How many of you reading this chose contact center management as your career?
Like many of you, I “fell” into this industry. I had just graduated college, was willing to take pretty much any job I could find, and landed at a company that had recently launched a large call center. Back then, simply having a call center was cutting edge, and this was appealing to someone starting a career. As I moved into different roles, I realized how challenging and promising the environment was, and stuck with it ever since.
Today, the presence of a call/contact center is not exactly cutting edge. Yet everything else that appealed to me back then is still intact in our industry:
- We are people-centric, so developing great leadership skills is a necessary ingredient for success.
- We utilize advanced technology, and managers need to understand the applications and possibilities to get the most from it.
- Numbers are everywhere, offering opportunities to put analytical skills to great use.
- We respond to demand in real time, requiring an ability to remain cool under pressure.
- We are entrusted with the lifeblood of the organization—the customer.
Few professions require such well-rounded skillsets. Every day puts both sides of the brain to the test, and those that have enjoyed success in our industry are exceptionally adept at juggling demands. Leaders looking for the easy way out need not apply.
You would think an industry requiring such highly skilled people, thriving across the globe in terms of size, would be viewed as a top career destination for achievement-focused management professionals. In some regions, and in some companies, it is. In too many regions and too many companies, it simply is not.
The reasons for this lack of status are varied and are much more opinion than fact. At its core, I believe, are four missing ingredients that have held us back over the years:
- Programs and degrees at major universities. Yes, some programs can be found, but you would have to look hard for them. At most major educational institutions, there is no path to our industry that would capture the attention of a young, eager, promising student who hasn’t yet committed to a career.
- A direct line to the “C” level. Yes, some companies have recently instituted a Chief Customer Officer (CCO). Unfortunately, they are more the exception than the norm. Usually, contact centers follow some jagged path to the top that might end at CIO, or CMO or COO. The fact that there is little agreement on where we should report is not a good sign.
- An appealing starting point. Yes, some companies truly value frontline agents, paying them well and showing high regard for their opinions. Many don’t, and this has created an image that puts “call center rep” just slightly ahead of “fast-food employee” in the minds of many.
- A strong advocacy group that brings the profession together. Yes, we have a few networking and similar type groups. Human Resource professionals have the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), with over 275,000 members in 160 countries and an advertising budget that puts them on television fairly often. We have nothing that even remotely compares to that.
Let’s not walk the plank just yet—all is not lost. Those of us in the know realize this is a pretty good gig. Our jobs are important and challenging, and compensation at supervisory and management ranks is fairly good and getting better. Service is increasingly seen as a competitive differentiator, and that trend will serve us well in the future.
But let’s not get complacent either. If we do not address those missing ingredients, there is no way we will be able to lift the ceiling. The long-term solutions are not simple and will take a multifaceted approach. The short-term is a bit easier to contemplate, and involves two key action steps:
- All of our centers have frontline agents, and we can all make an effort to increase the value and respect the role even more than we do today. Some steps are small, like permanently banishing the phrase “butts in seats” from the organization’s vocabulary. Others are larger, like getting staff off the phone and into cross-departmental projects more often. Let’s forge ahead with these moves.
- We have to start (or, more accurately, re-start) the conversation regarding an advocacy group. We simply will not make any substantial headway without it. I don’t know the answers, but I am happy to get the ball rolling. I invite you to join the effort. If you have some ideas about strengthening our industry and can commit to being involved, sign up here (and provide a good idea or two regarding an advocacy group, if possible). I will commit to at least gathering the inquiries and getting things started, and we can see what transpires from there.
Raise Our Image
A job is something you accept. A profession is something you choose. The work we do is far too important to be left to people that are simply filling jobs. Raising the image of our profession will serve to lift the opportunities for everyone who has found their way to our industry.