In reflection of when this article was first published, a lot has changed. So I have chosen to update it. There has been a much greater appreciation for the work done by contact center agents and leaders. Going through a pandemic and coming out of the other side has significantly greater need and value into contact centers and those that work in them.
We have many heroes and people that have risen to the need in coming forth and serving humanity. The people who work in contact centers and support customers were needed in the past and are now more appreciated for their work. While there will always be people whom we are unable to serve with dignity and pride, our noble profession is a core business operation and, for many, a critical value generator for customers.
Do Contact Center Careers Lack Choices or Understanding?
I recently overheard someone say, “I think people who run contact centers are people that cannot get real jobs anywhere else.”
This comment took me by surprise, and my initial response was confusion. While I have heard something similar said about biology teachers because “they could not get into medical school” or about consultants because “they cannot manage the long game of business,” I had never heard this about the work that I do.
As I reflect upon this a bit deeper, I question if there is any truth to it. I mean, I can honestly say I have never heard a child say, “When I grow up, I want to become a contact center manager,” or anything even remotely close to that. Have you? Admittedly, becoming a contact center leader was nowhere near my top career aspirations. I originally wanted to be a chef. And yet here I am, 22 years later and still working in the contact center industry.
I have never heard a child say, “When I grow up, I want to become a contact center manager.” Click to Tweet
So, what does being a contact center leader entail, and what type of person makes a conscious decision become one?
Let’s look at this from a high-level perspective. The average contact center has several hundred employees, managing a multi-million dollar budget, tasked to deliver ‘wow’ customer service to a company’s most important audience – its customers. We must have the right number of trained and empowered agents, equipped with the right tools and technology, ready to answer the customer phone call within 30, 45, 60 seconds. This is a 1:1 agent to customer interaction. Because of the volume of customers calling in, the cost of this 1:1 customer interaction puts the contact center budget within most companies’ top 5 most expensive budgeted items. As such, the pressure to reduce this expense while improving the customer experience is never-ending. As an industry, we tend to endeavor through a lot of ‘trial and error’ in our attempt to ‘do better with less.’ Such endeavors require technology enhancements, process improvements, and most importantly, a clear understanding of the infliction points within the customer’s journey for our respective company.
Within the contact center industry, an FTE is universally defined as a 40-hour scheduled workweek. This being true, what would you call a 60-hour minimum week? Why am I working all these hours? Because I desire complete customer satisfaction and pursue a Six Sigma process to deliver it, that is, having a defect rate of 3.4 defects to every 1 million opportunities. So, what is a defect within a contact center? Well, it’s a low VOC or NPS score. And a high/low AHT, call avoidance, low FCR or high 7day repeat, failed QA survey, or missed service levels due to high absenteeism or attrition or poor forecasting. Let’s not forget about the many financial metrics we have. I kid you not, and I once saw a scorecard with over 100 metrics in it. With the number of combinations of metrics measured in a contact center, either on a per-call or every 30-minute basis and considering we are working with people, not machines, the opportunity for a defect seems more probable than not.
“Working with people…the opportunity for a defect seems more probable than not.” Click to Tweet
Identifying ‘defects’ is the easy part; it is fixing them that is difficult. After all, most defects in the contact center industry are the results of human error. The ‘fix’ is coaching and developing people. When it comes down to it, contact center leaders are in the people business of monitoring metrics and utilizing behavior modification type techniques to maintain, reward, or course-correct people’s behaviors and habits.
Not to criticize other careers or industries, but I cannot think of many that match the never-ending fast pace of a contact center. Most of the ‘non-contact center’ individuals I know would likely become overwhelmed on an average day leading a contact center. Despite my numerous attempts, I cannot remember the last time I successfully adhered to all the prescheduled meetings in my own Outlook calendar. There are continuous disruptions and interruptions, often of other people’s urgent problems, that require immediate attention throughout the day.
So, after so many years in the contact center industry, why am I still here? The truth is, while this work is extremely challenging and even frustrating at times, I love what I do, and I have made a conscious career decision to be the best leader I can be within the contact center industry.
“After so many years in the contact center industry why am I still here?” Click to Tweet
It all comes down to this:
I love the challenge of not only solving the many issues illustrated above but, more importantly, the challenge of delivering the best service possible to end-user customers.
I love the fast pace.
I love the hard-working and dedicated people I work with.
I love the feeling of coaching and developing people, watching them grow in their skillsets, and when they are ready, promoting them or congratulating them when they take promotional positions with another company.
Stepping aside from my passion for what I do, do I have the skillsets to obtain a more prestigious career option? Well, I have 10 years of college, accumulating over 230 undergraduate credits and an MBA, years of climbing the ladder with a plethora of hands-on transferable business experience, and a continually expanding skillset; there are and have always been other career options for me.
I will argue, educate, and defend to my last breath that my peers and colleagues working in the contact center industry also have career choices. Their stamina to solve the many challenges every day and the leadership skills required to successfully lead many people are unmatched and strongly desired by other industries. To them, I say, you are my comrade in arms. I both appreciate and admire you.
To the biology teachers and consultants, I apologize for once buying into this overgeneralized way of thinking.
To the individual who said, “I think people who run contact centers are people that cannot get real jobs anywhere else.” Thank you for reminding me why I have chosen my career in contact centers.
“I think people who run contact centers are people that cannot get real jobs anywhere else.” Click to Tweet
And to the rest of the world, trust me, you can be thankful I never became a chef.
Eric Hagen is the Vice President, Contact Center Operations at Support.com. He is a contact center executive with over 20 years of experience. He has obtained a unique perspective with best in class knowledge of processes and technology expanding across several industries. He is a never-ending student of business with six sigma certification and a passion for keeping current in contact center industry trends.