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Opening Up About Contact Center Design

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The quicker that companies move toward new channels like messaging, the more accommodating an open space can be. “Human behavior is going to take out a lot of the old contact center distractions, and we’re having to redesign all of our tools to accommodate this phenomenon,” Wartgow says.

There are also plenty of scenarios in which seeing and hearing from other team members can have its advantages for customer service professionals. For instance, newly on-boarded agents can benefit from being seated near more experienced coworkers who can assist them with difficult cases or interactions. The open space also enables newer agents to more easily seek guidance from supervisors, as it allows them to signal or gesture to them. In a closed office space, this is less feasible; getting a supervisor’s attention would require getting up from a seat and tracking down that individual.

Similarly, the open office can add a social dimension to what at times can be a dull or unstimulating job, Garfinkel says. Support centers that are more task-oriented—where the work can get drab and repetitive—might gain from an open floor plan that allows workers to congregate and converse in common areas. A sales-oriented contact center might benefit from the added energy of an open plan, she adds, as it might raise employees’ spirits to see their peers in action.

IT’S THE CUSTOMERS’ CALL

Still, there are other considerations any company must ask itself before committing to a particular office layout model. These questions should revolve around the needs of the company, its employees, and the overall corporate culture—but also, importantly, around the needs of customers.

A company that frequently handles cases where agents have to explain how to operate a complicated piece of equipment might benefit from a video chat option, for example. In those cases, the company should understand that agents’ work stations must accommodate the scenario. If a customer is going to be seeing the agent on the other end of the phone, not only should the agent be presentable but the space he is sitting in should be presentable as well.

“When you have agents who are doing things like fielding video calls, [the open office is] not necessarily the environment that’s conducive to a great customer experience,” says Keith Pearce, senior vice president of corporate marketing at Genesys. “We see all manner of things happening there. How do you introduce more elements that can mitigate the noise factor?”

Financial software firm Intuit solved for that by installing Chroma key screens on the backs of agents’ Aeron desk chairs. These screens prevented callers from seeing everything else that was going on in the office and mitigated most of the noise.

Companies that go with an open plan and have teams composed of blended agents assigned to handle all manner of interactions (email, chat, video, social media, phone, etc.) should be set up to know when a particular customer is of high value, and thus worthy of added attention, experts agree.

When, for example, an influential customer who could do some serious brand damage with a bad review comes on the line, the company could route that call to a “save” department dedicated to fielding such calls. That department should be situated in a more private location away from the potentially chaotic open space.

MAKING IT WORK

In general, companies need to design their contact center layouts to reflect the culture they’d like to achieve. If you’re trying to offer a better customer experience, then you should know that having agents crammed into a stifling and uncomfortable environment makes them likelier, for example, to become ornery and testy when interacting with difficult customers, Garfinkel states.

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