Blog Greater leadership for Call and Contact Centre Workers in 2014 and beyond November 26, 2013

A better future for a neglected and under-valued specie. What are our industry leaders doing?

Do you think call centre employees receive the training, respect, visibility, gratitude, recognition and compensation they deserve?

We all know what it’s like to be saved and delighted by a smart call centre agent who is genuinely willing to help and takes actual interest, initiative and responsibility in solving our problem. Someone who makes sure we’re a satisfied customer at the end of the call.

Before getting this result, we’ve often vented our feelings of frustrations or anger, and perhaps even blasted the agent on the other side of the phone.

Have you ever considered what’s like being in the receiving end? For these workers it’s not just about being willing and brave, it is – above all – about being smart in recognising and managing their emotions, and the emotions of their callers. It’s also about being optimistic and resilient by taking call after call throughout the day, as well as being creative in providing solutions. Certainly, not everyone’s cup of tea!

The real cost of working at a call centre

Call or contact centre employees work in highly demanding emotional environments, yet they are often poorly equipped or supported to deal with such demands.  In fact, it’s been said that call centres are ‘the poor cousin within the company’, and the work is ‘painful’, yet they receive an average annual salary of just $45,147.

The recent ‘GenM 2013: One Year On’ study conducted by Jabra in the UK, ranked call centre workers as the most unhappy and isolated group of UK office workers. They experience the highest levels of emotional issues amongst office-based workers, with an alarming 81% indicating some form of emotional or physical issue at work.

But how’s the Australian landscape? According to Linda White, from the Australian Services Union (ASU), call centre staff are among those most likely to suffer serious [verbal] abuse. The ASU is committed to ensuring call centre workers enjoy the same, high level working conditions as the rest of an organisations employees, and that all workers are valued and paid fairly.

Are Australian call/contact centre workers getting a fair go?

Professor Paul Patterson, Australian School of Business, warns of the dangers if we keep pumping the pressure in the vessel. He explains that most cases of customer rage stem from a sense of lack of fairness.

The fact of the matter is that poorly managed call centres significantly affect a company’s bottom line. The industry is a major employer and an integral part of our nation’s economy.

Consider for a moment the banking industry, which makes extensive use of call centre agents.

The big four banks racked up $27.4 billion in cash earnings between them this year – an average yearly increase of 9.5 per cent. Australia’s big banks, major employers of call centre agents, have been amongst the most profitable corporations in recent years, yet call centre agents appear to be underpaid, neglected and under-valued. How is this consistent with our economy, one of the largest capitalist economies in the world with a GDP of US$1.57 trillion and a total wealth of 6.4 trillion dollars?

A better investment for better results

This year, I had the privilege to do some work for a leader firmly committed to making a real difference to the industry – entrepreneur and visionary, Linda Simonsen, CEO and founder of FuturePeople Recruitment,  no ordinary recruitment firm, but a truly futuristic company!

Simonsen understands that investing in agents’ personal and professional development by increasing emotional and social literacy and capability, truly pays off for all stakeholders involved: agents, customers, organisations and the Australian economy as a whole. For the organisation, such investment translates into greater agent productivity; delivery of greater customer experiences; faster resolution of complaints; and increased customer retention and loyalty – that is, repeat business, enhanced reputation and positive referrals.

Equipping agents with emotional and social capabilities provides a greater sense of self-confidence, reliance and optimism. The relationship between emotional intelligence and performance in call centres has been scientifically documented.   In turn, we know this leads to sales success, as an optimistic team is able to increase sales dramatically. Therefore, this type of training turns call centres into true revenue-generating profit centres.

The way of the future for call/contact centres

According to Simonsen’s research, ‘Looking to the Future the 2013 contact centre trend, salary & leadership report’, a revolution is under way. Call centres of the future may come to be called “customer engagement centres” and agents of the future will need to be more soft-skilled (e.g. emotional and social intelligence). While the customer is ready, says the report, is the industry prepared for it?

Simonsen’s vision and commitment is that of changing the industry and she’s is already taking steps to do so. To this end, and using the latest the latest approaches in leadership development, she has launched the most comprehensive and unique emotional intelligence-based EQ+ FutureLeaders program for call centre team leaders ever offered to the industry. The program includes a mentoring component using top industry leaders and the overall initiative is designed to prepare tomorrow’s leaders, today.

Are we prepared to take the first step?

It is time, I believe, to show our collective support (both as consumers, HR professionals and practitioners), gratefulness and appreciation by elevating call centre employees to the status they truly deserve. How can we better contribute to lift game Australian Call Centre industry?

Perhaps we need more leaders like Simonsen to step their game and show us what OZ leadership is all about by making a real difference!