Have you ever considered working in a call center? It’s probably different than you think. Call centers have changed quite a bit in recent years. Here we’ll look at three compelling reasons to consider call center employment.
Demand for Call Center Professionals On the Rise
The US call center industry outsourced many of its positions overseas during the 1990s. However, beginning in the mid-2000s, that offshoring trend began to reverse. Since then, thousands of call center jobs have been onshored back to the US.
This new onshoring trend shows no signs of letting up. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects customer service call-center employment to grow 39% between 2014 and 2024.
While new centers continue to open and expand—often in employment-challenged states like Tennessee and Maine—the demand for both entry- and management-level employees is growing.
And though it may be true that few would describe a call center position as their “dream job,” much of the reasoning behind that occupational stigma is outdated. The truth is, for the right candidates, jobs in modern call centers have a great deal to offer.
Reason 1: Future Earnings Potential Higher Than Other, Similar Roles
One of the first questions most job seekers ask is, “How much will this job pay?” Searching on Glassdoor.com, we found entry-level call center positions averaging between $12 and $14 an hour nationally.
A comparable industry job seekers may be considering is retail sales; however, another Glassdoor.com search found retail sales starting positions in the $8 to $14 range. Right off the bat, you could be making more money in a call center than in retail sales (albeit not by much).
Mo Bellio, President of Call Center Training Solutions, has been consulting call centers and their staff for over twenty years. He explains that there’s a “totem pole” of call centers, based on their primary role.
“At the very bottom would be the agents in outbound telemarketing centers,” he says. “These are the ones calling on prospective—not existing—clients. That is where you very often will get the highest compensation, because it’s recognized that it’s the hardest job.”
In other words: those at the bottom of the totem pole typically have more challenging customer service interactions, but they are compensated for this with higher starting pay.
As you move up the totem pole, the customer interactions become generally smoother—but these roles also tend to have experience requirements.
Reason 2: You’ll Develop Valuable Skills and Experience
Call center agents might have over a hundred conversations per day. For each, they’ll have a checklist of specific tasks they must perform, such as starting with the correct greeting, asking the required questions and entering relevant data from the call.
Each call is an opportunity for agents to either improve their efficiency, or learn from their mistakes. Call center agents have more such opportunities per hour than those in most other occupations have in a week.
Call center jobs use a set of skills which, to many people, come naturally: for example, being a “people person,” solving problems and communicating well.
Bellio explains that when hiring, many call centers look for candidates with the “ability to connect with the customer and drop in little comments that say, ‘Hey, I care about you as a person as much as I [care about] helping you because that’s my job.’”
Of course, there’s more to the job than just communicating well with people. These days, customers can complete tasks such as checking balances and changing passwords online, without the help of customer service agents.
Justin Robbins, who develops training and professional certification courses for agents, supervisors and executives at the International Customer Management Institute (ICMI.com), explains why this matters.
“Because the customers can do so much with self-service methods, when they’re calling in to the call centers it’s often for more complicated issues,” Robbins says. “We need agents who aren’t just handling a simple ‘order-taker’ role, but people who know how to problem-solve; people who can think outside of the box.”
Call center supervisors also get the opportunity to hone their problem-solving abilities. Specifically, they learn the key management skill of negotiating compromise. We spoke with Dan Goodwin, director of customer interactive solutions at Dimension Data, an IT solutions and services company that manages over 500 global call centers, to learn more.
“Often, supervisors find themselves in a bit of a quandary,” Goodwin says. “They’ve got an operational goal to, for example, keep client interaction under four minutes. But they also have a company objective of satisfying every client to the best of their ability.
“Occasionally, those two things come into conflict, [e.g.] taking longer than four minutes to satisfy a particular client. So that’s part of their responsibility, as well: to decipher when is it sufficient to spend more time and satisfy a caller’s needs, [and when] to manage it quickly.”
Reason 3: Reliable Career Advancement
We won’t hide the fact that call centers have a high rate of employee turnover. They are fast-paced environments, and new agents who find they aren’t cut out for the job usually do so very quickly. But people who do well in this type of environment can really thrive—and so can their careers.
Andrea Ayers is one great example of the career potential the call center industry holds. Call center positions, she says, are “not a bunch of entry-level jobs that require no skill and don’t lead anywhere. That’s a common misperception. I started 24 years ago as a call center trainer.” She’s now CEO of Convergys, the largest call center management company in the world.
One of the keys to being a good call center agent is staying focused and motivated. Bellio advises new agents to get used to the monotonous aspects of the job, and focus their energy on helping each customer the best they can.
Maintaining a clear focus allows agents to help each caller individually, and the feeling of satisfaction when the agent has helped every caller at the end of the day keeps them motivated.
And the agents who are able to stay focused and motivated typically get promoted: first, to the position of “lead agent,” then to supervisor (and, potentially, beyond). Lead agents usually have at least one year of experience, and are expected to assist their team of a dozen or so agents when they have questions.
Bellio notes that lead agents are tasked with making sure new agents stay focused and motivated, too—because those who do will be next in line for promotion.
All of the experts we spoke with indicated that call centers prefer to promote from within. Justin Robbins of ICMI is himself a great example. He began as an agent cold-calling to sell newspaper subscriptions, then moved up to lead agent—and then to supervisor.
Robbins described his career ascension as a very natural progression. “A majority of the supervisors I talk to,” he adds, “started on the front lines [as agents].”
The call center industry has seen many changes in the past 20 years. An early offshoring trend has largely been reversed, with centers returning to the US at a significant rate. As customers now have more self-service options, call centers are handling more advanced services. Given all these changes and the career opportunities that come with them, there are many good reasons to consider working in a call center.