It’s 7:00 p.m. and the phone rings. A very polite young man on the other end of the phone introduces himself and begins the process of surveying you as head of the household, over 18 years of age, and primary purchaser of consumer goods for your family. The assumption is that this call is from a hard-working college student living somewhere in Nebraska. Maybe. Maybe not.
Call centers and the technology that drives them have come a long way in the 20-some years since I explored inbound/outbound telesales as a career option. According to Jeff Furst, president and CEO of Furst Person, a Chicago-based call center workforce organization that recruits, hires, trains, and manages all aspects of call center personnel and operations for large corporations, technology in call centers is drawing the global economy closer to home. “The reality is that there are more call center jobs than there are qualified and available applicants in the United States,” he explains. “Technology and the infrastructures necessary to support call center demands have changed dramatically over the past decade. As these infrastructures and communications systems have become more sophisticated, so too has the demand of corporations to hire and retain a higher-caliber workforce.”
In a market already pressed to fill the growing demand for call center services, technology allows corporations to look outside of traditional borders at qualified applicants.
“As an example, India projects to add 3 million call center jobs over the next five to 10 years,” explains Furst. “[The country] has an extremely well-educated workforce that is working at a fraction of wages that we have here, and the transport pipe – the cost of moving that call back and forth across the ocean – is so low that once you drop the pipe your cost per call is very reasonable. It becomes less of an inhibitor.
“The split will come into play between those companies that are cost-driven vs. those that are profit-driven. A cost-driven company probably won’t be able to attract the kind of person needed to handle its calls in the U.S. market and will be forced to go offshore to the Philippines, India, Mexico, or somewhere else, or they will go out of business. Those that do survive and grow will rely heavily on the recruiting, screening, and training of qualified applicants. We’ll then see an increase in wages from about $12/hour now to about $15/hour. Those jobs have much more appeal to that level of trainable workforce.”
Either way, technology affects the way these companies will operate.
Furst adds that he sees a change in the workforce based on demographics for those individuals who choose to work either part-time hours or from the comfort and convenience of their homes. “There is a percentage of the workforce that would prefer to work a flexible part-time job. It’s, perhaps, a situation where they can work only three or four hours a day at odd hours. Technology will allow these people to dial into these call centers and access the network system in the same way that they would [when] physically sitting in a cubicle at a call center location,” he says. This type of dial-up system allows the company to log the hours that each outside employee works, as well as other critical information concerning number and length of calls, success rates, and more.
One of the first full-time jobs that I applied for as a young adult was as an outbound telemarketer. I was denied the position as my personality profile indicated that I was much too nice to withstand the daily grind of rejection that came with the job. I’m a few years older and tougher now, and – hopefully – at least a little wiser for the wear and tear.
In hindsight, I think that the work environment at the time would have caused me more collateral damage than the job itself. I think I’ll keep my day job.Clara M.W. Vangen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.