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Centres call for motivated people

WHILE technology is an important part of a call centre’s success, there can be no doubt people are the industry’s most valuable asset.

With that in mind, a significant amount of time and money is invested in recruiting and keeping the right people.

Getting the right staff is just one of the first steps in getting a good call centre team, according to Australian Telephone and Call Centre Association (ATA) WA chairperson and manager of JCorp call centre, Jenny McClelland.

“You need to get the right people in from the start. You need team players and flexible people who know what the job is all about from the beginning,” Ms McClelland said.

“As the call centre industry has matured, the recognition for training has come to the fore.”

Call centres are now hi-tech business enterprises and the evolution from the old phone room has facilitated a need and demand for specialised training, according to Marie Rack, from training specialists Phone Forward.

“A decade ago you only rang these (call centre) people if you had a complaint, you didn’t deal with them on a daily basis,” Ms Rack said.

“Now everyone is in customer service and everyone knows what it is, as well as customer service now happening internally and externally. The customer is more aware about what good customer service is and has become fussier.”

It’s a view shared by former ATA WA chapter president and director of West Coast Call Centre Solutions, John Vanderende, who said the ATA was set up to address the need for training.

“When call centres first began there was no industry training,” he said.

“People were thrown in without identifying the skills needed. The type of work has changed dramatically.

“This has facilitated the need for extensive training, which can start at four days and last up to three months – and that’s before the trainee even talks to one client.”

Steve Mitchinson, who manages B Digital Ltd call centre in Perth, said he trained his people for an average of three weeks before they talked to one of B’s clients.

“New staff receive an initial three weeks’ training and they then receive ongoing training, depending on their area,” Mr Mitchinson said.

“The sales guys get product training. We also do training to help our team deal with difficult customers, and they all get training on changes in the business.

“If we invest in our people it will differentiate us in the marketplace.”

West Coast College of TAFE designed a call centre training course about 18 months ago and the college’s managing director, Ralph Dawson, said it had proved popular.

“We brought in call centre expertise to design a call centre course and it has grown from strength to strength,” he said.

“It is an interesting and emerging field and one that will continue to grow.”

B Digital is one of West Coast College of TAFE’s commercial clients and Mr Mitchinson’s staff receive on-site training and a nationally accredited certificate.

Training is seen as one solution to the problem of high staff turnover that plagued the industry several years ago.

“It has reduced our staff turnover, which is one of the biggest issues facing the industry,” Mr Mitchinson said.

“There used to be a ‘churn and burn’ mentality. Now we invest in our people because they’ll probably stay with us longer.

“If you just pay people you’ll never get the right people.”

Phone Forward’s Ms Rack said up to 10 per cent of a company’s payroll should be spent on training.

“Call centres evolve from when it first starts,” she said.

“We begin with an induction training program, which is generally four days but could be more, depending on the company.

“We also offer specialised courses, such as the ‘difficult customer’ course.”

Once call centres get on their feet they usually adopt an in-house training program similar to the one at B Digital Ltd, she said.

“They (grow) and appoint their own training officer. They then might employ us for specialist training,” Ms Rack said.

And training will only continue to expand, with call centre ‘people in management’ roles, or team leaders, the next growth area.

“In a call centre the team leader plays a critical role,” Ms McClelland said.

“They’re a coach and their role has developed as the industry has matured. There is more and more awareness in providing people to take the next step up and become at team leader.”

West Coast College of TAFE is looking to expand its courses into this area, while Central TAFE has designed a course that will be offered when the demand strengthens.

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