A College Education for Contact Center Work???

| Contact Center/CRM Views and Analysis

A College Education for Contact Center Work???

The other day I came across a contact center expansion story where the employer, whose name will not be revealed to save them from the embarrassment of being singled out, preferred to have applicants for its contact center agent positions to have college degrees.

My jaw dropped. A two-or four-year degree just to answer and make calls and handle chats and e-mails in a contact center? Is this overkill or what?

Then again, given too many reports about how poor the American--and to a lesser extent the Canadian--public education system is, such employers may sadly be onto something.

Yes, that company, and others who look for college educations in their applicants can get away with that in today's downturn. Yet is that a wise move? Is that not setting up such contact centers for another round of escalating turnover, higher costs, and pressure to move the work once again to offshore and more into self-service?

Once the economy turns around and higher paid openings that more closely match the responsibilities and room to grow with applicants' education, training, and aspirations college-educated individuals will be out contact centers' doors faster than one can type 'job board'. So will many others who took jobs in contact centers as a last resort.

As essential as contact center work is the tasks at hand is not exactly rocket science. All these positions require for the most part is a reasonable level of comprehension, reading, writing, and speaking. That goes for today's demanding multichannel environments where agents must juggle calls, chats, and e-mails and SMSes from customers who have in many cases have gone through the Web and IVR/speech rec self-service and want answers now.

Only when the responsibilities are highly specialized and where there are some serious consequences if there are errors made are formal qualifications: certifications, licenses, and degrees needed. In these ranks are engineering, Level 3 support, insurance, securities, and telemedicine.

And it isn't that working in a contact center is the first step to an exciting career that may require higher education or other qualifications to prepare themselves for. The opportunities for advancement into management or to other positions are extremely limited. Not with high agent to supervisor ratios, no lateral career paths into other fields, like accounting or sales, and with centers' physical locations offsite and far removed from regional and central headquarters.

That's one of the reasons why contact center employment is not exactly seen by many people as desirable, and why other service work: hospitality and retail in particular, draw the more go-getting individuals. One can--and one is encouraged in these other industries--to start at the bottom and work their way to the top, learning every aspect of that business and have an appreciation when they are in management of the individuals below them. In contact centers in contrast one starts and with few exceptions stays at the bottom.

At the same time the college degree 'preferred' or 'required' stipulation in employment postings is too often lazy HR. It is much easier, faster, and less expensive to wordspot 'college' and dump those applications and applicants that don't have that term than to actually read, review, and analyze what these individuals have to offer.

Unfortunately the HR departments may be right in seeking some college education or degrees. I have talked to many people in the contact center business over the past 14 years and the general consensus is that too many of the applicants who walk into contact centers out of high school cannot cut it on the call floor both in basic skills and work ethic. That basically they have wasted their years, and huge sums of taxpayers' dollars in glorified babysitting services that has ill-prepared them for the real world.

It is not that long ago when a high school education counted for something. That even finishing junior high i.e. Grade 8 enabled the aptitudes and gave one the tools to make a decent living. Is the work world that complex to demand 4 to 8 years of additional schooling for individuals to be at the same level as their parents and grandparents were? So much for technology and communications...

A poor educational system has serious consequences for contact centers. More firms want to keep and/or bring back their work onshore. Yet how can they justify this if the quality they get, especially when the economy rebounds and the college types leave, is mediocre to terrible?

The public education system is too far gone for anything to be done with it. The self-interested parties: teachers, unions, and bureaucracies nothing to be gained and everything to lose from meaningful reform. They have cemented themselves in their unassailable ivory towers.

There are two options for contact centers: making sure that they locate their sites where there are good high schools whose graduates are not all college-bound, and, more likely, tearing down the bricks-and-mortar and going home-based. The latter is far more doable and likely than the former.

Study after study continue to demonstrate that home agents are the ideal contact center workforce because they have higher skills, better work ethic (they tend to be ages 40+), are more productive, and are not career minded. Because they know a little bit of the world unlike the fresh-out-of-college 20-somethings they can easily answer sales objections and solve problems. And they don't need the constant supervision nor require workplace socialization. They know how to work and have their own lives outside of work.

When the economy recovers there will be demand growth for contact center services, not as big or widespread as that in what can be accurately termed as the 'Ponzi Bubble' but sufficient to require more and high quality agents. Going home meets these needs without worrying about finding and housing these employees, while saving money on facilities costs and turnover expenses, thereby freeing up resources to create products and services that people and businesses want to buy. Items that customers will need agents to help them.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Featured Events