It’s easy to have a negative perception of what it must be like working in an Australian call centre. The media constantly portrays the ‘chicken pen’ mentality with rows of rows of call centre agents all working in a line with a supervisor hovering over their head with a whip. Need a toilet Break? Only in your allocated time otherwise its bad luck right?
Now like most industries, I’m sure there are a few rogue operators however the large majority of call centre operators are focussed on delivering a great experience for their staff and customers. So let’s clear up a few home truths on what it’s actually like working in the Australian call centre industry.
Call centres (or contact centres as they are now more accurately described) are typically at the forefront of staff management. With comprehensive Reward and Recognition programs, regular coaching, a strong commitment to training and a focus (and investment) in a positive culture you would be hard pressed to find a workplace that invests more in their people. It’s not necessarily because we think its a nice thing to do (although it is!) but the reality is good call centre staff are hard to find and we do our damn best to keep them. And there is some truth to the saying “happy staff = happy customers”.
Contact centres provide an amazing career opportunity. Starting salaries can be in excess of $45k with no formal qualifications and you can realistically work your way up the corporate ladder where the sky is the limit. There are some amazingly talented individuals now in very senior roles (like CEO, COO and CCO) who all started their journey in a contact centre.
Overseas, Australian call centre managers are in high demand as they generally are good at managing resources (we have to be given the high cost of our labour), have great people management skills, are commercially astute, are well versed in technology and of course, we have a great sense of humour!
Contact centres cater to people at all stages of their life, from new job starters where working in a contact centre teaches them a range of professional skills through to mums returning to work, actors in between jobs or retirees looking for that extra bit of income – call centres contain an amazingly diverse workforce!
It’s not just on the phones all day albeit, of course, that can be a large component. Contact centre agents today, however, are incredibly talented multi-skilled individuals who can manage conversations across multiple channels including the telephone, live chat, email, Facebook, Twitter etc.
These days it’s not uncommon to have full-time agents who work on Social Media responding to Facebook, Twitter etc who never take or make a phone call!
With some of the automation that has crept into our everyday lives such as Siri, Apps etc many of the more simple calls that used to be handled by a human have disappeared. I mean when was the last time you rang your bank just for a balance enquiry?
And even when customers still call, contact centres still try and minimise the calls getting through to a live agent using tools such as IVR’s (press one for this, two for that) or voice automation that are able to resolve the more simple enquiries leaving the more complex conversations with a ‘real person’.
Taking it to another level we now have automated chatbots that can handle an entire Pizza order or Voice Biometric tools that automatically identify you removing the need for the painful couple of minutes having to recite your date of birth, next of kin, mothers maiden name etc. Either way what it means is when you do actually speak to a live agent, the issue is typically a lot more complex.
The Australian contact centre agent is just as frustrated as you are with their work/jobs going offshore. If they had a dollar for every time they heard “Oh thank god you are here in Australia” they wouldn’t need to work!
The reality is though that Australian call centre are expensive compared to offshore destinations so trust me, when you work in a call centre in Australia management want to ensure you are being as productive as possible. In fact, offshore call centres can be up to 70% cheaper than the equivalent centre in Australia. We’ve got a good article called “Does a call centre location really matter” that provides some good insight into the challenges businesses face as to where to put their call centre.
Contact centres today are often the front door for an organisation (or the only door!) and organisations are investing more and more to ensuring the customer experience is a positive one, regardless of their channel of choice. And given the contact centre agents visibility and understanding of the broader business, we are often the ‘glue’ that brings different internal departments together to find an ongoing solution for the customer.
And think about this. The interaction a customer has with the contact centre agent is often the only interaction that a customer will have with an organisation. As such that contact centre agent is the brand ambassador – and the customer’s view of the entire organisation hinges on that experience.
Whilst firm numbers are hard to quantify, it is believed the Australian contact centre industry employs over 250 thousand Australians yet unlike other industries, it receives no government support or incentives to grow our industry. There is also no financial support or tax relief to businesses that want to keep their call centre work in Australia.
Working in a call centre is a lot harder than you think it is. A call centre agent is typically operating multiple computer systems, the phone system and having every second of their shift monitored through call recording, screen recordings, shift monitoring etc.
And this is on top of having a conversation with a customer at the same time, knowing all the product and services, having solutions to common problems etc.
The call centre agent is just as frustrated with long wait times as you are. Whilst call centres try their best to reduce wait times (there is actually a whole career and skill set about what we call Workforce Optimisation or WFM) the reality is that its impossible to accurately predict when every single person is going to ring a particular call centre. Its a fine line getting resourcing right – have too many staff on and you are paying for people to sit around waiting for calls all day, have too few staff on and it’s long wait times that frustrate customers and call centre staff (as its call after call with little rest in between).
When customers have been waiting a long time they are invariably already frustrated before we even start the conversation and then they spend 5 minutes telling us how frustrated they are – which just adds to the time the next customer has to wait! If you need a hand managing an angry customer we’ve got a few proven methods that will get them back on side.
Contact centres are often the internal recruitment channel for organisations as the contact centre agent possesses great customer service skills, can handle pressure, understands all the nuances of the products and services the company supports and they understand how to measure, improve and take accountability for improving their own performance.
Sadly most people associate contact centre work with telemarketing. And yes telemarketing calls done incorrectly can be annoying, even for us! Done correctly however, telemarketing still provides a valuable service and there is a range of reputable organisations that conduct telemarketing ethically and with great results. Customers who do not wish to be contacted can register with the Do Not Call Register and for Australian organisations, they face heavy fines for any breaches. Offshore based contact centres do not face the same scrutiny and more than often this is where most of the problems are occurring.
With our diverse Australian culture, just because someone has an accent don’t just assume they are overseas! I’ve had to console many an employee who has been verbally abused for not being in Australia just because they had a hint of an accent and in most cases, they were born and bred in our great country anyway! And while I’m on it, even if they are offshore – don’t take it out on the poor call centre agent who is just trying to do their job.
If its frustrating take it out on the CEO of the business who made the decision to send their call centre offshore or take your business elsewhere where they value the customer experience more.
The contact centre manager is an incredibly talented individual with call centres containing a mix of people management, technology and process optimisation skills wrapped up with the traditional business functions like Finance, Learning and Development, Marketing, Sales all under extreme pressure! Its no wonder we are seeing contact centre managers now moving into C-Level positions.
Whether it a stigma associated with working in a call centre, or that many people don’t consider what they do as call centre work, it’s often hard to get a true gauge of who or what is considered as call/contact centre.
I like to think of it that anyone that spends time liaising with internal or external customers across any digital channels as a key part of their role is part of the contact centre community. Perhaps its time though to let the term call centre or contact centre agents die a quick and painless death to be replaced with something more descriptive like a Customer Experience Professional? Or maybe you’ve got some better ideas for a new title?
So next time before you start taking out your frustrations on a call centre agent, think about the person at the other end of the phone who helps you in your time of need (emergency services), your finances (banking/superannuation), your peace of mind (insurance), your mental health (counselling), your home services (power, gas, water, solar, telecommunications), your hunger (food), your entertainment (pay tv, internet, gambling) or your spending (retail, sales) just to name a few and you might just find someone who is passionate about their job and is dedicated to ensuring you get the service and support you need.
And by showing them the respect they deserve, you might just find they will go that little extra mile for you.