Call Center Work Environment

  • Created Date22 Feb, 2014
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Since call center extensively use the Internet, they can work for any organization located anywhere in the world. In fact the tell calling business ( a telemarketing business based on outbound calls) has been thriving in India for a long time now, while the call center business is just about to flourish. This flourish is based on outsourcing of call-handling work by US firms to Indian call centers. In fact almost the entire amount of work that the India call centers do come outsourced by US customers. This makes the economy of the call centers based completely on export of service. One may call such work schedule “tough”, but a better description would be “Disciplined”. The work is done in shifts, of which the night shift remains especially busy because that’s the daytime in USA, and a slight slip in the discipline in work may amplify and cause major embarrassment for the call center. Below we describe the meaning of an account, the work schedule, and the actual way in which the call-handling and associated works are carried out.

The Account

An outsourcing and its chosen outsourced call center get into a commercial-technical arrangement that is usually called a “process” or an “account” (or may be called a “process”). The term “account” covers everything: the commercial contract, the technical collaboration, the kind and volume of work, and the functions that the call center performs for the customer. There are two kinds of accounts: technical accounts and non-technical accounts. Accounts that require technical expertise in dealing with the calls are called technical accounts. For example, accounts with Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle, etc.(software companies), with Compaq(now subsidiary of Hewlett & Packard), IBM, Dell, etc.(hardware companies), or with AOL, AT&T etc.(telecommunication companies). The other category of account, the non-technical account, does not require inputting the technical kind of expertise that’s technical. A non-technical account with a US supermarket major like Target Corp. It would involve two types of services:catalog service and stores service, neither of which requires technical expertise as an input resource, but both require public relation skill.

The Shift Schedule

An agent works in shift. A call center works round the clock, it has become a common practice to express this work schedule as “7*24” to denote all 7 days of the week as working days with each day having 24 hours as work hours. Surely, it would be simpler to say that a call center in India is always open-any day, any time. There would be three

shifts in a day: the morning shift, the afternoon shift, the afternoon shift, and the night shift. Holding the night shift is necessary because of the 10-hour time difference between India and the USA---night in India is daytime in USA.

An agent should be prepared to work in any shift that may suit the workflow at a given time, but he need not necessarily be working in particular shift always, shift may change week wise or as would be necessary. Usually a shift is of 8 hours with 30-40 minutes of recess. There are instances of 9-hour or 10-hours shifts also, if the concerned agent(s) have a high-grade skill that’s badly needed by the organization. Half-shift is also possible if the agent wants other half of he shift off. However most of the call centers in India offer incentives for working extra hours or for working on holidays.  Most call centers offer full holiday and restricted holiday. But again, holiday may not always mean Sunday in the tight schedule of a call center: there may be provision to stagger holidays among team members in order to keep with the workflow.

The Functioning of a Call Center

Most of he calls that an Indian call center deals with are inbound, in fact the account are designed to be so. An account involves various activities: call handling, quality assurance, training and skill updating, technical support, and administrative support. Each of these activities is called a “process”. We may start with the most basic level of the call-handling process of a non-technical account to understand the working of call centers.

The hierarchy of responsibility

The most elementary people in a call-handling process are the Agents. The agents are the ones who actually handle the calls. A process can have a number of teams of 10-15 agents each, may be working in the same shift or in different shifts. Agents of the team report to one called Team Leader (TL). The TL is an experienced person in the call center job and is responsible for the concerned process. All TLs of a process report to one called Process Manager (PM). A PM is in –charge of a process. The PM report to the director (Operations), and the respective Director finally report to the President or CEO etc.These terminologies may vary between call centers, but the basis organizational hierarchy does not vary much from this. There is another position called “Product Trainer” (PT, between a team  of agents and the PM. A PT trains the agents on the features of the various products that are covered by the account. Some call centers appoint “Supervisors: between Agents and TL, or :Shift Supervisors” responsible for an entire shift regardless of process. Some call centers appoint Assistant PM.But these are minor variations in the hierarchy and depend on the volume of the work that a certain call center is receiving from outsourcers.

It is entirely possible that a call center builds up its own software development team. In fact most of the call center are doing it. So, software development becomes yet another  process. Since It’s the call center’s independent initiative, the hierarchy and work schedule are determined entirely by the call center’s requirements. The software development team is a group of software developers, it usually works during the regular  daytime working hours, and is headed by its own TL followed by respective process PM. Most of the call centers are employ their software development teams to develop proprietary software’s for their own use, but some call centers in India are developing software applications for commercial marketing as well. So, this is a development parallel to the regular business of a call center. Quality Checking (QC, also called by other names such as Quality Control or Quality Assurance) is another activity that is of great importance. In fact, apparently QC may seem to be a non-critical routine job but it is more important than you could imagine. QC impacts the entire business interest of a call center. The QC team of a call center is also positioned  in the organization in the same way as he agents  teams are: the most elementary people are the Quality Checkers, above them is the TL, above TLs is the PM etc.

Like any other profit center, a call center would also have its own Business Development team, but members if this team in many cases are based in USA.

A typical day’s work of an Agent

The agent comes and logs into his network account, and this time marks the beginning of his working hours for he day. The time when he finally logs out for the day marks the end of his day’s work. A software tracks the login and logout times. The agent may take breaks between the start and end of the work, but the breaks are allowed (and necessary for relaxing) and the network soft wares usually have provisions to mark out temporary logouts. The agent put on the head phone and connects to the server. He start receiving call himself handles the calls or routes them tot the appropriate person, may be in the same team or another team. The headphones work as IP phones (IP spells out to Internet  Protocol). The IP phones are integrated with the Internet and are operated by using certain application soft wares. The routing of calls is also done by using soft wares. The agent may need to write emails to his parent unit in USA if required for handling certain call or to the customer himself if the nature of query warrants that. Regarding Inbound and Outbound calls, an outbound only call center is possible, which is called a telecalling or telemarketing organization, people who approach potential customers for marketing a product or service. In fact telemarketing is a big business in its own right. But there is no business that’s exclusively inbound---a call center handling inbound calls may need to give outbound calls also, if required for serving the customer better.

The average number of calls done by an agent, for inbound calls, is about 70-100 for a non-technical account and 20-30 for a technical account. It could be 200-300 for the non-technical outbound calls. In fact, almost 80% of calls done are inbound and about 20% are outbound. An agent must be careful about both the quality of work. (number of calls handled) he does and the quality of his work. You may be wondering how call-handling could be judged for quality! Take an example. The average handling time (AHT) is a measure of the average time take to handle a call. An international organization called Customer Operation Performance Center (COPC) gives a certificate (called COPC certificate for the quality of service provided by call centers. At tha gent level, the current AHT as recommended by COPC is 240 seconds.

The number of calls in a technical account doesn’t vary seasonally, but the work volume in non-technical accounts shows a seasonal variation. The example of Target Corp. is a case in point. Because it deals in consumers goods, sales rise sharply during the festivals observes other times of the year is comparatively much smaller.

The Skills and Discipline that an agent must have

The essential skills  and expertise that an agent is expected to have are the English-speaking skill, a neutral accent (acceptable to wide audience from various countries), skill to effectively resolve customer’s problems (called soft skill, not necessarily related to software), in-depth knowledge of the product , and finally an alert mind and the ability to switch-on the assorted skills whenever a call comes. Voice is an inborn attribute, however an average voice quality is enough given that ones tries to perfect the pitch, tone, accent of speaking English.

Discipline is of paramount importance in a call center environment. If an agent is expected to be present in a given shift, he must be present on time or preferably before time. He must be perfect professional and not let his attention divert when he is on the job. In fact, mental alertness is a professional skill essential to call center operations because the caller’s queries are to be addressed in real time and, that only too, to he caller’s complete satisfaction. This is the main reason why the entire call center industry recruits only young people up to 26 to 27 years as agent. However, most call centers in India, like GE, the time of the day or any other kind of ergonomic stress. The work area be nicely furnished, fully air conditioned, and the company would provide you tea, meals etc. In short, a work environment that would cut you off mentally from the world outside. Hard work always ays in a call center and you an earn good incentive through hard work.

In fact, getting trained and working in a call center makes a profound impact on the personality of the agent. The youngster, who joined as a trainee agent, discovers sometimes later that he has achieved an overall growth of personality, much more than just becoming an agent.

The doors of the call centers in India are wide open for youngsters. But you need to have experience in call center work to get jobs better than that of agent. A 2-years experience can fetch you good opportunity in India now.