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The modern-day call centre agent

Our industry does a good job of depicting the functions that agents undertake in contact centres or from home. However, we often place too much emphasis on what people do rather than evaluating and comprehending who they are, which may be contributing to some of the current hiring and retention issues.

If we don't know who we're hiring or why they're looking for a call centre position in the first place, how can we effectively recruit, train, develop, and retain talent? We have gotten so hooked on headcount as a result of our industry's continuous frantic growth and current labour shortages that we frequently handle the hiring and training process like a factory assembly line. We overlook the fact that applicants come from many walks of life, each with their own story to tell.

Perhaps the dynamics of our industry, as well as the financial models we employ, have contributed to the impersonal nature of our call centre agent recruitment methods. Despite the fact that call centre agents' duties and responsibilities have evolved since the industry's inception decades ago, the "human" element will always be the core of call centre services under business process outsourcing (BPO).

Who is applying for call centres?

Gender, age, education, and location all play a role in who applies for call centre agent positions in South Africa. Due to our economy and job market, almost anyone can be found in a call centre, from those with degrees to the majority being agents with just their matric certificates. Call centre's do not only support the economy with their large employment capacities but also assist in reducing unemployment rates.

If you work with call centre agents in South Africa, you are aware of the wide makeup of the agent community, which ranges from millennials to those nearing retirement age, and from career call centre professionals to those looking for short-term work.

For some, working in a call centre is a last resort, while for others, it is an entry-level profession. Some want a longer job tenure and a chance to develop into management, while others don't want to work at a call centre for the long haul.

What are call centre agents perceptions or expectations?

In South Africa and around the world, we frequently engage in call centre agent focus groups, and these encounters reveal a lot. You and I have more in common than you might think with today's contact centre agent.

Regardless of the compensation structure, facilities, or benefits, most agents seek a sense of purpose. They want to be recognized and rewarded, to work in a professional, pleasant environment, to contribute meaningfully as a team member, and to be treated with dignity and respect. They don't want to seem bad since they work at a call centre. They want to be able to stand tall and perhaps build out a career path for themselves.

What is the general perception of call centres?

Let's keep things genuine, shall we? When you ask the typical person what a call centre is, they immediately think of an offshore boiler room manned by people with a strong accent who don't care about resolving your problem. You and I both know how inaccurate this notion is, yet our industry is partially to blame for perpetuating it.

Each of us has heard call centres referred to be the bottom rung of the employment ladder at some point. Unfortunately, I've heard top executives from both brands and BPOs use this reference throughout the years. I've even heard call centre agents referred to as "hired help" by executives. This is obviously a cynical, misinformed, and, dare I say, uninformed viewpoint.

On the other hand, most CEOs and senior leaders I know do not hold this viewpoint. Many began their careers as call centre agents, so they understand how difficult the "job" is and respect the agent's efforts. Many others spend a significant amount of time interacting with call centre agents and leadership, whether internal or outsourced and thus have first-hand awareness of the critical role these individuals play within the customer support organisation.

Here at P3 we believe in putting people at the forefront of our business and providing the best possible service, all while pushing our passion.

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