Nobody is likely to list ringing a call centre in their favourite life activities, but it's not a particularly joyous occupation for the 200,000-odd Australians who work in them either. Here's 10 facts that might give you pause the next time you're about to let fly during a call.
Picture by waltjabsco
The data here is all drawn from the 2010 Australian Contact Centre Industry Benchmarking Report, an annual study conducted by consultancy callcentres.net which tracks the call centre business in Australia. The survey covers 729 call centres across Australia, so it's a pretty representative sample — and it reveals some pretty depressing results.
1. No-one is doing this for a career
There's 198,200 "contact centre seats" in Australia, which means that at any given time just under 1% of the population is working in one. But they're not sticking around. The turnover within the industry over the past year was 40% for full-time staff, and an even higher 44% for part-time workers. Even in the year before, when the global financial crisis meant that staff had less opportunity to seek other jobs, the turnover rate was 28%.
2. It doesn't pay that well
The average full-time call centre workers has an annual salary of $45,147, which is well below the average weekly earnings in Australia. While there are occasional opportunities to work penalty shifts — Friday and Saturday nights are apparently difficult to fill — these still don't lead to a massive increase in pay.
3. The pay is falling in real terms
Over the last year, pay rates in the sector have gone up by less than 1%. The consumer price index has risen by 3.1% in that period, so effective pay rates have fallen.
4. Call centres are the poor cousin within the company
While outsourcing of call centres (to specialised service providers here or overseas) is a controversial topic, it's less common than it might appear. Of companies operating contact centres, 76% do so in house. However, the call centre is often treated as an effectively separate division: for instance, 41% of companies have no plans to integrate their call centre operations with other business systems.
5. Call centres bear the brunt of customer contact
In companies that do operate call centres, they do all the grunt work, handling 79% of customer contact. The next highest is branches or retail outlets, with a relatively measly 11%.
6. Their job is to end the call fast
A typical call centre workers is expected to handle 75 calls a day. Performance is often measured on metrics such as speed of answering (average: 41 seconds) and handling time (average: 340 seconds). If you feel like you're being rushed off the phone, there's a reason.
7. Call centre bosses don't realise how bad things are
The callcentres.net research found that companies operating call centres typically quote an 85% customer satisfaction rating. However, when consumers are surveyed, that figure drops to 65% or lower. Australians are particularly harsh critics of call centres, but if in-house measurement is so off the mark, then it's unlikely we'll see improvements for either staff or callers.
8. You probably can't work from home
Call centres are an obvious candidate for working from home — all you need is a reasonable Internet connection — but it's not a very common option. Just 19% of the companies surveyed incorporated teleworking.
9. Companies aren't making tech improvements that could help
We've already mentioned the 41% of companies that don't want to integrate systems properly to make problems easier to resolve, and other technological advances are often ignored too. Just 9% of Australian call centres offer an automated callback facility, and less than 2% use biometric voice recognition to access caller details in advance. (6% have speech recognition, though that presumably includes Vodafone's completely dire and useless offering.)
10. Forget service, you're an expense
Ultimately, if you ring a company, you are costing them money: the average cost of handling a call is $8. That's the measure underlying every single interaction you'll have.
Ultimately, when you ring a call centre, you're usually trying to solve a problem, and you're entitled to feel a little annoyed when that doesn't happen. But taking it out on the person who happened to take your call won't help anybody. Being polite is a much better bet.