Call centres are much like governments or sports referees. When they are good, nobody comments, but when they are bad, they dominate conversations.
Bad call centre service has, in the past, created considerable damage to some brand images. Despite this, for businesses operating in certain sectors and industries, going without a call centre is not an option. These include industries such as banking, hospitality, telecommunications and basic services.
“While outsourcing your call centre function may be an option, it is important that those working in the call centre have an excellent understanding of the business,” says Lyndy van den Barselaar, MD of Manpower SA. “Therefore, if your product or service requires particular insight and technical knowledge in order to handle client interactions, there is a strong need for an in-house, hands-on team of experts to assist clients in ensuring the best possible client service.
She highlights that call centres are a vital interface between the brand and its clients and that an organised approach is critical. “Operating call centres is an expensive exercise, but not taking it seriously can prove even more costly to the business.”
One of the most difficult equations to get right from an employer’s point of view is how to apply the business’ budget in the best interests of the company. In some instances, a larger workforce is necessary to handle call volumes; in others, you may want to pay more for smaller, more skilled staff complement to handle complex requests. Although there are qualities in call centre operators that are required across industries, you may also need individuals who have acquired skills in a particular industry. Once this decision is made, employers can look for the people to fill the positions according to the company’s requirements.
“It is important to recognise from the outset is that the success of a call centres relies on its people,” says Van den Barselaar. “With 65% to 70% of call centre expenses going to staff costs, a simplified way of defining a call centre is: an investment in people to maximise customer experience. It is therefore vital to create a positive environment filled with people who not only work well for the business, but are able to work well with each other and the clients.”
Because call centre vacancies tend to be positions that attract many applications, the sifting process has to be thorough, to ensure the best possible candidates are chosen. While many applicants view a call centre career as an excellent opportunity for experience and career growth, there are also many who see it as a last resort. Therefore, separating the interested from the desperate is one of the most important, and possibly the most difficult, tasks for the human resources department.
“With call centre employees, it is important that the interview process is extremely thorough,” explains Van den Barselaar. “Employers should not shy away from asking challenging questions, as they are looking for someone that can remain composed in a high-pressure environment. The interview should also answer all the other critical questions, such as the applicant’s language proficiency, computer literacy, industry knowledge, soft skills and any other considerations that are critical to the position.”
“We encourage those looking for work in the call centre environment to not view it as a stopgap position until something better comes up, or a dead-end job. There are many opportunities to further one’s career in the industry if you are willing to work hard. There are a number of accredited courses that you can complete to become a more specialised consultant. There is an ever-increasing demand for call centre consultants who are skilled, trained and experienced.”