Call Centre Jobs and Careers
Rarely will you go through an entire week, fortnight or month without talking to a member of staff at a business call centre about an aspect of their service or product. At other times, you'll receive a call from a centre.
There can be no doubt that call centres, also called contact centres, are here to stay. This means they now represent a significant area of employment, with immense numbers of customer service agents recruited every year.
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What Exactly is a Call Centre?
Major corporations and businesses, including telephone and internet service providers, and banks, frequently centralise their customer service functions into a single office. Sometimes this is staffed by their own directly employed personnel, while sometimes the work is outsourced to an agency.
The main function of the call centre is to respond to incoming calls or make outgoing calls to customers. Incoming calls may be to help desks, payment information, sales support, and product orders and information. Outgoing calls are usually concerned with payments, mail order products, service information, customer care or telemarketing. These are known as 'inbound' or 'outbound' calls, with different staff employed for each.
Call centres are often divided into departments to reflect different areas of the businesses' activities. Customers may call and be routed to different areas, with all their data tracked on databases held on computer networks. These networks include mainframes, microcomputers and Local Area Networks. The services are technology driven, meaning that phone calls are only one means of communication - texting, emails and online chat are amongst other routes used.
Call Centre Duties
Call centre staff usually sit at a single cubicle with a screen, keyboard and telephone head set. Their main responsibilities for inbound staff involve some or all of the following:
- Taking telephone calls from customers and responding to their requests.
- Providing customers with service or product information.
- Resolving issues identified by the customer by operating a computer system.
- Transfer customer calls to the relevant departments.
- Following up enquiries that haven't been resolved during the call.
Outbound staff are usually concerned with the following:
- Selling a product and entering order details in the computer system.
- Contacting customers about unpaid accounts and billing issues.
- Handling credit applications from customers.
Call centre operators are usually seated in arrangements that reflect their teams. A supervisor is nearby and within reach if there is an issue with a call. This multi-tier support system makes call handling more efficient. The operators on the first tier handle calls initially, forwarding them up to the next tier if it is more complex or greater decision making powers are needed. There may be three or even more tiers, depending on the business and the range of its activities.
Roles include customer service representative or agent, technical service or support, supervisors and managers, and workforce schedulers. Background roles include human resources personnel, training manager and officers, quality monitoring or assurance personnel and IT development and support teams. A CV writing service can help you prepare a good CV for any of the above roles.
Who Is Suited to Call Centre Work?
It's generally recognised that this work can be high-pressured and unrewarding at times. Most centres are open for very long hours, with staff required to work into the late evening or on shifts covering 24 hours. To gain employment and thrive in the roles, you need the following attributes.
Call Centre Skills and Abilities
Above all, you need to have good verbal communication skills combined with a generally friendly manner. The reasons are obvious: you will be conducting most of your communication by telephone.
Computer knowledge and an ability to work with IT systems are important in call centre jobs. Fast and accurate keyboarding skills are needed, so that you can enter data on the computer system while conducting a conversation with a customer. You may need to use a customer relationship management system. Being able to learn to use new technologies is important, as the hardware and software used can change rapidly. You have to be able to operate systems while on a call.
Working under pressure is something you'll need to get used to - fast. Workloads can vary but you will frequently be taking one call after another. Customers frequently get frustrated and are angry or rude. No business is happy to have its customers kept waiting for long periods of time, so you need to be able to work very quickly at peak times. Efficiency in answering calls and volume of calls dealt with are critical to the business. You are frequently the customer's single point of contact for the entire company, so being efficient and friendly, no matter what comes at you, is important. You need to have self control.
All of this you must be able to do accurately and under pressure, working to a consistently good standard. There are times when you may need to work to deadlines, or meet targets.
It's a given that you must be pleasant and friendly when handling calls. Not every customer can communicate well, so you need to be able to identify an issue or concern, despite a caller being confused or inarticulate. You still have to treat every caller with respect, no matter what you really think of them.
You'll need to attend many training sessions and you must be happy to take feedback on board. Many calls are recorded and the quality of your work will be monitored.
This pressured environment in call centre work can throw unexpected demands your way, so you need to be adaptable enough to deal with these, without becoming stressed. Flexibility is valuable, as you may be asked to work extra shifts or overtime. You need to be prepared to compromise some non-work arrangements in this case.
Punctuality and dependability are vital, as your team will need you available at a particular time, otherwise everyone else's workload increases.
Ability to work well as part of a team- to exhibit objectivity and be open-minded towards the ideas and views of others, give as well as welcome feedback, contribute to building team spirit and aid others to succeed.
Good social skills are important. When callers are difficult, you will need to be understanding rather than defensive or combative. Most employers will give you training in techniques for doing this. Learning good listening skills, as well as understanding the organisation's systems, will help you to prevent situations escalating unpleasantly.
If you're making outbound calls and are involved in selling, you need to have an outgoing personality and the strength to keep making those calls despite knock backs. If you're chasing creditors, you need to have an assertive manner and the ability to stick to the point, unswayed by customers who are evasive or who are getting upset.
The Positive Aspects of Call Centre Work
Yes, there are some positive sides to this work! If you have a friendly, outgoing nature, you can enjoy many easy-going chats with the people you're in contact with. Helping people find solutions to their problems can be immensely satisfying, although this depends on the business.
Not many qualifications are required for call centre jobs and the work is relatively easy to come by if you have the right personality and abilities. Once you have experience under your belt, it shouldn't be hard to find alternative employment, either in another business or geographical area.
If you're involved in outbound calls and are successful to closing sales, the financial rewards of sales commission can be considerable.
The work is stable and relatively unaffected by economic turbulence, as it is crucial to business survival. For those who are motivated, the opportunities to continue training and move to the role of supervisor are always open.
How to Get Started
As already mentioned, there are different kinds of call centres. First, establish whether you are interested in inbound or outbound work.
Numerous employment agencies advertise call centre jobs. Make sure you can identify which are inbound or outbound - if commission or OTE (On-Target Earnings) is mentioned, then sales and cold calling are usually involved.
Update your CV to emphasise the personal qualities and abilities listed above. One advantage of visiting employment agencies in person to enquire about these jobs is that your IT and keyboarding skills will be tested in the office, improving your chances of employment.
Some companies will ask you to undertake some test telephone calls, to ascertain whether you are naturally courteous and aware of 'phone etiquette'. They'll also wish to know whether you speak clearly. These preset tests are undertaken with a digital answering machine and an onscreen script with prompts.
Job Sites for Call Centre Jobs
Call Centre Jobs may be found on some dedicated websites, such as:
Outbound call centre jobs sites include www.simplysalesjobs.co.uk.
Most employment agencies that list office or commerce jobs will include customer service centre vacancies. Agencies include Reed.