well-Designed Call Center Boosts More Than Morale
The layout, look, and feel of the work environment feeds and reinforces the call center culture. What does a drab, lifeless design convey to agents? How might it affect their mindset and mood—and, by extension, their interactions with customers?
As important as morale is, it isn’t the only consideration. If you want to turn your call center into a profit center, you can’t treat the physical space simply as a cost to be minimized. Floor plan, lighting, colors, furniture, etc. are as important to consider as anything else you’re doing for your front-line team.
Design for Productivity and Performance
“The key metric companies use to measure space—cost per square foot—is focused on efficiency. Few companies measure whether a space’s design helps or hurts performance, but they should. They have the means.”
–“Workspaces That Move People,” Harvard Business Review (2014)
If you think providing ample space away from phones and PCs would make for a less productive front-line team, think again. Research shows that a flexible layout designed to accommodate agents’ varying needs—from regrouping alone after a stressful call to recharging with their peers—makes agents more productive. It also makes them better performers.
Put yourself in your agents’ shoes. After an emotionally charged call with a customer, having a private space to retreat to is a must. But the ability to socialize and share ideas with other agents makes for a more cohesive, collaborative, effective team.
A fascinating study by international workspace design firm Haworth compared two very different call centers—one with a more traditional design (uniform cubicles, right angles, narrow walkways), and another with a more contemporary design (curved desks, vibrant colors, customizable/ergonomic workstations, collaborative spaces). Agents at both call centers completed surveys, and their performance averages were compared as well.
Agents at the contemporary call center fared better on three out of four KPIs: after-call work time, first call resolution, and customer satisfaction. The team at the traditional call center scored better in only one category: average handle time (an efficiency metric that has little to do with customer satisfaction).
Not only did agents at the contemporary call center report greater job satisfaction overall, but more of them indicated they intended to stay with the company. Given the high costs of employee attrition, this single result may have been worth the entire cost of the call center design.
Design for a Healthier Bottom Line
Giving agents a comfortable, flexible, visually appealing work environment can help keep attrition low. But in Cisco’s efforts to upgrade its call center workspace, the company realized other cost savings as well.
For the redesign project, Cisco brought in a variety of experts and conducted employee focus groups. Cisco hypothesized the new call center design would improve employee productivity and satisfaction and lower real estate and maintenance costs by way of increased user density.
The results were as Cisco predicted. The company realized cost savings for construction (42%), furniture (50%), rent (37%), and utilities and maintenance (37%). And most call center employees expressed satisfaction with their new, more people-friendly work environment.
Three Call Centers To Inspire You
In today’s most innovative call centers, you’ll find many similarities: comfortable, inviting spaces for a variety of purposes; plenty of visibility and natural light; and a vibe that reflects the brand personality.
VodafoneZiggo’s call center is an eclectic, vibrant, nature-inspired workspace that hardly seems confined by walls. Its 93 employees can choose where they work, and there’s plenty of room for recreation and rest.
Wix (Miami Beach)
Wix’s tech support call center was designed with retaining millennial agents in mind. Bright colors, open ceilings, plenty of sunlight, great views, and diverse gathering areas make this a one-of-a-kind workspace.
Airbnb’s concierge team in Portland enjoys working in an office environment built just for them. The design was based entirely on observed employee behaviors and the desire to create a hierarchy-free space and culture. Agents helped design their own conference rooms as well.
Designing a High-Performing Call Center: 3 First Steps
It’s clear that call center design—layout, lighting, furniture, colors, shapes, and artistic elements—can do wonders for agent morale and performance and reduce operating costs in the long run. Here are three things you can do now to determine what needs to change, and what the design possibilities are.
- Study workplace behaviors – You’ll want to build your design around the natural flow and everyday needs of your team.
- Survey your agents – Ask them how they feel about various aspects of your current workspace, and what their ideal environment might look like. Give all ideas and input their due.
- Take the long view – Cost is an important consideration, but keep your eye on the long-term costs you’ll reduce with a creative, flexible, people-oriented call center design.
Have you recently built or redesigned your call center? Have some insights and successes to share? If you’d like us to feature your cutting-edge workspace in a future post or webinar, let us know!