Off Center
Most conversations about contact center evolution revolve around technology. We often hear about how some advanced new system, application or channel is going to “reinvent” the way contact centers operate and the way customer care is carried out.

While such advances can be exciting and, occasionally, even influential, in my opinion contact center evolution should be measured in terms of talent, not technology.

For me, the real sign that the contact center has truly evolved will be when employees from other areas within the organization routinely start applying for agent positions.

Yeah, I said it.

Let’s face it, customer care can’t be taken to the “next level” until companies stop viewing the contact center and the agent job as purely entry level. In other words, the contact center should strive to be a step up – not just a stepladder – in the organization.

If the customer experience is as critical as corporations and business analysts say it is, then the contact center is, indeed, a highly valuable component of any company. No other department or area within an enterprise has as much direct contact with customers, can glean as much useful customer data, or has as much of an impact on customer sentiment as the contact center. So why aren’t we doing more to enhance the image of the contact center and the agent position, and why aren’t we paying agents what they are truly worth?

Once companies stop viewing the contact center as a back-office operation and start viewing – and promoting – it is a dynamic hub of invaluable customer influence and revenue generation/protection, it will cease to be merely a pit stop for employees and start to become an attractive destination for them… especially if they know they can earn a damn sight more than $9.00-$10.00 per hour to start.

This isn’t just a pipe dream. I see a future where ambitious, creative, caring and analytical employees from Marketing, Sales, IT and other key departments scramble to get their resume and cover letter ready whenever an opening on the frontline of the company’s contact center is announced. And I see a future where existing agents happily stay put whenever those aforementioned departments announce job openings of their own.

This is the Age of the Customer. Organizations that don’t do everything they can to attract and retain the level of talent needed to consistently delight and engage the customer will soon find themselves lagging far behind their competitors.

So, you can continue to rush through the hiring process to fill contact center seats with whomever has a pulse and deal with the customer defection and agent turnover that results, or you can strive to create the type of culture and environment that attracts proficient knowledge workers who are committed to delivering the level of service and support the customer deserves – and demands.      

This piece originally appeared as a guest post by Greg on the FurstPerson blog. (The original title was “Attracting Agent Talent from Within the Organization”.)   

JR Hardenburgh
1/9/2014 10:07:36 pm

Good point (as always) Greg. Some companies with Leadership Continuity Programs (aka The Fast Track) require aspiring, promotable "C" level executive candidates spend 6-12 months in the call center. It gives these future leadership team members a true appreciation for what customer care brings to the organization.

1/9/2014 10:17:58 pm

Companies that implement such initiatives truly "get" it. I know that Zappos has every new employee -- from agents to new execs -- undergo customer service and culture training. And we all know how that has worked out for that company! Customer care is definitely not viewed as a mere back-office entry level position in such orgs.

Thanks for taking the time to comment -- appreciate your input (as always).

James Burchell
1/10/2014 12:34:05 am

Greg, great article and I agree with your position. Call Centre employees in my mind are frontline ambassadors entrusted to live and breathe the brand. Aspiring "C" suite leaders would be very proactive in embracing some time in this area of their company as an integral component of growth in their career trajectory.

Thanks for sharing this, and I hope the conversation grows. Many eyes and ears will lead the voices of change..... I will be sure to pass this nugget along.


1/14/2014 09:22:37 pm

So true Greg, A lot of companies just think the call center "answers phones". They just do not realize what they have in those true professionals that are on the front, and sometimes firing line, everyday, 8 hours a day. It takes a certain type of individual that can be professional, empathetic, caring and truly live and breathe great customer service. These people are professionals, not minimum wage level, clerical or administrative staff. Even prospective employee's do not realize what it takes to be a call center professional. I have had members of my marketing team sit in the call center to understand what it takes. They walk away with a new understanding and respect for our call center professionals. The C-suite needs to have a better understanding of what they have in the call center. The call center can provide them with information on their institution that no one else can.

1/10/2014 12:45:13 am

Thanks so much for your eloquent and passionate comment, James. Sounds like you'd be an ideal champion for the cause. An ambassador for elevating the agent (and the contact center) role!

I've spoken to truly engaged and empowered and dynamic agents as a customer, and following the interaction I've thought, "I hope that agent is earning at least $15-$20 an hour." Companies need to realize the amount of revenue such an agent generates and protects, and what it's worth to keep her or him around!

Thanks again for your input.



1/14/2014 09:43:31 pm

Very sharp and wise words, Barb. I love CC pros like you who truly understand the value of the agent position (and the CC in general), and, more importantly, strive to have other departments within the organization understand it, too.

Thank you!


Lawrence Jackson
1/15/2014 11:18:55 pm

You are so correct Greg. Customers and retaining their loyalty are key to a successful company today. This is where the contact center becomes the most valuable part of any organization. Yet I see over and over again rushed hiring, low-wage earners that are not interested (or engaged) to stay and improve the center. Companies simply "get by" focusing on sales and marketing, and neglect the customer service arena. But companies on the leading edge will be focusing more and more on the customer relationships.

1/15/2014 11:26:36 pm

Absolutely, Lawrence. It's no coincidence that companies that dominate their competitors are famous for their customer service (think Zappos). And it's also no coincidence that such world-class organizations have applicants lining up outside the contact center, and have existing agents sticking around for years. It's all because these companies take care of the people who take care of their customers.

Thanks much for your input!


1/26/2014 11:44:45 am

Great article and viewpoint. One problem is that when the CC proves their worth and inquires about moving forward within the company or staying long term, the supervisor limits their movement not looking out for the best interest of the company.


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