Inspiring Motivation Through Workplace Wellness




My wife and I checked into a hotel a few months ago in a large Midwestern city. I looked across the street from the hotel and noticed a large call center which I pointed out to Mrs. Mitchell. She said, "How do you know it is a call center? I don’t see any signs or any other indication that building is occupied by a call center." Her response hit me like a Mack truck. What a great question, I thought. How did I know it was a call center? Were there any real clues or was I just clairvoyant?

This started a deep introspective thought process. I have visited hundreds of call centers and over the years I must have unknowingly developed some kind intuitive perception that allowed me to recognize what others apparently could not. Perhaps I was wrong and the building was actually a nondescript facility for tax cheats on a work release program. Or, even more exotic, an intentionally plain vanilla location for a CIA listening center.

I checked in to the hotel and asked the front desk clerk, "What is going on in that large building across the street" She said, "This is a reservation center for XXXX (a very recognizable company) and they have over 1,000 people working there." I looked at my wife, and smugly said, "See dear, I was right, it is a call center." "No," she countered, "The lady said it is a reservation center." Time to move on!

I unloaded my luggage and decided to drive across the street and try to understand why I instinctively knew this was a call center.

When Call Center Management Smells Stale

My first observation was that the call center’s building had the clear look of an abandoned, low cost department store. I later confirmed this to be true. There was barely any contour to the building and it was painted in a color I define as "stalag gray." It was easy for me to imagine how some bright paint, a few bricks, shrubs and colorful awnings could dress things up. I wondered if the building was secretly being prepared for housing Guantanamo residents. It was a very depressing first impression.

It was close to getting dark outside and I noticed there were very few lights in the parking lot. I hoped to find a visitor’s parking space near the call center building. There were none! But there were plenty of executive spaces boldly marked as "private!" Most of them were empty even though it was only 5:30 P.M. I parked two hundred yards away and carefully walked to the front door dodging potholes filled with recent rain.

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I introduced myself to the receptionist as a professor at the University of Wyoming who had done a lot of research in call center environments and asked if I could meet the manager on duty. She went to find the manager. I continued my observations of the facility to try to determine if there were things that clearly indicated that this was a call center.

There was mud on the floor. Admittedly it had been raining, but much of the mud had been dried and had been there since that morning. It didn’t seem to me to a big deal to have someone come in and clean up the floor once or twice during the day. There was a coffee station but the carafes were all stained and there was about two inches of stale coffee in the bottom. I was thirsty and I did find an old-fashioned water fountain that squirted out a low-pressure, quarter-inch stream of water. I sucked on that for a few seconds and then gave up. I sat in a chair that I prayed wouldn’t collapse and looked for some reading material. I found a slick brochure proudly proclaiming what a great employer the XXXX company was. I chuckled to myself at the irony. The only artwork on the walls were some dollar picture frames with "employee of the month" photographs. The whole atmosphere reeked of "cheap!" I wonder how job applicants must feel in this environment.

Call Center Management

I
looked in the men’s room and my suspicions were confirmed. It was glaringly apparent it had not been serviced for several hours. The paper towel dispensers were empty in two of the three dispensers and the waste receptacles were overflowing.

Eventually the call center manager on duty showed up and took me on a tour. His attire and appearance was a perfect fit with the environment. He needed a haircut, his shoes had not been shined since they came out to the box and clothes were wrinkled and didn’t match. When I observed the other call center supervisors, there really wasn’t much difference.

The call center agents were a perfect fit with the center, also. I observed a lot of body piercing and almost uniformly cluttered and messy workstations. In a few places I noticed distinct body odor. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that the call center agents were an exact mirror of the environment in which they worked. I thought, "there is not sense of pride in this building. This is just a job where you do just enough to keep your job, collect your paycheck and then go home."

As a university professor, call centers and human motivation have been a significant part of my research regimen. Honestly, I am not aware of any significant data which equates work environment with productivity. But, I sure as heck know it doesn’t hurt to keep things cleaned up.

First published on Call Center IQ