Contact centres – the future leaders’ training ground

open road career path

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Recruitment Consultancy Douglas Jackson share their thoughts on how the contact centre industry could be a career of choice.

Given the number of headlines surrounding redundancies, unemployment and job shortages, a discussion ensued about opportunities and careers in general and how each of us has developed our careers based upon the opportunities available to us, which admittedly, were not always what we set out to do all those years ago.

This led us to thinking about the customer service and contact centre industry, and the opportunities this sector can open up to individuals. In particular, we wondered how the call centre industry could be seen as a more favourable option for many of those individuals seeking a new career opportunity.

As one of the leading recruitment consultancies for executive and managerial appointments in the contact centre and customer service industry  (although we don’t recruit for entry- or agent-level staff),  the continued development and emergence of future leaders  is critical to our own, as well as our client’s ongoing success.  We felt that the contact centre industry, together with the required effort and work from an individual, can offer a great opportunity for all.  To explore this further, we decided to ask our contacts about the experiences and opportunities they have had since starting life as a call centre agent or customer services advisor.

Utilising our Call Centre Professionals LinkedIn Group, our Twitter page and together with the help of Call Centre Helper, we had an overwhelming response. The response was so great that we can only feature a small selection here, but you can visit the LinkedIn Group discussion if you’re on LinkedIn. Please do join in the conversation, as we are sure that this might just be one that can run and run, and not just across the UK, as we were also able to speak with and research some of our call centre colleagues worldwide including those in South Africa, Mauritius, Toronto, Washington and India.

Some of the facts and figures for the people we spoke to were as follows:

  • Less than 20% were graduates
  • Just over 25% entered the contact centre industry as a second career
  • 90% were promoted to a managerial/team leader position within 2 years of starting life as a call centre agent or advisor
  • Within 5 years those researched saw an increase in starting salaries of 85%
  • 100% of the respondents are earning above-average UK salaries
  • 40% were in the upper 10% of earners (against Guardian 2011 income findings).

Over 90% of the respondents were still working within the call centre industry, either in operations, management, support, consultancy or sales and the variety of positions attained included; CEO, Head of Operations, Client Services Director, Interim Consultant, Senior Operations Manager, Customer Service Manager, Project Manager, Training, Technology Sales, Technical & Application Support Manager, so a wide and varied range of career opportunities seem to be very much open to potential agents or advisors.

Some of the stories follow:

We spoke with Sally Earnshaw, who on leaving university started as an advisor nearly 20 years ago.  Sally is presently a Client Service Director for a leading contact centre management consultancy.  Sally works with some of today’s leading blue chip organisations and company leaders to enhance their future business performance – Sally said:

Sally Earnshaw

Sally Earnshaw

‘I started as an advisor nearly 20 years ago; I worked for a growing  organisation and was an advisor for 6 months before I became a trainer. That said, I did grab the opportunity with both hands – I used to stay behind after shift watching the trainers that were already in role, putting materials together and demonstrating commitment, so when the job came up it was mine. Too many people expect opportunity to come to them, but in contact centres there are really so many opportunities available, you just have to show you want it the most.  I then moved into line management and became a Head of Telesales, then Department Manager across both Inbound and Outbound, before becoming Director of Training and Planning.  I have now been consulting and providing training solutions for the call centre business area for the last 9 years. I believe call centres are the best place to be for career progression – and the best place for learning a really broad range of life skills that could help you progress into many other areas. We need more good people to see it’s a great place to start!’

Nick Clancy, presently Head of Operations for a contact centre and logistics department within the fashion industry, said, ‘I think you’ll find a lot of us, to be honest. Yes, I started life as an agent after realising the university degree I was doing was not for me. I got my foot in the door and found I had a real connection with the industry.  I was soon offered an opportunity to become a team manager with a claims management company. I was then able to secure a role as Customer Services Manager with a mail-order business and have gone on to develop the opportunities available to me, which has consistently allowed me to develop and grow my own career over the years.’

Jo Helire-Glynn, is currently Head of Operations, UK and Europe, for an award winning business, which is also part of one of the world’s leading leisure travel companies, Jo said:

Jo Helire-Glynn

Jo Helire-Glynn

‘Having trained as a chef after leaving school,  I was looking for a career with more regular hours and one that would support me raising a family, having just married.  I started in the contact centre as an evening agent.  I progressed to team manager and then on to the management team within the training and recruitment function.  After many good years, I was unfortunately made redundant, but this gave me the chance to move  industries and I have since progressed from Call Centre Sales Manager and am now Head of Operations, UK and Europe – not bad for someone who never went to university!’

Via Twitter we spoke with Caroline Theobald, who, thanks to her start in call centres, had the confidence to start up and establish her own state-of-the-art college for Sports and Nutritional Therapies.  Caroline said:  ‘After taking my A Levels I started out as a customer service agent in a small inbound contact centre. This experience allowed me to secure a role at one of the large telecommunications companies in the UK and I soon became a team leader across the Telephone Account Management team.  Due to the close links between this role and the Commercial Marketing department,  I was offered the chance to move into a marketing consultant role and soon achieved further promotion, until eventually I was reporting to the Vice President, as the Manager for Marketing and Commercial Operations. Since then, I have spent many years as an interim consultant to the contact centre and customer services industry.  It was thanks to the experience and the varied career opportunities and skills which have been open to me, that I have been able to achieve all I have.’

Gary Kinsella

Gary Kinsella

Gary Kinsella, now a Senior Operations Manager and Interim Consultant, started his career as a police officer. Gary said:  ‘Like most people who have forged a career in contact centres, this wasn’t the original plan! After leaving the police force and feeling somewhat disillusioned with the outside world, I moved to the south coast with my new girlfriend (now Mrs Kinsella) to take up a role on the phones in a call centre selling home and motor insurance.

‘Initially it took a bit of getting used to but I did really enjoy working in the atmosphere of lots of people and being in the middle of “the buzz”. I volunteered for different projects.  I think I was chosen as I wasn’t looking for time off the phone and often any work I did was in my own time initially.

‘After two years I joined another contact centre-based insurance company and within 6 months there I was given a 9-month secondment to cover someone’s maternity in a managerial position. It was during this role that I started to understand some of the mechanics of contact centres and this helped me get the best out of my team.

‘A couple of years later I was promoted to the role of Sales Support Manager and managed to spend time in Bangalore as part of an offshoring project.

‘Since that time I have moved to various parts of the UK & Ireland for new roles within contact centres. I have been fortunate to work with some really good people and also companies, which has been part of my education.

‘I finally took the decision last year to go on my own and now work with companies on an interim basis. I am currently working for a top 100 financial services company in a senior leadership capacity and am enjoying every minute!

‘Looking back on my career and asking myself did I do the right thing? Did I make the right choices? I have to say a resounding yes to both!  Contact centres have been good to me and my career and I would not change any part of it!’

What is your story?  Why not join in the conversation and let us know of your own situation or personal journey within the contact centre industry.  Hopefully, we can all encourage school leavers, graduates, return-to-workers or individuals considering a change of industry to make our industry a career of choice and help create the future leaders we all need to continue our success.  Finally, a big thank you to everyone involved and all those who took time to talk with our researchers.

Feel free to contact Douglas Jackson via their website

Author: Jo Robinson

Published On: 2nd May 2012 - Last modified: 11th Dec 2017
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