Customers have no way of knowing what a contact centre employee is wearing as they provide service over the telephone. So, does it matter what call centre staff wear to work every day?
Matthew Brown looks at the dress codes in today’s call centres.
Call centres are often away from public view, thus seemingly removing one of the benefits of a staff uniform – as part of a visible brand identity. But the way staff dress can affect morale in a call centre, and some organisations believe that a smart dress code can help improve performance.
Dress codes can be a minefield, and are always subject to interpretation.
According to the website dresscodeguide.com, a casual dress code can be pretty much anything tasteful and decent.
Smart casual means a collared shirt or polo shirt with trousers such as chinos, dockers or possibly fashion jeans for men. For women smart casual is a jumper, blouse, sweater or cardigan with a skirt, dress or trousers and shoes or boots. T-shirts and anything with a slogan are to be avoided.
At the smarter end of the scale, business standard for men is a suit jacket and matching trousers, formal collared shirt, usually with a tie, and formal leather shoes, preferably black. A blouse or suit with a smart skirt or tailored trousers and formal shoes with a low heel is the female equivalent.
These basic dress codes are varied endlessly by organisations. But how do they work for call centres?
Smart business dress code
Electrical product retailer Dixons uses a smart business dress code at its Sheffield contact centre. Men are expected to wear a collared shirt and smart trousers. A blouse and skirt or trousers are the norm for women. Since Dixons is open seven days a week, Friday, weekends and pay days are dress-down days, when staff are allowed to wear casual clothes.
Charity days provide occasions for themed fancy dress. Ties are not worn often, and all staff from sales agents to senior managers dress to the same code. Sales agent Nick Upton can see the benefit of dressing smartly:
“The smart dress code makes for a professional atmosphere and generally people stick to it,” said Upton.
But it can be difficult for managers to enforce the code at certain times of year.
“On hot days emails are sent round reminding everyone what the code is as standards slip,” said Upton.
Staff morale is well served by the chance to dress casually every so often, especially during antisocial working hours.
“I like the fact that you can dress down on Fridays and weekends, it makes it more relaxed,” said Upton.
A staff uniform can foster a sense of shared purpose amongst staff. It can give a contact centre a distinct identity, marking it out as a place where people are proud to work, and their service is valued.
Centrica’s award-winning British Gas contact centre in Cardiff introduced branded polo shirts, rugby shirts and fleeces for staff. John Connolly, Service Excellence Manager, credits the branded clothing as an important part of a turnaround in performance.
“On the journey we’ve been on over the last 3 years, bringing in the dress code was a big turning point,” said Connolly.
The uniform options were introduced to create a professional atmosphere when the company moved to a new contact centre 18 months ago. Staff had previously been free to choose how they dressed without restriction.
A change in dress code can sometimes draw groans of complaint from staff who aren’t keen to adjust their wardrobe choices. At British Gas, an extensive engagement process took the form of a special offer to staff – buy two company logo-branded polo shirts and get a third free.
It worked. The 1,200-strong team of advisors bought more than 3,500 shirts during the first few months. Staff attitudes towards work improved.
“When we started out 3-4 years ago, the media perception of British Gas wasn’t great. The guys in the contact centre probably felt it was a bit of a dirty secret to work for British Gas in the centre of town, they probably didn’t want to advertise the fact they worked here,” said John Connolly.
Employees are now regularly spotted walking around the city centre in their British Gas clothing, providing a massive brand-recognition boost. As a large provider of jobs in Cardiff, this reinforces the relationship with the local community.
The effect of the uniform also suggests employees react to their surroundings. Smarten up the business environment and perhaps the knock-on effect is employees feeling more motivated to do their jobs to the best of their ability. It has certainly worked for British Gas. The contact centre has just been named European Call Centre of the Year for the second year running.
Customers and the general public may not see call centre staff, but potential business partners will. First impressions matter. Potential partners or investors may be put off by scruffy staff.
Existing clients may also be impressed by staff, as Nottingham-based Integrated Communications Services discovered when they introduced a staff uniform. ICS gave branded polo shirts and fleeces for free, reducing the amount of money staff had to spend on work clothing. Smart clothing can be expensive. A free uniform can save staff money and prove a popular alternative to a smart business dress code. The company also found that staff came to prefer the uniform, as they didn’t have to decide what to wear each day.
British Gas and ICS are examples of how a staff uniform can work for a business. But some people believe a dress code can restrict employees unnecessarily.
Contact centre consultant Darryl Beckford believes employers can go wrong by trying to stipulate certain types of clothes that staff may or may not wear to work.
“Personally, I’m not that keen on dress codes. Often employers say that you must wear a tie, or that you can’t wear jeans. Yet I can make jeans, jacket and shoes with no tie look much smarter than an old pair of trousers, worn shirt and polyester tie,” said Beckford.
Employers could simply ask that staff look tidy, whatever type of clothing they choose. Some call centres find that their best-performing staff dress well regardless of dress code. Perhaps dress may be a symptom of high performance, rather than a cause.
“I’m not convinced that how people dress actually changes how they feel, but perhaps it’s better to consider that how they dress displays how they feel,” said Beckford.
Following this logic, managers can look at how staff dress to gauge an individual’s attitude towards their job. If a lot of staff begin to dress smartly over a period of time, without any dress code or rules, then it’s a good indication their attitude to work has improved.
