What are call center jobs like in the modern age? Do people even use call centers now that it's so easy to connect via email, chatbot, and social media?
A study by Forrester shows 73% of customers still phone companies to address questions and concerns.
Surprised? You shouldn't be.
Call center agents provide an immediate, personalized response. This helps companies boost customer experience and customer satisfaction, no matter the reason for the call.
But gone are the days of outsourcing to mega call centers abroad.
The call center industry is currently thriving in the virtual space and showing no signs of stopping. That's why the demand for US-based call center agents is at an all-time high.
Think you'd be a good fit for an in-house or remote call center position? Before you send off that resume, check out what it's like to work in a call center.
What we'll cover:
- What is a call center?
- How does a virtual call center work?
- Call center positions and job duties
- What does it take to work in a call center?
- In-house vs. virtual call center work environment
What is a call center?
Companies run call centers or contact centers to give their customers a way to get in touch. Call center employees may handle both inbound and outbound customer interactions. This includes phone calls, emails, social media messages, live chats, and more.
When customers call to ask a question, voice a complaint, or request help, call center agents guide them on the best course of action.
During their eight to 10-hour shifts, team members use a:
- Phone and headset to answer inbound calls and make outgoing calls hands-free. They speak on the phone and enter data at the same time.
- Computer to access CRM call center software. These tools give team members a single system of customer information. When customers call, agents have everything they need to provide a resolution.
In-house call centers generally experience high turnover rates. But remote call centers are a different (and better!) story for companies, employees, and customers.
How does a virtual call center work?
A virtual call center consists of a team of work-from-home customer service agents. Reps work in different time zones all over the world to give companies 24/7 customer support.
Agents don't take calls via landline or cell phones. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology sends inbound calls to agents over the internet. Then they answer the calls and record the information in CRM software.
This centralized platform organizes customer data in the cloud. So agents have access to callers' updated account history from anywhere.
Why are these call centers on the rise?
Companies save money, reduce turnover rates, and please customers without cutting corners.
Operating a traditional call center takes a lot of money. So companies started outsourcing their contact centers overseas to slash expenses. Employees at these mega call centers answered calls for several companies at once.
Not all U.S.-based customers were on board. Many complained about the language barrier. Others disliked the agents' unfamiliarity with specific U.S. products.
So now VoIP technology is revolutionizing the call center industry.
Companies can hire U.S.-based team members all over the country. They provide employees with all the tools they need to answer calls from home, such as:
- Virtual call center software
- A phone and headset
- Secure router or modem
- Ergonomic desk/chair
- Stipend for internet
This is why so many companies are switching to the virtual call center model. And why the job market is so hot.
Call center positions and responsibilities
Since you don't need much work experience, call center jobs make excellent entry-level jobs. Ever deal with customers? Know how to use a phone and a computer? You're already qualified!
Dedicated call center employees also rise the ranks and advance their customer service careers fast. So you can take your pick of these popular call center jobs:
1) Outbound call center agent/telemarketing
Outbound call center agents mostly make outgoing calls. They usually work through a list or spreadsheet with a few goals or quotas to meet each day/week/month.
Job duties may include cold-calling and pitching new leads. You may also conduct market research or upsell current customers. Candidates with a sales background are a natural fit here. And people who don't deflate in the face of rejection.
2) Customer service representative
Inbound call center agents answer calls that come into the company. They’re the first point of contact for annoyed, frustrated, and angry customers. But their calm, cool demeanor and killer customer service skills help defuse situations.
Customer service reps may also handle account details for customers. They may help place and track orders too. These relatively easy, good calls outweigh the negative more often than not.
3) Technical support agent
Tech-savvy contact center agents troubleshoot product or service issues remotely. Sometimes they must access a caller's computer or device screen to resolve issues from a firsthand perspective.
4) Team leader
Prove your competence and leadership ability, and you'll receive a promotion to Team Leader. These team members are the go-between call center agents and management. They schedule adequate coverage across all time zones, train new hires, and track call center metrics.
5) Quality Assurance
Quality assurance (QA) employees help improve operations. They listen to live and recorded calls to watch the behavior of call center agents.
QA also monitors call center data to ensure the highest level of customer service. You'll need an eye for detail and attention in this role.
