A time for change
I hope you all had a Happy Halloween, steered clear of the ghouls and ghosties and enjoyed more treats than tricks.
Autumn is a season of change, when shadows at dusk can trick you into thinking that something you glimpse on the horizon is something sinister when the reality is quite different: it is all about perceptions.
Having been involved with CCA for almost 20 years, I see frequent reminders that the public perception of agents working at the front line in contact centres and hard-pressed centre managers is wholly out of kilter with reality.
Call centre operations are often ‘demonised’ in the media with scant understanding that in most cases they are service arms of a wider business. Also, too often people’s perceptions of contact centre workers stem from experiencing a ‘nuisance call’, presenting a distorted image of the role and value of contact centres as a whole.
The truth is that 90% of our members’ activity involves inbound service-oriented work - with front line teams aiding customers in a range of situations from helping with insurance claims, to organising roadside recovery, or providing advice on living with cancer. There should be a greater recognition of the fact that support roles linked to customer service delivery are some of the most difficult roles to fulfill in today's service sector workforce.
Tellingly, when the most highly-paid and most powerful people within organisations man their own contact centres, they form a wholly different and positive view of the work done there and emerge with new admiration for agents.
Consider agents in utilities companies caught in the recent political maelstrom of rising energy prices. Scottish Power’s contact centres were under extreme pressure, fielding 60,000 calls in a week from customers worried about energy bills. Remaining calm, polite and professional while under siege from angry and upset customers takes patience, skill and training as well as a genuine willingness and ability to empathise with customers.
A customer service agent is far from a job of last resort, it is one in which people who excel can take justifiable pride because it is hard and getting harder, with multi-channel multi-skilling challenges abounding and every exchange analysed and stored should a customer later raise a complaint. Those skills will be increasingly in demand across the enterprise, creating new career opportunities for the best agents.
Reading entries for CCA Excellence Awards, the professionalism and commitment of the people in our members’ call centres is palpable and uplifting. A judge commented: “X lives and breathes customer service.” This was by no means an isolated observation and our members are justifiably proud of their people.
People in contact centres have diverse backgrounds and are generous-spirited, with many active as community volunteers and charity fundraisers. I know that for Children in Need (CCA’s chosen charity this year for Convention), many of you will volunteer for fundraising hotlines or will run coffee mornings, fancy dress competitions or even shave your hair to raise money.
We take our hat off (but not our hair!) to all of you. We want to gather news of all your initiatives and announce a grand total raised by CCA members at our Gala Dinner - so please email Valerie Darroch, our Director of Communications at Valerie.firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what you are doing, you can Tweet or email your pictures too.
We are still looking for donations to our charity raffle too - thanks to those of you who have already pledged prizes - a few more would be greatly welcomed. There is a short window to influence a child’s life for the better and the money you raise for Children in Need will make a real difference to disadvantaged and needy children.
Like you, we do not believe charity should be restricted to one night a year, that’s why we are supporting CCA member Macmillan Cancer Support year-round through CCA Study Tour programme, helping to raise awareness of the great job they do. Study Tours offer a great opportunity to learn something useful with an opportunity to give something back.
It is time to change the public perception of the people who work in contact centres and to stand up and be counted as people with pride in the profession, proud of making a difference, and who willingly dig deep not just for customers but for the most needy members of society.