Call centres offer a lucrative future

Call centres, now popularly called "contact centres", will become an increasingly lucrative market for IT staff to work in as new...

Call centres, now popularly called "contact centres", will become an increasingly lucrative market for IT staff to work in as new technologies are adopted to meet the requirements of customers in the financial services and retail sectors, writes Antony Savvas.

Last year's survey of conditions and benefits by the Telecommunications Managers Association (TMA) revealed that call centre staff working in middle management positions are already top of the pile when it comes to pay.

But new technologies, including Web-enabled services and access to call centres via mobile phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants), will mean even higher pay as the continuing skills shortage kicks in, says call centre consultancy TC Group.

The overall staff turnover in call centres is currently running at around 40%, says TC Group. This is the worst possible scenario in light of the emerging technologies that the centres now have to get to grips with. TC Group believes that unless the staff churn is addressed, the whole sector "will plunge into chaos by 2003".

TC Group's concern is echoed by industry analyst Datamonitor, which estimates that e-mail traffic - which is increasingly being managed by call centres - will grow by 1,000% by 2003. At this time, it is estimated that there will be 80,000 job vacancies left unfilled in the new economy.

Gerry Moxham, TC Group senior consultant, says, "The introduction of new channels of communication that require staff to have a multiple skills set, means companies need to focus on training, development and recruitment if they are to survive in the long-term."

Digital TV, Wap (wireless application protocol), PDAs, e-mail, and voice-recognition technologies are among the factors creating more complicated systems for IT professionals to tackle in the modern call centre.

While many people still do not like to make contact any other way other than using a phone, many niche products and services using contact centres are attracting younger customers and those more willing to adopt new technologies.

The TC Group says one way to tackle the problem of a shortage of technically able staff is to retrain existing employees. This includes those who may currently only be answering the phones, but who are at least showing some commitment to the business.

Moxham says, "Future problems should be addressed now by empowering existing employees with clear career development plans, including multi-skills training.

"The human resources department has to play a vital role in the success of customer contact centres, with businesses having to realise the worth of developing employees' careers and skills."

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment