If you asked a hundred people their opinion on call centres, it’s more than likely the overwhelming viewpoint would be negative. It could be waiting time, mishandled queries, being passed from pillar to post or the fact the call centre is outsourced.
According to research carried out by YouGov, the most popular accents for call centre operatives in the UK to have are Queen’s English and Scottish, whereas Scouse is liked least. This may be one reason that companies are rethinking their decision to go abroad for the service. Such is the pressure on operatives to have desirable voices that staff in Bangalore and Delhi are told to practice and adopt a neutral or ‘global’ accent – not noticeably British or American – forcing their native tongue into the background. The desire for gainful employment is affecting a major part of their culture.
Absenteeism and Attrition
According to Dimension Data, absenteeism rates in call centres around the globe average 11%. While this may not sound particularly high, even a small reduction in operatives can have a major impact on the remaining staff. Having to deal with more calls means reducing individual call times, which leads to stress and dissatisfaction for both employee and customer. Attrition rates in call centres are even higher, averaging 20 to 30%, with companies spending large amounts of time and money on advertising, interviewing and training replacements. So what are the reasons for these trends and what can be done to counteract them?
Companies can set unrealistic FCR (first call resolution) targets, particularly as queries are becoming increasingly complex and take longer to resolve. This adds stress and can be demoralising. Call centres need to compare the cost of regularly hiring and training replacements with slightly reducing targets. Another area of complaint from employees is having to deal with a 30-minute call five minutes before their shift ends. If centres used a workforce management scheduling tool to optimise the ACD (automatic call distributor) then those operatives who were nearing a break could have calls rerouted.
Many operatives cite unreasonable managers and team leaders as the reason behind resigning. Rules are imperative for call centres to run efficiently, however it seems that many managers are overly strict and impose restrictions that have no bearing on the job, such as what colour tie to wear and no mobile phones allowed. When faced with the unduly officious manager or team leader, you can understand why a call centre operative may decide to go, particularly when targets are so relentless. So supervisors should loosen up and offer incentives for hitting targets or low absence. Rewards will motivate and lighten the general ambiance. Acknowledging an employee’s achievement is key, although praise should only be given when warranted, otherwise it becomes meaningless.
It’s interesting that the number of call centre companies planning to upskill their employees increases annually, however the hard truth is that most operatives say they have been given no clear CPD plan. As this industry tends to have a flat structure, staff feel there are few career opportunities, which is another reason for high turnover. Managers need to make the workforce feel valued and this is why further training and mentoring are vital, even if it means they eventually move on to assume a higher role elsewhere. In addition to the initial training that could be delivered through a flexible learning management system (Totara, etc) operatives should have ongoing teaching covering new products, compliance and the latest techniques for achieving a high rate of FCR. As call centre workers tend to work long hours, it would be most beneficial if the training could take place remotely in small chunks, at a time to suit the operative. Allowing employees to have some say over when and where to complete the modules will empower them, motivating them to be more productive. A knowledge management platform such as Promatum would allow companies with multiple call centre locations to train and monitor a large number of operatives at once.
Call centre operatives may use as many as ten different software systems, each designed for a specific purpose, at least some of which may not ‘play nicely’ with the other systems. Predictive diallers, workforce manager tools, automated voice-response systems, credit card security applications, ordering processing and CRM software are just some of the systems employed. If employees aren’t up-to-speed with how it all works, it could cause major headaches for both operative and customer. Buyers need to seek out specialist software firms that understand the complicated requirements of call centres and who can install fully flexible and integrated systems.
Although call centres may irritate us when forced to use them, larger companies couldn’t function without what they offer, especially when it comes to customer service, sales and technical support.