A telephonist is responsible for answering a switchboard or telephone and dealing with the calls appropriately. They are usually the first point of contact people have with an organisation, and need to provide a fast and efficient service. They may also be referred to as a telephone or switchboard operator.
Telephonists develop an excellent understanding of how an organisation operates and the people who work there. Depending on the size and structure of the environment they are working in, their role may involve:
In some organisations, for example central and local government agencies, there may be more than one telephonist dealing with several calls at any one time. Some office buildings may house more than one company, so the telephonist may be responsible for supporting and answering calls for a number of different organisations.
A telephonist employed by a telecoms company may have to:
Telephonists spend 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 may be difficult to deal with. The calls may be recorded for training or screened to ensure that company service standards are met.
Some of the telephonist's responsibilities have changed in recent years due to advances in call routing technology. In many organisations there are direct dial phone facilities both in and out. Many switchboards and telephone systems are automated, with callers choosing options from recorded messages.
A telephonist works between 37 and 40 hours a week, normally over five days. Some organisations may require telephonists to work a shift pattern to provide an extended service covering evenings and weekends. There may be part-time and job share opportunities.
The role is office-based. It involves long periods of sitting wearing a headset and using a switchboard or telephone. Some switchboards are screen-based and provide information about incoming calls.
Smart casual or business dress is usually expected.
Starting salaries may be around £13,000 a year.
Prospects are good in all industry sectors, with large organisations and small enterprises often employing telephonists. There are jobs throughout the UK.
Telephonists also work for:
- Local authorities
- NHS Direct and NHS trusts
- The emergency services
- Local transport firms, including taxi companies
Since British Telecom (BT) was deregulated in 2005, many opportunities have been created with communication companies providing cable and mobile telecommunications.
Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers, through Jobcentre Plus offices and Connexions centres, and on recruitment agency websites.
Employers are likely to ask for five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths. An excellent telephone manner is essential. Customer service experience is also useful. Foreign languages may be useful, although these are not required.
Some employers, including the emergency services and financial sector, require Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks.
Some colleges offer courses in call handling techniques, which may provide a useful grounding. These include the City & Guilds Level 1 qualifications:
- Certificate of Introduction to the Contact Centre Industry
- Contact Centre Operations
- Certificate in Contact Centre Skills
There are also BTEC awards, such as the:
- Level 1 Award in Introduction to Contact Centres
- Level 2 Award in Contact Centre Skills
- Level 3 Award in Contact Centre Supervisory Skills.
Local colleges can provide further details and advice.
Training is on the job. New telephonists usually work alongside a senior member of staff until they are more experienced.
Employees are encouraged to attend internal and external training programmes, where emphasis is placed on continued development and career progression. High standards are required as operators may be the only contact a person has with an organisation.
Training and development areas may cover:
- First impressions
- Best telephone practice
- Developing listening skills
- Customer care
Telephonists can work towards NVQs/SVQs in:
- Customer Service at Level 2, 3 and 4
- Contact Centre Operations at Level 2 and 3
- Contact Centre Professionals at Level 3 and 4
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A telephonist should:
A telephonist's skills are transferable. Although there is no structured career path, telephonists have various opportunities for progression, including:
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