A common allegory for a call centre is a chicken battery. Row after row of agents with headsets in cramped cubicles with no natural light, shouting to be heard above the incessant din and a cold fluorescent atmosphere.
In Slumdog Millionaire, the call centre where the hero – Jamal, played by Dev Patel – worked reminded the world of the hellish conditions suffered by hundreds of thousands of people in call centres around the world.
Such places don’t inspire great customer service. Indeed most agents working in places like that are simply surviving their job, because it’s a route out of poverty. Companies that don’t see the environment as a significant factor experience higher attrition rates, higher absence, behavioural issues, and a toxic culture.
The biggest cost of running call centres is the people – as much as 70%, according to the Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report. And attrition is the hole in the leaking bucket that all call centre managers seek to plug. That is, because losing staff means higher recruitment and training costs as well as less operationally efficient call centres. The formula is simple: a great work environment equals happy, more content, and calmer staff who are more likely to deliver great customer service.
So it’s no surprise that some organisations and call centre outsourcers have cottoned on to the fact that investing in creating great places to work pays dividends. In fact it can save as much as 5% per annum* – which, for a medium-sized centre (200-300 seats) costing many millions of dollars a year to run, is a big number.
Good design has now become a must-have rather than nice-to-have. People who enjoy coming to work because their office is cool deliver better service and stay longer. Centres with a pool table, chill-out area, even mini cinemas, nail bars, and gyms are now emerging.
Creating a bright, light, spacious environment relaxes people and prepares them for the work day. Indeed many will stay longer to take advantage of the facilities and socialise with their colleagues, creating better, supportive relationships and fostering best practice. Call centres can actually become really cool places to work.
In Slumdog Millionaire, our star sees a TV game show as the route out of his oppressive and unfulfilling job as a call centre agent. Perhaps if he worked in one of today’s better designed centres, he’d think twice about the need to risk everything for a few moments of fame.
* % savings calculated by Merchants for two clients.