So companies like British Gas, Dixons and ICS have used a smartened-up dress code or uniform to create professionalism or help transform their business. But ultimately, dress comes down to the individual. Someone will always manage to make a suit look scruffy or jeans look smart. Whatever dress code a call centre uses, perhaps the most important thing is to ensure that staff follow it.
Matthew Brown is an up-and-coming writer and the latest addition to the Call Centre Helper team.
What dress code do you use in your contact centre? Have you found any problems? We’d be interested to hear your opinions in the comments box below.
I guess it really depends on what values and culture you want to instil. Idefinitely think a uniform is good for companies that deal with the general public. But if you are a funky design agency or music production company a more relaxed dress code is better.
Thanks for the article. I’ve found this to be a fascinating study across call centers. I happen to be on-site with a client today who is business casual. I dressed up, wearing a suit coat (though no tie). It’s amazing the looks I get.
I’ve experienced centers who reflect all the options you mention in your post. I don’t believe that one answer fits all contact centres, since there are so many variables in corporate culture.
Interesting anecdote. We had a client who went from business dress (coat and tie atmosphere) to business casual. The week that the company went “casual” was the first time our call analysts had ever heard and employee use profanity with a caller. I couldn’t help but make the connection that a more casual dress may have led to a more casual conversation.
Many years ago we decided to issue all staff with branded polo shirts and it’s been a great success.
Staff like it and customers like it. It takes the hassle out of what to wear for work (plus there’s no ironing!)
Very topical article Matthew!
Wherever I’ve worked, dress code has always caused an issue. No matter if uniforms are issued or the instruction is business dress, smart casual or even dress down; there seems to be a problem at some point.
I visited a well known and respected call centre in Bristol last week and one of their current ‘staff issues’ is dress code so it’s a matter that is affecting call centres big and small.
Where I work currently we have the balance pretty much right. We often have visitors so ensuring the workforce is smart is important. We follow a business casual rule Monday – Thursday and mufti on Friday and with exception to the occasional pair of flip-flops or T-shirt we get on well but it is a topic that is raised several times through the year due to the way different people interpret business casual.
Great article Matthew.
Really interesting article. I’ve been involved in the “re-branding” of a Contact Centre in Cambridge and we have found that a smart new uniform has worked wonders; slightly different context as we are also responsible for providing some face-to-face services, but our Agents have walked taller and been spoken to with more respect; the uniform has been a great success.
I’m really interested in the photo shown of the Centrica centre; we’ve been searching for a similar display stand to attach to the desk dividers and hold Agent information – anyone know where I can find such a thing??
The article makes for interesting reading,
the contact centre in which i work employs a smart dress code Monday to Thursday with dress down on friday through to Sunday.
men are required to wear shirt and tie where woman are to wear a smart blouse or smart knitwear.
our dress down days do have restrictions however,
jogging bottomes are not to be worn as is sheer clothing unless there is a vest top underneath.
smart dress in the office has many advantages such as “feel profesional- Work profesional”
although some oppinions may vary “many people say why does dress code matter? we work on the phones no one can see what we are wearing. true,
but people forget in an office enviroment we are always subject to visitors in the office, and smart dress helps to portray a proffesional business image.
Earlier this year I took over the running of a Call Centre for a UK Holiday Company. I found there was no dress code with the Agents coming into work, in jeans, vest tops etc. As a Company we have a corporate uniform which all of our front line staff wear. I decided to take the plunge and give everyone a blouse/shirt to wear and it worked! Everyone now comes to work with a more professional attitude. We do have dress down days as well but do these for a charity, so they have to give a donation to wear their normal clothes.
I think there are some companies who are still in the stone age. I’ve worked for more than one company who make men wear a collar and tie but women can still come to work in a T shirt and no-one says anything. Any union worth its salt would have a field day with this – it’s sexist and probably illegal.
do people have issues with tattoos?
Giving employees a choice between a couple of different colours or styles (eg, polo shirt v sweatshirt) while staying within the dress code will always have a greater benefit than dictating a set uniform.
Great article. Just retweeted at twitter.com/xamax_clothing – so feel free to head over and continue the debate.
The office in which I work is basically a callcentre; 51% of my job is done over the telephone.
We had ‘dress down Fridays’ which soon turned in to ‘dress down paydays’ and the Fridays were scrapped.
I still can’t fathom why, but I think the psychological impact of large troops of people coming together, all looking similar, will bring about a more ‘workhorse’ attitude and thus would likely be better at driving forward targets.
With that said, I do just as much work when I’m in my suit as I do when I’m in my everydays – IE – whatever volume there sohappens to be on that given day.
I think forcing callcentre staff to wear one or the other can be an ‘equal opposites’ thing. Some prefer it, some hate it, either way, there’s always a mixed crowd. Some people work better in uniforms/suits. I believe it is not the responsibility of the employer to impliment dresscode that will suit the employees, but the responsibility of the employers to find employees that suit the dresscode. Where dresscode can be overall ‘company feel’.
Mutton dressed as lamb, etc etc
Company I working for has Company Polo Shirts however is a you can wear it if you want and most of us do wear Polo Shirts or Fleeces but we all have a Name badge that we wear on Lanyards and Name badges really made us more a team.
I would say if you don’t want go full uniforms why not try Name badges. There cheap and can be fun!
We have our Name, Job Title and a Fun Fact about us!
Corporate is a popular dress code in many workplaces. In general, corporate means dressing professionally, neat and pulled together while making a lasting brand impression