Call Centre (or Contact Centre) Operator

The Job and What's Involved

A call centre (or contact centre) operator communicates with customers or clients by telephone, email or over the internet. The exact job title may vary in different companies, but the job will be essentially the same.

Call centre operators may cover one of the following:

- Advice and support
- Customer service
- Sales
- Direct marketing or market research

Depending on where they work, their responsibilities may include:

  • Logging each call, and taking notes as they talk to the customers.
  • Taking customers through a security process to access their personal information.
  • Advising whether products are in stock and giving estimated delivery dates.
  • Resolving problems, possibly regarding technical issues or service delivery complaints.
  • Proactively phoning customers to promote or sell a product or a service.
  • Providing information or guidance.

A contact centre operator spends most of their day on the telephone. The job can be stressful, having to meet targets and answer calls within a specified time period. Calls can be repetitive and callers can sometimes be difficult to deal with. The calls may be recorded or screened to check that customer service standards are met.

A contact centre operator works between 37 and 40 hours a week. In some organisations they may have to work a shift pattern to provide 24-hour cover, with the core business hours between 9am and 5pm. Weekend, evening and part-time work is common.

The role is office-based, typically in a busy open-plan environment. It involves long periods of sitting at a workstation with a monitor and computer. Operators usually wear a headset to keep their hands free.

Smart casual or business dress is usually expected.

The average starting salary is between £13,500 and £15,500 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

In the UK, there are over 5,000 contact centres, employing more than 500,000 people. This accounts for around three per cent of the UK's job market, a figure which is likely to increase.

Contact centre operators work in various sectors, including:

  • Finance and banking
  • IT and telecoms
  • Retail and distribution
  • Outsourcing and telemarketing
  • Utilities
  • Travel and transport
  • The NHS and emergency services

There are jobs with large and small businesses. Contact centres are usually found outside of city and town centres on business parks.

Some companies base their contact centres abroad. There may be some opportunities to work overseas, setting up contact centres and training local staff.

Vacancies are advertised through the local and national press, company websites and recruitment agencies.

Education and Training

There are no set entry qualifications, although employers are likely to ask for five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths. Customer service experience is beneficial. Various employers, including those in the financial sector, may requireCriminal Records Bureau (CRB).

A number of courses in contact centre techniques are available at colleges throughout the UK. These include:

  • BTEC Level 1 Award in Introduction to Contact Centres
  • BTEC Level 2 Award in Contact Centre Skills
  • BTEC Level 3 Award in Contact Supervisory Skills
  • City & Guilds Certificate in Contact Centre Techniques
  • City & Guilds Certificate of Introduction to the Contact Centre Industry
  • City & Guilds NVQ Level 1 in Contact Centre Operations

Local colleges can provide further details and advice.

A range of qualifications have been developed by e-skills UK, including Apprenticeships.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work www.myworldofwork.co.uk/modernapprenticeships, Careers Wales www.careerswales.com; and for Northern Ireland contact www.careersserviceni.com.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is normally on the job. This includes in-house training courses and qualifications through professional bodies, where emphasis is placed on continued development and career progression.

Contact centre operators may be able to work towards NVQs/SVQs in:

- Call Handling Operations at Level 2 and 3
- Supervisory Call Handling at Level 3
- Managing Call Handling at Level 4

The Customer Contact Association, the lead professional body for customer contact work, provides support in accrediting company training, covering a wide range of courses. It also offers call/contact centre professional diploma and certificate courses up to degree and postgraduate level.

There are also NVQ's/SVQ's in Customer Service at Levels 1 to 4, which are used in contact centres and have been developed by the Institute of Customer Service (ICS). These qualifications can lead to qualified membership of the ICS.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A call centre operator should be:

  • Good at dealing with people and communicating.
  • Organised and efficient.
  • Comfortable working to targets, often in a stressful environment.
  • Able to work on their own.
  • Able to pay attention to detail.
  • Flexible and adaptable.
  • Discreet, when dealing with sensitive or confidential information.
  • Honest, reliable and committed.
  • Motivated and enthusiastic.
  • Calm and able to control their emotions.
  • Computer literate.

Your Long Term Prospects

Career structures vary from one organisation to another. To progress in their career, some call/contact centre operators may decide to move to a larger organisation or change industry sectors. With experience, it might be possible to gain promotion to team leader, supervisor or manager.

There may be opportunities to move within an organisation to another business function such as training, human resources, marketing or sales.

Call/contact centre operators may decide they want to deal with customers face to face rather than over the telephone, and look for customer service roles outside a contact centre environment.

Get Further Information

Chartered Institute of Marketing,
Moor Hall, Cookham, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 9QH
Tel: 01628 427500
Website: www.cim.co.uk

Customer Contact Association (CCA),
Head Office, 20 Newton Place, Glasgow G3 7PY
Tel: 0141 564 9010
Website: www.cca.org.uk

e-skills UK, 1 Castle Lane, London SW1E 6DR
Tel: 020 7963 8920
Website: www.e-skills.com

Institute of Customer Service (ICS),
2 Castle Court, St Peter's Street, Colchester, Essex CO1 1EW
Tel: 01206 571716
Website: www.instituteofcustomerservice.com

Institute of Direct Marketing,
1 Park Road, Teddington, Middlesex TW11 0AR
Tel: 020 8614 0277
Website: www.theidm.com

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