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Future Focused: Promoting Contact Center Careers | #ICMIchat Rundown (August 4, 2020)

Wooden pathway through mountains.

Contact centers are great environments for beginning or continuing your career, but they don't always have the best reputation with job seekers. Some hesitation is understandable. As consumers, we all have our share of lousy contact center experiences. Not all organizations or managers take the time to invest in the success of their employees.

Join us on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific to weigh in on the contact center industry's most pressing challenges. Check out next week's discussion and join the conversation on Twitter!

Industry insiders know the potential that contact centers offer, but communicating it to the outside world isn't always easy. This week's #ICMIchat, guest-hosted by expert trainer and consultant Rebecca Gibson, explores how contact centers can promote the positive attributes of working in our industry.

P.S. Read how our own Kate Brouse connects veterans, caregivers, and people with disabilities to fulfilling contact center careers.

Why Not Contact Centers

Industry insiders have many reasons to love working in contact centers. From developing our employees to fixing customers' problems, we can positively affect the lives of hundreds of people each year. The benefits of working in contact centers aren't always apparent to those on the outside. Regrettably, many poorly managed contact centers have earned the industry a negative reputation. These hard feelings make it difficult for everyone in our industry to attract the best talent.

For starters, it can be a tough job. While working w/ ppl is great it can also be mentally taxing. There are also many negative perceptions from centers that ran their ppl into the ground. It's our job to try each day to NOT be the stereotype.

In the public opinion, the contact center occupation has always been considered “transitory” rather than a career; Low-paying, high-stress entry level positions with little autonomy and limited potential for upward mobility.

I have observed that many workers believe the contact center industry is just afoot to get in the door of an organization and not a "serious" career. It's an "old school" way of looking at the industry, but slowly that kind of mindset is changing.

It's most often viewed as a sweatshop-level job - underpaid, overmanaged, and underappreciated. Unfortunately it's all too often viewed that way not only by job-seekers, but by leadership as well. But leaders who see the value in CX can make it a better job.

Changing Hearts & Minds

While some may cringe at the thought of contact center work, they are persuadable with the right techniques. It all starts from within; no level of marketing mastery will counteract negative employee testimonials. Nurturing a healthy, positive culture helps operations run efficiently, and it influences what employees say about the company in their off time. Employers must also consider how prospective employees perceive their brand. Once you build a great work environment, you must communicate it outside your four walls.

The contact center industry has many professionals who ROCK at their jobs and love them! Highlighting their successes and how they ended up where they are, by accident or design, will help others who enjoy customer service work choose a path leading them there.

Create and publish a true career path. Contact centers need smart, skilled managers, leaders, not just agents.

Our industry gets a bad rap mostly because of bad players... It comes alive when there are good leaders and great emphasis on helping agents do their job better - with better processes and tools.

For Good Reason

Working in a contact center can be a thrilling and rewarding experience. While the work is occasionally frustrating and underappreciated, it truly makes a difference in customers' lives everywhere. Challenges frequently allow us to exercise creative problem solving, and the camaraderie with our teammates creates an exciting atmosphere. Plus, customer service leaders are some of the world's most experienced at serving people well, including their employees.

For me, it’s the energy! The only other place with the same energy is the trading floor at a stock exchange! Contact center teams are often tightly knit and members get each other’s backs. With the right leadership, that energy can be channelled towards great CX!

Honestly, I had a really great manager who taught me how to be a manager. I've always tried to pay it forward and give overlooked people a career jumpstart/boost whenever possible. Seeing them succeed drives and inspires me.

It's always about people! There is no other job where you can impact so many employees in such a defined way... When I think about the job-paths of friends and colleagues - who all started in a contact center - I'm proud to have impacted them in some small way.

Here's what's great - there are so many rewarding/motivating things! Ind contributors can be problem solvers - whether it's solving ind customer problems or bigger process/policy/tech problems. We can also care and support ppl - customers or co-workers

Bring Your A Game, Not Straight A's

Formal education can be valuable when starting any profession, but it's not necessarily a prerequisite to a successful contact center career. Attitude is especially crucial in customer service and leadership roles, and those traits can be challenging to teach. With the right outlook and a desire to learn, success is within everyone's reach. Furthermore, many contact centers provide robust on-the-job training to grow the skills their employees need to be successful.

