New customer skills needed in contact centres
As the UK economy continues to improve, experienced professionals are finding new employment opportunities in the evolving customer contact centre space. Continuous adoption of new technology is revitalising the industry, creating a shift in the kinds of skills needed by employers and impacting on how these roles are filled.
Although initially focused on preserving the traditional voice-only model, many contact centres are now actively embracing online services to meet client needs. Multi-channel options – such as mobile applications combined with call-back services, social media platforms or web chats that guide users through a purchase – are making it easier to effectively engage with customers.
As organisations become more digitally integrated and expectations about the level and method of customer engagement increases, companies are moving away from large, self-sustained customer contact centres in favour of more cost-effective UK outsourcing providers. These streamlined operations allow companies to invest in roles for highly-skilled specialists – both interim and permanent – that can address the digital skills gap in their organisations.
No longer able to differentiate purely on the basis of product or price, businesses are pushing to distinguish themselves from competitors by enhancing the customer experience. Recruitment has become a key way for organisations to maintain the quality of their digital service offering, with employers in the customer contact space under increasing pressure to secure the best candidates available.
In the past, marketing departments typically employed customer insight specialists to advise on the best way to increase customer engagement within a business. Using available feedback and real-time data, these individuals identified opportunities to improve loyalty and maintain long-term customer relationships.
Thanks to the adoption of more sophisticated online customer service tools, these customer experience roles are becoming increasingly popular within call centres, allowing businesses to shape their service offering based on what customers are saying. Positions ranging from customer service analysts to director of customer experience are demonstrating the importance of this unique skill set and creating job opportunities for professionals within the industry.
To stay competitive, employers are also capitalising on the expertise of experienced contact centre professionals by matching them with digital service channels and customer sectors that are best suited to their skill set. Areas with emerging opportunities for specialists include social media engagement, virtual contact centres, virtual agents and home workers, speech and text analytics and cloud solutions. However, with employment demand increasing and fewer new staff entering the market, senior contact centre employees are taking the initiative to acquire digital skills in order to get up to speed with new technology and fill vacant roles.
Though the recent closure and consolidation of several large UK call centres have caused some to question the industry’s level of job security, this development isn’t as negative as one might assume. Rather than signifying a decrease in number of roles available, these developments are indicative of the shifting demand for call centre staff.
Companies are opting to recruit more contractors and interim positions at the senior level than ever before. Call centre employees have skills which are extremely transferable and employers are recognising the benefits of bringing experienced professionals in to help them develop a road map for their evolving contact centre strategy.
Roles that are seeing increased demand in the contract space include specialists in transformation, online services, customer experience and resource planning. These opportunities, in addition to creating value for employers, are also attractive to candidates because they are abundant and well-paid. Depending on the level of expertise, contract rates can range from roughly £400 to £1,200 per day.
While permanent positions for more experienced employees in the customer service and call centre sector can be harder to come by at the moment, the employment growth created by the shift towards digital and availability of interim assignments does provide some relief. Plus, recruiters are still being inundated with requests from companies looking for individuals who are seasoned call centre veterans, with experience meeting exceptional service standards and effectively delivering on targets.
Salaries are also responding to the changes taking place in the customer contact space. Figures are extremely sector specific – for example, professionals in the financial industry typically earn more than those in leisure or hospitality. Experienced candidates entering the market with the right mix of skills can negotiate a much better deal if they meet needs of a particular employer.
For those thinking about making a move, it’s worth speaking with recruiters to develop a better understanding of what employers in your sector are willing to offer for various skill sets. There are companies who are prepared to pay significant sums for experienced interim staff to help them achieve specific goals or overcome challenges in the organisation.
In some cases, call centre professionals earning £70,000 annually have moved to take advantage of the boom in contracting opportunities – earning up to £1,200 a day. However, the downside to this lucrative trend for recruits is that, although contracts are readily available at the moment, employment demand can drop suddenly, leaving individuals unexpectedly unemployed.
In the next five to 10 years, customer contact centres will need to continue to adapt in order to stay competitive and keep up with the next wave of technological innovation. Businesses will have to manage changing customer expectations head on by continually up skilling their workforce – either on a permanent or interim basis – to ensure staff have the necessary abilities and experience. This outlook with continue to generate employment opportunities for individuals with solid resource planning, management and digital engagement skills.
As the industry continues to change shape with the improving economy, it’s important to remember that management, analytical and planning skills will always be highly valued by employers in the customer contact space. Though the adoption of new technology continues to impact job growth and the types of candidates that organisations are looking for, the employment outlook for the sector as a whole is positive – a fact that should offer peace of mind to professionals as the industry continues to change shape.
Samantha Elvin is principal consultant at specialist recruitment consultancy, MERJE: