If you're a call center manager in the U.S., get ready for a busy season ahead. And, if you're someone with great communication skills looking for your next job opportunity, a call-center position could be your ticket to a new career.
According to news reports about call centers around the country, a lot of hiring is in the works, with plenty of positions to fill. For those looking for work, consider that call-center jobs often provide an excellent entry-level opportunity and a foot in the door toward a career-path with higher-level sales and service management positions ahead.
The key drivers for contact-center hiring at the moment appear to be the coming holiday season, plus, a general economic expansion that is slowly taking hold.
In addition, the new Obamacare health care regulations are sparking a hiring boom among call centers. That's because health insurers and government agencies will need to answer questions from millions of Americans signing up through the new health care exchanges scheduled to open October 1.
Hiring for Health
According to a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, between 7,000 and 9,000 new customer agents are being hired or have been brought aboard for the health insurance exchanges that the federal government will be running for three dozen states. This is in addition to the agents that will be needed for the 16 states running their own exchanges.
Alexandria, Virginia-based Vangent Inc., which is part of General Dynamics, was awarded a $530 million one-year contract from the federal government to set up call centers specifically to deal with questions relating to health care reform.
In Illinois, 600 workers have been hired for its state-run call center, and another 600 are expected to be brought on before the end of next week. In California, thousands of call center jobs are also being created to handle questions relating to the health insurance marketplace in that state.
Beyond the Obamacare hiring wave, the TLK Group of Richmond, Virginia, for instance, said Tuesday it will open a new call center, for which they are hiring up to 500 employees over the next 12 months. It services a number of Fortune 100 clients, including Comcast and Verizon Wireless.
In Springfield, Oregon, the call center for the Royal Caribbean cruise line expects to add 200 positions this year and as many as 200 more next year, on top of a workforce that reached 600 employees last year.
Similarly, a call center for gourmet food company Harry and David is reopening a holiday season call center in Eugene, Oregon. The company plans to hire between 800 and 900 people, significantly more than in 2012.
A Tulsa, Oklahoma call center, West Corporation, expects to bring on 300 new employees over the next few months to assist with its services for a national toy retailer.
Meanwhile, a San Antonio, Texas-based call center named Culture.Service.Growth LLC is also hiring, adding 300 employees to its current roster of 250. The company, which provides customer service and back-office processing of insurance applications, told news media that it has a number of existing customers who are expanding. Most the jobs are full-time and year-round, although some are part-time.
Looking for Work?
Call center jobs generally range from $9 an hour to $12.50, with some as high as $17 an hour, depending on skill level, experience and job requirements.
Qualifications often include a working knowledge of common office software, such as email and contact management software (aka CRM, which stands for customer relationship management), as well as the ability to accurately enter data into a customer database.
Call center reps also need excellent verbal and written skills, and the ability to communicate clearly via phone, email and even sometimes though live chat over the Internet. Some positions may require a background check and/or high school diploma. And perhaps most important, contact center jobs require patience and a diplomatic demeanor, with the ability to handle all those frustrated customers and would-be customers.
Close to the Customer
On the upside, call center and contact center jobs can provide excellent long-term employment for those who want it, as well as a great stepping-stone opportunity for recent grads and those entering or re-entering the workforce.
Working as a sales rep or service rep in a contact center puts you close to the customer and also looks great on a resume for those with aspirations for higher-level sales, service and management positions.
As companies put an increasing emphasis on managing customer experience, customer engagement, and listening to the voice of the customer, contact-center positions will continue to be viewed as vital to corporate success and profitability.
Image credit: iStock/Artist's concept.