Can assure you from empirical evidence that it's not. Tech savvy people with high EQ. These can also be taught.

If you will be doing analytics or some sort of technology role you may need formal education. There are many SME roles that don't require advanced education. A bunch in between. I think leaders should have courses in ppl leadership if not a degree.

Formal education isn't necessary to have a career in a contact center, but it can be helpful, especially for those who want to be in management. But it’s also a great career for people who are willing to put in the time and climb the ladder!

Great question and the answer is "it just depends on the organization". For example, USAA had so many applicants applying for call center agent positions, it wasn't unusual that everyone possessed a degree. It was that competitive to get into a great org.

Building Pathways

Employees often leave companies when there isn't a clear path for them to move forward. To retain highly-engaged employees, contact center leaders should award special attention to creating opportunities for advancement. Simple opportunities for job growth and job stretch, becoming involved in meaningful projects, or cross-training with other business units help employees feel like they're continuously advancing toward their next step.

I've loved taking an "ambassador" approach. Have the agent interested in another area act as an ambassador there. Collaborate on a cross-functional project that enhances CX. They get to learn the area, the area gets to know them, and the customer wins!

Allowing developmental time for job-shadowing (which can be mutually beneficial), and have ongoing career discussions between team member and leader. Employees churn when they don’t see opportunity for growth; it’s up to us to keep them engaged.

Make career-path conversations a regular part of your 1:1 check-ins. Look for opportunities to assigns small projects that allow employees to work with other teams across the organization.

Promoting From Within

Ideally, contact centers can source leaders and technical experts from within their organization. Promoting internal candidates demonstrates opportunities for advancement and leverages valuable organizational knowledge that external candidates can't match. Supervisors should consider their employees' interests, skills, and where future opportunities lie to help them become well qualified when the chance arises.

Would love to see scenarios where floor supervisors identified agents with cross-applicable skillsets and the contact center put them into a long-term career development plan. Seems like a pipe dream, but shoot for the moon, land among stars, right?

This obviously depends on the people, on the job position, and the local market. Too many variables to respond definitively. If you have access to good people internally, that's usually the best as general rule of thumb.

Where To Start

Our community offered plenty of advice for contact center agents looking to grow within the industry. First, learn how to be successful in your current role. Seek to understand how the organization works, how you can contribute to success, and how success is measured. Second, go the extra mile to learn new things. Professional development is a personal responsibility, not a department. Advocate for yourself and put in the work. Finally, you cannot go it alone. Find mentors, both seasoned experts and peers, who can coach you along your path to success. Find ways to connect with other professionals both within and outside your organization, whether it's a weekly Twitter chat or free keynotes at a virtual conference.

Look and listen. Ask questions. Understand the "Why?" of the business. Participate in committees, groups to learn and contribute. The rest is easy b/c every Contact Center needs smart, able people.

We're looking for PHD's. People who are POOR in the knowledge they may not know. So ask. HUNGRY. You've got to want it. It's not going to be given to you on a silver platter. DRIVEN. Every day each step you take should be in the direction of your goal.

#1 - Learn Excel... really well.
#2 - Be around. Lots of promotions happen as matter of convenience. Be there when opportunity knocks.
#3 - Find a mentor in your center. They can put you on the path and advocate for you from the inside.

Adding to Scott's list - be curious and positive. Look for solutions and be open to feedback. Be open to learning opportunities. NETWORK! Internally and externally. Seriously, you HAVE TO NETWORK!

Future Focused

While customer service basics are timeless, how contact centers deliver service to customers is evolving every day. Increasingly complex issues will become the norm, as automation eliminates routine and predictable problems. Agents will also be called on for more strategic roles that impact the whole customer experience, from solving the root cause of issues to acting on customer feedback.

To create better experiences, not just successful transactions, we are going to need to increasingly focus on skills that allow us to read and manipulate emotions more effectively, and design ‘moments’ that will differentiate us from our competitors.

It seems that advanced AI will be able to handle more challenging contact center tasks, which could focus human-staffed contact centers on specific types of tasks that AI's could struggle with. Greater specialization will mean greater demand and higher pay.

Join us on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific to weigh in on the contact center industry's most pressing challenges. Check out next week's discussion and join the conversation on Twitter!

Photo by Tyler Lastovich from Pexels.