6) Call Center Manager
Using call center software, the call center manager monitors global call metrics. They watch stats like the number of calls each agent answers versus how many they transfer, for example. Then they create strategies to improve these numbers for their company and customers.
Interested? You can't climb the call center ladder without first getting your foot in the virtual door.
What does it take to work in a call center?
Call center employees are the front line when it comes to customer service. Customers expect each agent to go "above and beyond" to provide the ultimate customer experience.
Bad news? Excellent customer service isn't always easy, especially over the phone.
So if you're not comfortable speaking with customers, working in a call center may not be your happy place.
Successful, productive call center representatives have:
1) A Customer-focused outlook
Customer service representatives have an overwhelming desire to help customers all the time. You make memorable experiences and loyal brand ambassadors out of each call. You're not happy unless the customer is happy.
2) Basic computer literacy and typing skills
Roughly 25% of call center job duties consist of post-call data entry and computer admin work. So you'll need experience with software, mobile apps, and other systems.
Rule of thumb: as long as you can access screens of customer information and type fast, you'll be golden.
3) Stellar communication skills
Prized communication skills include the ability to:
- Speak clearly. You'll need a strong, clear phone voice that conveys trust and understanding to build a rapport with callers.
- Listen attentively and ask questions, rephrasing them if necessary, to get to the real issue.
- Respond patiently. You can't get frustrated with angry customers. Let them vent, don't take it personally, and they'll be more likely to cooperate. Then you can come up with a solution that pleases everyone.
- Document accurately. You must record customer interactions in CRM software for record-keeping. Your answers should be free of major typos and grammar errors.
4) Efficient, speedy problem-solving
Callers want their issues resolved ASAP. You must leap into action when your line rings, reduce hold times, and figure out a resolution before callers get annoyed.
But working in a inbound call center can be unpredictable. No two calls or callers are ever the same. Ever had a relay call?
Sometimes you can't follow the protocol for certain out-of-the-box situations. You must be quick on your feet and able to come up with solutions that help callers on the fly.
5) Organized multitasking
Call center agents may need to juggle many outreach channels at the same time. Be prepared to switch between live chat, email, phone calls, and more.
You may engage with over 50 customers per day. So you need laser-focus and keen organization to keep it all together.
6) Company and product knowledge
You don't need to memorize everything about how a company's products or services work. But you should know how to look up answers quickly if you don't.
Outbound call center positions require an understanding of a company's unique selling points, for example.
And tech support must familiarize themselves with the front- and back-end issues of their company's product/service lineup.
7) Flexible scheduling
Working in a call center may mean working outside of regular business hours. Shifts may include overnights, weekends, and major holidays.
You may also work overtime hours if the company experiences a recall or significant event and needs all hands on deck.
Got these skills? See if you'd rather work in-house or at a virtual call center.
In-house vs. virtual call center work environment
In-house call centers
At a traditional call center, employees work together in long rows of cubicles in a giant open room.
Agents receive hundreds of calls and experience minimal downtime during their shifts. So the work environment can be noisy, distracting, and tense.
Despite the commute, you'll gain coworker camaraderie. Only other call center agents know the pain of frustrating callers. You can take breaks together so you don't take out your annoyance on customers.
Virtual call centers
Land a virtual call center job and you'll be able to work from home. You can ditch your commute, save money on gas and car expenses, and work part-time to take care of loved ones. Just choose a quiet office space in your domicile and set it up how you like.
Call centers are known for their high turnover rates. And call center burnout is real. But working from home offers you the chance to take breaks and stay zen when the flow gets overwhelming.
With the right technology, you can take calls from bed, your backyard, or on vacation. And you can even work in your pajamas.
Thinking about working in a call center next?
VoIP technology is transforming the call center industry for the better. Now call center employees can work from home and climb the ladder to a lucrative customer service career in no time.
You can gain experience in problem-solving, conflict resolution, and so much more. And you never have to commute again!
Next time you call a contact center, you'll have a newfound appreciation for all the hard work they do. You may even want to join their team. So strike while the market is hot!
Study source: Forrester, March 2013, "Communication Channel Preferences For Customer Service Are Rapidly Changing. Do You Know What Your Customers Need?"
Enterprise marketing leader at the intersection of marketing and customer experience (CX). I lead marketing departments and enterprises through game-changing, industry-altering transformations with CX as the key differentiator.