Fancy working in a call centre?

Apr 03 2003 by Print This Article

Fancy working in a call centre? Thought not. Is it the idea of turning into a battery chicken that puts you off? Or the prison-like image of rows upon rows of people sitting in dingy warehouses cold-calling homeowners who’ve just sat down to supper? Not a particularly attractive picture of a place to work, we’d have to agree.

But what if the walls of those warehouses were adorned with creative murals, if the coffee areas had plump sofas and MTV, and soothing music and exotic aromas were wafting around the place, would you change your mind then?

Right now big business is in love with call centres and the number of people who work in them is set to increase massively over the next few years. But the Stalag-like sheds that housed the millions of people who first went to work in call centres are now thankfully being scrapped and replaced by technically advanced, design-lead places to work.

“The focus of early call centres was that old supermarket adage of pile them high and sell them cheap. Pack people in as tightly as you can in a minimum amount of space,” reflects Wes McGregor, director of workplace design consultants Advanced Workplace Associates.

McGregor believes that many firms, seduced by the commercial advantages that new technology offered them, forgot the one simple ingredient that is essential to running a successful call centre – happy staff. When staff start to leave in droves after only a short term of employment something is definitely not right.

There is no getting away from the fact that much of the work that goes on in call centres is monotonous, unchallenging and quite frankly boring. That does not make it any less essential to the success of a business though and enlightened call centre operators are realising that a little forethought and investment in the working environment could stop the rot of high staff turnover and may even improve service levels and satisfaction.

“If you give people a crap working environment, don’t be surprised if the customer gets crap service at the other end,” says McGregor.

How far have employers had to go to make call centres more appealing places to workl? One of the easiest ways they have found to improve call centres is to make the break-out spaces, where for ten minutes every hour staff can get away from their phones, more fun. The Bristol & West building society installed Sky Sports and MTV in its vending cafes and is considering installing an Internet shopping facility by arrangement with one of the big supermarkets in the area. Staff can make use of the gardens and barbecue areas, and a gym and other leisure facilities are also under consideration.

“We want to create a working village with as many facilities within it as possible,” says Denys Rayner, the man responsible for the call centre.

Designers have taken on board the fact that as many call centres are staffed by young people the emphasis needs to be on fun and escapism when they away from their desks and on motivation when they are working. Football and games machines can now be found in most centres’ break-out spaces, as well as shopping facilities, and even TV screens around the working areas, which with the sound down allow those on the phone to follow, say, the big match.

Holiday firm Thomas Cook has taken the idea of finding new ways to motivate call centre staff very seriously indeed. In the office areas staff are surrounded by palm trees and bright, exotic murals on the walls. To get from the office to the restaurant workers must cross a bridge over a river, a physical feature which the designers felt acts a demarcation between work time and relaxation. The river is fed by a waterfall and runs through the building to a weir located in reception. Each day as staff enter the building they are greeted with different smells and holiday sounds, such as jungle noises or the swish of skis on snow.

At the end of the day all these improvements are being made with one thought in mind, happy workers will work harder. Whether working amid palm trees with the sounds of the sea around them will make those manning the phones stay longer in their jobs remains to be seen.

Call Centres: Facts and Stats

  • There are up to 7,000 call centres in the UK
  • Between 200,000 and 250,000 people are estimated to work in call centres
  • Projections are that up to 500,000 people will work in call centres within the next five years
  • Banking and insurance, technology and telecommunications, non-store retail, travel and tourism, entertainment, utilities and consumer products are leading the demand for call centres
  • The telemarketing industry is worth £7 billion a year
  • Nearly half of all call centres are located in the North West, London or Scotland

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