Dress Code in the Call Center

Greetings from San Antonio, Texas…where things are a heckuva lot warmer than they were in Iowa when I left yesterday!! Today’s post comes courtesy of an unexpected moment of synchronicity. My group members and I were out to lunch with our client and the subject of dress code in the call center came up. The client, in this case, has a fairly strict business dress-code which fits with the business and their brand. "Casual Days" are rare/occasional – usually linked to the CSR paying a few bucks towards a local charity initiative sponsored by the company.

Then I returned to my hotel room to find an e-mail from a regular reader with this question:

In call center only environment (no customer/client visit’s)
do you feel that a business vs. business casual vs. casual dress makes a
difference on the level of service agents give to customers?

Okay, I guess I’m supposed to post about dress code today!

First of all, I’ve witnessed call centers that are successfully run with a variety of dress codes from casual to strictly corporate. The appropriate dress code for your call center should be based on consideration of a variety of factors.

  • What is the image/brand your CSRs represent? A conservative, international, top-tier financial services firm might not want their CSRs wearing flip-flops and bermuda shorts – but it might work very well for a travel/entertainment company. There is an subtle but real connection the CSR makes between their work attire and the brand they represent.
  • Is there a connection between dress and behavior? Yes. One of our long term QA clients switched from corporate dress to casual dress a few years back. We had never heard profanity or inappropriate language used on the phone until the switch in dress was made. The month the CSRs were allowed to dress casually we began hearing "casual" conversation that included street language inappropriate for the business conversation. While the company chose not to return to corporate dress, they did have to tighten the dress code and the QA reigns to get professionalism back on course. Does this mean it’s impossible for CSRs who dress casually to be "corporate" on the phone? No, they can do it – but it’ll probably be a tougher road to hoe on the ol’ QA sojourn.
  • On-going management of policy. The managers I spoke with at lunch today conveyed a wish to have a more casual policy, but in the same breath admitted that managing "casual days" required a frustrating amount of energy. CSRs would show up with attire that took "casual" too far (e.g. showing so much skin that it became a distraction to everyone around). Managers would have to address these issues, send CSRs home to get changed, have long internal discussions about what was appropriate and then communicate this to the front-line (you can imagine the time spent in numerous meetings to accomplish this). I remember one call center I used to visit that contained big posters with pictures cut out of catalogs and magazines to show CSRs what was appropriate and inappropriate. Is this good or bad? All I’m saying is that call centers who have a corporate or strict business-casual policy don’t seem to have as many of these distracting issues.

I hate to get all "Joe Friday" on you – but those are just the facts ma’am – along with my thoughts and experiences. Our group doesn’t have a cookie-cutter QA scale for all call centers because call centers, customers, markets and companies can be very different and one-size doesn’t fit all. The same can go for dress codes. What works for the Party-Time Cruise Line call center probably won’t be the same as what works for the First International Finance Bank call center.

Flickr photo courtesy of Parvati

11 thoughts on “Dress Code in the Call Center

  1. “What is the image/brand you’re CSRs represent?”
    I like THAT question…of course I would.
    But apart from my self-interest in branding – that is the right question to be asking.
    I recently presented “Branding your IT Department” to a room full of CIOs. And I said something very similar.
    Departments need to know and demonstrate their brand. Just as much as the entire company needs to do the same. Alignment between the overall corporate brand in the marketplace and individual departments is a given in brand ownership.
    I think resistance to observations like the one you make Tom come from those that realize they’ll need to improve their leadership to improve their Call Center.
    Branding a department isn’t easy, but it is important.
    Keep creating,

  2. Tom:
    Great post. I have often overlooked the dress code issue because I like casual…I worked for an insurance company long ago and did the suit every day gig. Hated it. I’ve been in creative environments practically ever since and have come to appreciate business casual AND casual.
    However, when the data shows that clothing effects the brand, my eyes open up wide. And I can’t agree with you more. In fact, we’ve been talking with clients lately about purposely dressing to support the brand…ie why not give jerseys to “team” members for casual Fridays? Why not chose logo wear that actually looks good rather than stuff that’s cheap? Why not give logo wear that employees would be proud to wear outside the office, where they can represent the brand?
    Thanks for the eye-opener!

  3. Of course there is quite a considerable range of styles between “shorts and flip-flops” and “Wall St Corporate”. The former is probably never appropriate in any business environment (okay, except possibly working from home… where I have been known to dress pretty un-corporate). But requiring people who take calls all day from the most important people in your business (customers) to dress up in the “suit’n noose” seems overkill to me.
    As a consultant I absolutely don’t minimize the importance of the messages that dress sends. I always show up at a client site in suit and tie the first day, even if I’ve been told its “casual” beforehand. It shows that I respect and take them seriously. But I don’t work there every day either. And in a lot of call centers, the dispensation from formal attire is widely regarded as a “benefit”.
    Seems to me that striking the right balance in the definition of “business casual” is a small thing that can pay big rewards. Frankly, even in cases where the call center IS a “showcase” for clients or associates, I doubt the presence or absence of ties has anywhere near the impact people imagine it does.

  4. Hi Tom, I’m with you that dress makes a difference in demeanor. If a smile on your face makes a difference in how you speak to someone else, then certainly dress does as well. It creates an ambiance or overall affect.

  5. Tom, Absolutely agree.
    Dress the Brand.
    PS: I noticed you mentioned San Antonio. If you get freed up, be sure to bounce over to the Stock Show & Rodeo. Would love to hear your report.
    Odd timing I guess, however posted about this event earlier today on our site related to their use of YouTube to help promote their events.

  6. Thanks for the great comments, folks!
    Mark> I was going to mention a client in my post that did just what you suggested. They provided “logo wear” that was classy yet casual and the call center team always looked the brand. Good idea.
    Steve> you raise some great issues. Our group follows similar procedures, though we try and “set an example” for the front-line agents at our client call centers by being dressed just a step or two above what is required. We’ve also, in the past, asked the client’s executive team how they want us to dress – which is usually some form of “show my people how to dress professionally”.
    Robyn> Right on!!
    Matt> Unfortunately, we were pretty booked up in meetings. I didn’t see much but the inside of the call center and my hotel room – but there were definitely ALOT of people in town for the Rodeo! Wish you would have been there. We could have hooked up and you could have given me an expert tutorial.

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