How Can I Help You?: The Evolution of Call Center Design

Healthy. Comfortable. Technologically advanced. Vibrant.

If you don’t immediately associate these words with a call center, you’re not alone. Call centers typically bring to mind an image of crowded rows of stressed-out employees who are usually receiving calls from people with a problem or placing calls to people that aren’t thrilled to hear from them. But the nature of the business is changing; telemarketing isn’t what it used to be, and call center agents increasingly serve as the front line of a company’s customer service force, providing technical support and other assistance through telephone, e-mail and live chat (which is why some find the term “call center” a bit limiting nowadays, instead preferring to identify as a “contact center.”) Their service is becoming more sophisticated, so businesses are looking to provide employees with an office environment that better supports success and job satisfaction.

First and foremost, companies are increasingly focused on ergonomics and wellness in their call centers. The nature of customer service is high-pressure and sedentary – a very unhealthy combination. Agents spend an above-average number of hours sitting stationary at a desk. In a post last month on GS&P Dialogue titled “Sitting is the New Smoking”, Lauren Rasys discussed the dangers of too much desk time on the job, and call centers perfectly exemplify that problem. But businesses are realizing that employee wellness is important; for plain old health reasons, of course, but also because healthy, active employees are more productive and more inclined to offer friendly customer service. Ergonomic chairs are a worthwhile investment. Mesh chairbacks (instead of upholstered ones) promote air circulation and comfort, and adjustable arms and tension control prevent back problems, aches and pains. Adjustable height desks allow employees to sit, stand, stretch or even perch for portions of their workday while still doing their job.

Outside of an employee’s immediate workstation, amenity spaces are growing in importance. Group areas like “chill lounges” provide opportunities for in-person socialization as well as a space to catch up on social media and personal digital correspondence. Flexible training rooms, huddle rooms, fitness centers and Grab-N-Go food service provisions with healthy options enhance learning, support improved collaboration and encourage personal wellness . At Sykes Enterprises, Inc.’s new Lakeland call center, we renovated a campus of three buildings. Our team decided to strategically locate the smaller amenity spaces directly adjacent to employees’ work areas, while locating the larger food-service amenity space in an adjacent building from the main call center (which is a quick one-minute walk to the café/lounge) in an effort to inspire employees to move around during breaks and enjoy the whole campus.

As the call center business continues to grow, flexibility is also key. Designers often seek to incorporate collaborative spaces with comfortable seating, to encourage staff  to dialogue with one another and share ideas and advice. Clustered, circular layouts with low-panel walls, as opposed to a call center’s traditional rows of linear cubicles, can help staff to more easily interact with their manager and learn from colleagues by observing one another. It’s innovative, flexible spaces like these that help companies strike the balance between private and shared space that leads to success.

Technology is another focus in call center design. At SYKES, we created a classroom set-up in the coaching/training rooms with wireless technology, laptops, mobile devices, and adaptable training tables that can be arranged to support a traditional classroom configuration, U-shaped configuration, or cluster configuration for group learning. We also located high-tech television monitors on the front and back of the training rooms. This enables employees working in remote locations to easily participate in global learning initiatives for employment training and continuing-education opportunities offered as a joint venture between SYKES and a local college. Additionally, flat-screen monitors near call-center workstations even display real-time call data and feedback, helping agents assess their performance as they go, rather than having to wait for an evaluation. Technologically advanced features like these especially appeal to the next generation of workers, a demographic that employers are ever-more focused on attracting and retaining.

The 14th Annual Call Center Week conference in Las Vegas last month highlighted even more exciting innovations in call center design, including a tour of’s highly regarded new call center, which has created a dynamic, positive environment for the company’s agents to assist customers 24/7 and even respond to social media comments and questions. As designers, we recognize that such call centers are becoming the rule rather than the exception, and we must rise to the challenge of creating spaces that reflect the evolution of the business. It remains to be seen where the industry will go from here; the preferred platform for agent/customer interface will continue to change, but the main idea remains the same: healthy, happy employees are better for business, and successful design is a key factor in achieving that goal.

Tony Hsieh, Zappos CEO, reclines in the Zappos Contact Center in Las Vegas.

What new design strategies have you seen implemented in call centers and other corporate-service environments that better support technology, productivity and success?



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