THE BLOG

Are Call Centre Jobs About To Become Far More Interesting?

23/01/2014 11:07 GMT | Updated 24/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Consumers don't care about outsourcing. It's actually a dirty word to the average man on the street. It means cost cutting and job slashing - unless you are an industry insider managing the slashing so your perspective is different. It's no surprise that Private Eye regularly presents outsourcing stories as industrial disasters.

But the outsourcing that most people know and hate - customer service call centres - is only set to expand in 2014. Why would that happen when customers don't like it?

Serving customers has become a very complex business. In the past a product might feature a free phone number you could call to contact the manufacturer. That changed to emails and that changed to Instant Messaging and text messages. But as each new way of reaching a company to complain about a product was added they didn't remove the old methods - you can still write a letter to brands and expect a response, even if it is easier to email.

Retailers are calling this 'the omnichannel' and getting it right is like finding the Holy Grail. When I spoke recently to the industry analyst Stephen Loynd, Global Program Manager, Customer Contact at Frost & Sullivan, he told me that this is probably the single most researched area of customer service at present.

This mixture of methods a customer can use to talk to a brand is often called multichannel service - you can see Top Shop on Twitter, Marks & Spencer on Instagram, and over a million people like Tesco on Facebook. But offering more ways to get in touch is useless if they are not all connected in some way so the call centre agent already knows you emailed them an hour ago when you call in frustration to find out why nobody replied. Getting that right is what omnichannel service is all about and very few brands have really made it work - yet.

Alistair Niederer, UK Chief Executive of probably the biggest customer service company in the world, Teleperformance, explained to me that his clients are relying on what his company and his rivals can do more and more.

"There has been a shift in the past year where I have found that our clients want to rely on their partners for more work around customer experience transformation. I think that this will require a lot of highly skilled knowledge workers to be achieved," he said.

What Niederer is saying is interesting for two communities, people looking for jobs and companies trying to offer service to their customers.

First, for the business executives; it is becoming almost impossible to serve every channel internally so companies are almost forced to now work with a customer service expert. This is not just because the number of channels customers want to use has exploded, but now customers expect to get a response from a brand if they post something on Facebook and don't even send their message directly to the brand. It's a data analysis problem now as well as just a customer service function. Customers expect their comments on service to be found and acted on.

Second, for the job seekers; the contact centre industry is going up market. They will need to hire people with fantastic communication skills to represent major brands and this is good news for the agents because it means that customer service finally offers a proper career path that can evolve over time.

Because major brands like Tesco and Sainsbury's are doing so much customer interaction transparently on social networks in full view of millions of customers they need great communicators and this is going to create some fantastic job opportunities.

However, I don't think anyone in the industry has yet worked out how to price a fantastic agent who is brilliant on Facebook, compared to a regular agent who is just taking one-to-one calls. In theory the customer service company should be able to charge an enormous premium for their star agents, some of which should flow into the back pocket of the agent in the contact centre, but I doubt this is really happening yet.

So maybe outsourcing isn't so bad after all? Brands wouldn't be able to offer the customer service that consumers expect if they didn't work with an expert in the business and it's also creating thousands of jobs that are just getting better and better. Don't knock it.