Everything I Learned About Professional Life, I Learned in a Call Center
There are an estimated 66,000 contact centers in the United States, and from 2012 to 2013, about 180,000 contact center jobs were created domestically. Contact centers are something I know something about, as someone who's worked in this industry for a long time, including 20 years in leadership positions with both small and large teams.
So, I can attest that we are seeing something of a renaissance. Contact center jobs are returning states-side, driven in part by a new generation of consumers demanding more out of their phone and digital interactions with companies and brands.
Like many leaders, my main responsibilities include selecting staff and developing strategy and processes. I've had to drive results by communicating goals, engaging teams and measuring results. And for advice, I’ve relied on the advice of great business thinkers like Steven Covey, Jim Collins and Peter Lencioni; I've also read up on historical leadership, by way of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
What I've found is that the lessons in these books have basically been the same as the ones I've embraced first-hand through the day-to-day operations in a call center. Indeed, companies don't need to invest millions into developing their leaders; all they need is a few years in the call center environment to understand these key principles, which, when applied properly, can lead to professional success in any industry.
Leaders have to have passion, discipline, a willingness to empower their people and a clearly communicated vision. A leader’s vision should be shared with his or her entire team. Contact center employees may start out on the call floor, but many grow within the workplace due to the strong leadership presence in the organization. In particular, the empowerment of people is something seen every day in a call center, since without empowered agents on the phone and online, nothing gets done!
The same can be said for any business in any industry. By sharing your vision, exemplifying passion and discipline and empowering your front-line team members to make that vision a reality, you will be on the road to success.
In the call center, we find extraordinarily interdependent team structures. The entire organization, from agents to floor managers to hiring and IT professionals, has to work in concert to keep up with the fast-paced environment in which we operate.
Everyone owns not only his or her function, but also its relationship to the larger task at hand. A call center's dynamic environment allows the right people to be selected for a given role based on their strengths. To enhance the organization, roles, responsibilities and rules of engagement are clearly defined and all teams must be educated about how each position is a key to success.
The ability to operate in this type of team environment is a necessity in fast-paced work environments, such as the contact center, but can truly be an asset in slower-to -change environments, as well.
The constant changes that occur on a contact center floor do more than foster a unique team-oriented experience; they also prepare and train people to navigate a dynamic workplace. In certain client industries especially, there can be multiple layers of client and administrative approvals and complex processes that have to be dealt with on a daily basis. Best-laid plans often change due to evolving client priorities or requirements. Our employees learn quickly how to adapt plans to meet and exceed expectations.
This trait is extremely important in workplaces today, because technology and society as a whole are changing at rapid speeds. Being adaptable, while remaining calm and confident along the way, can prepare you for a multitude of workplace situations, like corporate restructurings or projects that get off track.
While creativity and individuality are important characteristics of leaders today, processes are the framework for achieving goals in many organizations, including the contact center. As with many industries, there are client expectations, compliance expectations and internal stakeholder expectations which need to be met. We found that balancing creativity and process guidelines helped achieve both proper execution of all processes and ultimately, results. Everyone has to work within the predetermined rules, but is also armed with the ability to be creative within that framework.
Building and developing the skills necessary to succeed professionally is a process. For many, it takes years and a variety of jobs to do so. Both my colleagues and I have been fortunate enough to be engrossed in these skills every day in our call center culture. While working at a call center is not a professional imperative and may not be for everyone, its dynamic, fast-paced environment provides the perfect groundwork for success.