Cover Story

Interior Concepts Equips The Next-Gen Contact Center

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  October 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions

The next-gen contact center is one that is multichannel and multimedia, flexible, cost-effective and focused on ensuring performance through effective, work-enabling design.

Interior Concepts is ready to equip the next-gen contact center. The company’s design team works with contact centers every day and therefore knows the specific design requirements needed to create productive and functional spaces. For example its workstation systems uses one-inch thick panels that saves space compared to others with unnecessarily wide panels. Wider panels it says could mean fewer seats, and less revenue, depending on floor space. 

Interior Concepts’ lines are easily and readily customizable for each center. The firm uses ICE software that automatically engineers the furniture, determines material needs, and generates paperwork and computer code to facilitate the manufacturing process. The results are reduced quoting and engineering time, and improved project presentation via animated virtual tours. Thanks in large part to ICE Interior Concepts received a 2010 TMC (News - Alert) Labs Innovation Award, as reported in the September issue.

Interior Concepts also offers a wide and contact-center-intended line of task seating, training tables and ergonomic appliances including adjustable keyboard trays and task lighting. For example earlier this year it introduced the cool-running/energy saving Huron task lights.

Customer Interaction Solutions recently interviewed Interior Concepts president David Kendrick on a wide range of design issues. Here are the highlights of the conversation:

CIS:     What trends are you seeing in the marketplace for contact center furniture and appliances?

DK:      Although gradual, domestic centers are increasing the size of the typical agent station and seeking furniture designs and floor layouts that avoid the repetitious “cookie cutter” look. This is balanced by the need for density and maximizing the use of space, particularly given our economy. A competing trend, however, is more paperless work being performed from the centers, reducing the work area required per agent. Equipment such as flat screen monitor arms utilize less desk space and ergonomically correct keyboards can be incorporated in a manner that does not increase the overall footprints. Companies are also more willing to invest in the proper ergonomics equipment and training, recognizing that the cost of the equipment pales in comparison to the costs of carpal tunnel injuries; employee lost time; and increased worker's compensation premiums. These competing trends allow our customers to invest in higher quality furniture solutions while maximizing the use of their space.

CIS:     Contact centers are being buffeted by the rise of IVR/Web self-service, nearshoring/offshoring and home-based agents. The economic downturn have left many vacant centers, and with this availability of used furniture. Please discuss these developments, what impact they have had on Interior Concepts and how have you responded.

DK:      Our response to the economic downturn, and the results such as the availability of used and refurbished furniture, is to increase our investment in technology and how we serve our customers. For example, we were recognized nationally this year by both Managing Automation Media as the Progressive Manufacturer of the Year for a Small Company and by this magazine with a 2010 TMC Labs Innovation Award. These awards were based on our use of technology that allows us to provide virtual tours to our customers, with this same technology integrating throughout our manufacturing process. As a result our capture rate has increased dramatically, allowing us to more than compensate for business potentially lost due to negative business conditions. We also serve the Caribbean and Central/South America, so we are positively affected by providing furniture to many of these nearshore locations.

We typically serve our call [contact] center customers directly with the customer benefitting from the direct sales relationship, so our pricing is very competitive. It will certainly make sense in some cases for a customer to purchase an occupancy ready facility with existing furniture, or to purchase used or refurbished furniture. However, we find that most customers like the ability to create their own culture, including the furniture design and color schemes. With our direct selling and price competitiveness, we have not considered getting into the furniture refurbishing business; in a sense, we would be competing against ourselves.

With our heavy gauge structural steel frame, our furniture can be considered industrial strength; consequently we do not currently plan to address the home agent market. While this market will grow, it is really more of a RTA (Ready to Assemble) furniture solution with many very low cost furniture providers already serving that market. Our furniture is designed for, and our market is, the high demand 24/7 call center environment.

CIS:     Wireless LANs and VoIP are being deployed in workplaces including contact centers. What impacts if any do they have on furniture design?

DK:      One of our competitive advantages is that we offer custom furniture solutions; we do not sell standard sizes. We design and manufacture what the customer needs. Given this approach, it is easy for us to adapt to the needs of each individual call center. For example, if a customer needs more or less cable capacity, it can be easily accommodated without having to redesign a product offering. With our manufacturing abilities, wireless LANs and the use of VoIP have so far had a minor effect on our furniture business.

A more limiting affect on such things as furniture flexibility and mobility is electrical service to the stations. Even with wireless LAN usage, the stations, or runs of stations, are still tethered together to benefit from electrical service, thereby limiting the mobility of individual stations. As supervision and visibility is still a critical component of most centers, station mobility on the call floor still isn't a factor in most centers. Again, our custom approach allows us to adapt easily to the needs of individual centers.

CIS:     There is a greater emphasis in organizations ongoing green: in direct energy i.e. lighting, power and indirect i.e. heating/cooling consumption and in the use of recyclable materials. How have you responded?

DK:      The Interior Concepts furniture system is MAS Certified Green in compliance with BIFMA X7.1 Furniture Emission Standards. Our furniture system undergoes rigorous annual testing to maintain compliance. We meet LEED indoor air quality standards and based on the fact that we are green certified, contribute points to an overall building or facility being LEED eligible.

CIS:     What you are seeing in the way of ergonomics? What are the quantifiable benefits of ergonomically sound designs? What are you seeing from your contact center customers in the way of workstations, chairs and appliances to assist their employees?

DK:      There is a trend, albeit slowly, for centers to invest in the proper ergonomic equipment. Namely this equipment would include an adjustable keyboard, adjustable monitor platform, and of course seating.  

We do tell our customers that the proper equipment is half the battle; the second half is continuously training employees on the proper usage of the equipment. Statistics indicate that an average case of carpal tunnel syndrome has a lifetime cost of $30,000 including medical bills and employee lost time. Assuming an adjustable chair is a given, an agent station can be equipped with an ergonomically correct keyboard and monitor platform for an average of $300 per station. In doing the easy math, a 100-seat center could ergonomically equip the stations for the cost of one avoided case of carpal tunnel this is quite a return on the investment. Obviously the center would not be paying the initial medical expenses as that would be handled through employer-provided insurance or other means; however, with employee lost time/productivity and increases in worker's comp. premiums, it is costly for the center.

An interesting case study is that we installed a floor of ergonomically correct furniture for a customer while existing furniture remained on a second floor that did not have the ergonomic features. Over a one-year period there were 15 cases of reportable repetitive motion injuries from the floor with the existing furniture with only one case being reported from the floor with the newer ergonomically correct furniture. It was also noted that the one case was an employee that had previously worked at the existing furniture.

The ergonomic issue is truly a “pay less now” or “pay much more later” scenario. As an added note, in addition to the proper equipment and training, there are many more injury prevention measures that can be taken, including daily stretching exercises. 

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi