Off Center
Call centers are notorious for their less than inspiring (and often even damaging) facility design and aesthetics. Companies expect agents to efficiently provide exceptional customer experiences, yet house said staff in buildings that even maximum-security penitentiaries would deem drab and dangerous.

There has been so much focus in recent years on the evolution of call center technologies and channels, companies have failed to notice that their actual call center facilities are stuck in the Industrial Age. The poorly designed physical environment in which agents work often leads to chronic vision problems, back pain, wrist issues, and phalangeorbitosis – the uncontrollable urge to repeatedly poke oneself in the eye during calls and while on breaks.

Research shows that effective interior design, spatial dynamics and ergonomics result in employees who are committed to customers rather than to hospitals or asylums. Below are several examples of call center facility design innovation – based on interviews with several thought leaders in this area, as well as a few weird dreams I’ve had recently.

Strobe lighting. While traditional facility design experts say that indirect lighting is best in call centers (as it reduces glare and soothes nerves), the most progressive in the facility design community now believe that strobe lighting – with its rapid-fire flits and flashes – has the biggest impact on agent effectiveness and enthusiasm.

By creating an atmosphere more typical of a 1970s disco club or modern-day techno party than an office environment, strobe lighting shocks staff out of their workplace apathy and complacency and tricks them into thinking that there is excitement in their everyday lives. The result is a more vibrant frontline whose renewed energy can be felt by callers, thus enhancing customer satisfaction and loyalty. Sometimes agents will even bust out funky dance moves.

What about the long-term effect on agents’ nerves? Proponents acknowledge that strobe lighting will undoubtedly wreak havoc on your staffs’ frontal lobes and limbic systems, but so will listening to customers complain and swear all day, so you might as well create a fun party vibe to assuage the misery.

Stackable workstations. The traditional approach of grouping agent workstations in clusters, pods or simple rows is fine, but it takes up a lot of unnecessary space and provides little opportunity to reward deserving agents with prime seating. That’s why forward-thinking design specialists have started recommending stackable workstations for call centers. Following this innovative approach, the workstations of the center’s lowest performers are placed at ground level, the workstations of the moderate performers are stacked on top of them, and the workstations of the top performers are placed above everybody. A ladder can be used to gain access to the middle and upper levels, or, if you’d like to whip agents into shape, a climbing rope may be substituted.   

It all forms a sort of “who’s a star and who sucks” performance pyramid that occupies much fewer square feet than traditional phone floors (though may require much higher ceilings). And since nobody wants to endure the shame and disgrace of being on the bottom level for very long, all agents will strive to continually improve in hopes of climbing to a more respectable level. Further, centers that embrace the stackable workstation design will find that their best agents are rarely offline, as the risk of a fatal fall will keep them glued to their seat.

BREAK rooms. According to numerous studies, angrily breaking objects that have nothing to do with why you are angry is the number one way to keep from killing customers or coworkers. Such findings have inspired many call centers to replace such hokey stress relief tactics as squeezy balls and Xanax placebos with BREAK rooms – dedicated areas where agents can go and destroy everything in sight after handling a difficult call, enduring a harsh coaching session, or receiving their paycheck.  

A typical BREAK room should include lots of easily replaceable windows, plenty of old computer monitors, and paper mache replicas of every manager and supervisor.

I’d love to hear some of YOUR innovative facility design ideas. Feel free to share them in the form of a comment below. (Serious ideas only, though – this topic is nothing to joke about.)