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.)

Lucian
9/15/2011 10:34:01 pm

Lol at the break rooms concept. In this manner we can finaly find some use for the old CRT computer monitors :))

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9/15/2011 11:05:15 pm

Yes, I highly recommend the BREAK room concept, Lucian. Perhaps in addition to "dress-down Fridays" your center could introduce "smash-up Mondays."

Destroying things relieves more stress than wearing casual clothing does.

Thanks for your comment,

Greg

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9/16/2011 12:15:27 am

Porta-Potty-Cubicles
Why waste precious time rerouting calls away from agents on bathroom breaks? By installing Porta-Potty-Cubilces you can mazimize every minute of your workforce's potential. True, agents might have to apologize to customers for the 'ambient noise' once in a while (especially after lunch breaks) but as far as companies are concerned, it's a hole-in-one!

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9/16/2011 12:23:44 am

Excellent recommendation, Guy. I have promoted such an approach to many call center managers looking to improve agents' adherence to schedule results. I must not explain it very well, though, as I always seem to receive blank stares.

Nice to see that sick minds think alike.

-Greg

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9/16/2011 02:06:19 am

Greg,

Good stuff that, as specialists in call center design, we at KSBA Architects haven't thought of to date. For account security reasons, one of our clients wanted to prevent staff from using any type of writing instrument. When they found out the cost of the hundreds of cameras necessary police everyone we proposed “Pencil Hawks.” These real hawks are trained fly around (high ceilings of course) and swoop down and grab and writing instruments they find; they have very good eyes, you know. We have found it is much easier to train them to confiscate pens and pencils than to potty train them so sales of company baseball caps are off the charts.

Best,

Roger Kingsland

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9/16/2011 02:15:28 am

Roger, I'm honored that my post compelled such a renowned commercial architect as yourself to comment. I've always admired your work and writings, and it's safe to say that, after reading your detailed comments, you have lost your marbles.

We shall be great friends!

Enjoy your weekend,

Greg

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9/16/2011 03:53:01 am

You are one warped individual....and yes, that IS a compliment. Thanks for the Friday smile.

"86"

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9/16/2011 04:16:04 am

What do you mean, Lee? Do you think I was kidding around with my facility design suggestions?

Way to ridicule my work. ;)

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9/19/2011 01:48:32 am

Love the totem pole/lego'esque workstation design concept.

@Roger: Pencil hawks! Harry Potter would be very proud.

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9/19/2011 01:57:42 am

Thanks for the comment, Rachel -- glad you enjoyed the post.

That being said, never again mention Harry Potter on my website. ;)

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8/26/2015 07:16:53 am

Pura vida.

We have invested in an employee game room at CCC. I wanted to share with all business owners and happy employees what can be done in an office environment to raise morale:



Telemarketers and customer service agents may burn out after a period of time. That is a fact. CCC has dropped the standard attrition rate dramatically. In addition, the attendance rate has remained at a relative high for industry call center standards just from the implementation of the game room.
Let off steam in a call center video game room. "All you can play" arcade machines for CCC Costa Rican call center employees.
Our rigorous bilingual telemarketing structure requires the same amount of down time focus for the agents in order to recharge the mind and body. The call center solution for a strong push on the phones is to incorporate a real retro arcade in Central America.
CCC is known in Costa Rica as offering the best employee arcade.
The international outsourcing industry has the best game room in Costa Rica.
Without question, CCC has the best gaming toys in a Latin American outsourced Telemarketing Company.
The proud owner of CCC, Richard Blank, firmly believes that the more an agent stays away from their virtual cell phone world; the more they will increase their interpersonal relationship building among other BPO employees.
Since 2007, our highly educated call center agents continue to grow as one unit by incorporating many challenging video games during scheduled breaks and lunch time.
CCC took a chance when most call centers do not utilize a common medium of arcade gaming.
The Costa Rican millennial generation that grew up playing video games at home did not share the same pleasure and stimulation as the early retro gamers that had an arcade on every corner and local mall in the United States.
CCC Human Resources Department was intent on a positive learning experience by combining fast momentum and a creative mind. Proving a solid ROI on a large internal expense for employee retro gaming recreation, the telemarketing staff has enjoyed a spike in morale, increased online labor support and a flattering local reputation in Costa Rica as a great call center environment run by generous owners.
Back in the 1980s, anyone in Costa Rica who wanted to play the real video games was on a mission to find an arcade. Once you placed your 100 colones on the game marquee to hold your place, it didn't get any better when you had the chance to show your skills in front of dozen kids from San Jose. Each Tico was shooting for the high score on Asteroids or Pac Man and loved every minute of it. CCC wants to bring that excitement back into a call center environment and use it to grow past our 440 agent limit at our current location on Paseo Colon.
Today, CCC firmly stands behind having our call center employees experience the authentic arcade sounds, sights and real time retro competition.
Our new video arcade room has given CCC another strong gust of wind in our sails. Costa Rica's Call Center will continue to reward our amazing staff by a pace of 1 new arcade machine per 44 new telemarketing agents hired and hitting their monthly quota.
The employee friendly call center environment became more pleasurable immediately which can offset a demanding telemarketing career. Any BPO boss could only imagine and wish for laughter, smiles, spirited jokes and high energy at their Costa Rican office on a Monday morning before shift.
The reality today is that CCC has become the only call center to have gifted their entire staff a video arcade game room to have fun, period. All agents are given the option to arrive early to play the games or they may choose to stay inside and enjoy the machines during the evening while waiting for their ride to safely take them home.
A smart motivational technique used for CCC BPO agents is to compete on the machines in the game room.
One way in which a telemarketer's confidence could be made stronger or broken down is through an arcade experience during their work day. Costa Ricans have courage and can back up their swagger on the phone after dominating the video games during their scheduled breaks.
In the competitive offshore outsourcing call center arena, CCC has an advantage over the rest in Costa Rica by creating a strategic play environment.
High end arcade video games will reinforce a call center agent's focus, mind set to win and motor skills while off of the phones during their free time. The most important virtue is to show a solid habit of good sportsmanship regardless of the outcome of the games in the arcade.
More new friendships have blossomed in the game room at CCC call center Costa Rica.
Our entire staff has concluded that an immediate visual stimulation combined with a conditioned manual stimulation in gaming added a very special ingredient to our nuance at CCC. To date, Costa Rica's Call Center is the only BPO in Central America with a retro arcade game room, period.
The average age of our Cost

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5/5/2017 05:06:20 am

Thanks for sharing the information.

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