Call Centers! The term might bring to mind long hold times, a part-time job you had in college, or the annoyance of having to deal with a stolen credit card or a product return. In the Asheville area and more broadly across the country however, call centers (or fulfillment centers, or customer service centers, among other designations) are filling important functions for organizations of all shapes and sizes. A-B Tech along with some other local groups (JobLink, for one!) recognized the growing need for skilled individuals to fill call center positions in our area, and that effort turned into a new class: Call Center Industry Careers: An Inside Line to Success. Instructor Mort Stein gave us some insight into the class's objectives and an overview of the content.
Q: Why call center training? Why did we need to create this class?
A: Call Centers require a blend of skills which include computer training and customer service skills. With this class, students gain an increased awareness of what is expected of an applicant and also come away able to practice some of the "soft skills" (communication) that are needed in that setting. These centers can receive inbound calls, meaning clients/customers call in seeking products or services, or outbound, which would be when the agents initiate the call to a home or business selling an item or service, or perhaps taking a survey.
As far as the class's origins, local businesses collaborated to respond to local needs. When I was approached, Continuing Education had already made the contacts and gotten suggestions on content for the class, and from there I created a curriculum using the Call Center's suggestions, my experience, and other sources. Additionally, we have several call center reps come in from local businesses to speak about their centers and what they like to see in an employee.
Q: How has the call center environment changed- and how have the skills required of employees changed in response?
A: In short, non-call center companies have realized the efficiencies associated with call centers. Call centers allow business to centralize equipment and resources, and because of the intensive training, call center employees can be more consistent in how they answer questions and address problems. Employees can be assigned to focus on certain products and become experts in those areas. One key advantage of using a call center is that it allows clerical and professional employees in a company to focus on their key responsibilities and not be distracted by answering phones.
As far as the skills required, I mentioned the computer skills, but for me the most important are the customer service skills, which are more difficult to train. The soft skills- being able to listen, rephrase a question or response, or defuse an irate customer- are what allow an individual to be successful on the job. These are things we focus on in class.
Q: What does the class cover and how long does it last?
A: The topics in the curriculum include: Communication Skills (Verbal, Written), Listening, Customer Service, Productivity, and Call Center expectations. There is also a basic computer and math assessment.
The class lasts two weeks, three days a week. In the four hour sessions, about 45 minutes are spent in the computer lab, the rest of the time is spent on a combination of lectures, group activities, and role playing. At the end of the four hours, we have the local representatives in to talk about their facilities.
Q: What kind of reaction have you gotten to the class?
A: The reaction has been positive- from the follow-up emails I've received and the high level of enrollment in the class, to the attendance/retention, which seem to be better than other classes I've taught. About 30% of the first class had job offers (others had interviews.) I guess the other way to measure success is the fact that when the class was over, I could see the satisfaction in the students' faces.
Q: What is your professional background in the competencies/environments you teach about in this class?
A: I've taught at AB-Tech for about six years, first in the business department, and then in Continuing Education teaching basic computers. I've managed volunteers, worked as an HR Manager for a large retail department store in Ohio, and conducted customer service training. I worked for a large health care organization where I had multi-departmental responsibilities- including being the HR representative for a 170-employee call center. I have also assisted students with the employment process, including resumes, cover letters, and interviewing. This helps me convey to the Call Center students how to "sell" the skills they're learning- and how to meet the expectations of an employer.
Coordinator, Business Solutions and Computer Training