Sheffield, UK ( Kazor ) August 27, 2011 – The call centre, like the internet, is such a ubiquitous feature of modern life that it seems hard to remember the fairly recent times when the phenomenon simply did not exist. As the source material for comedy routines and editorial rants for at least twenty years, what is often overlooked is the sheer level of employment provided in the U.K. by the much maligned call centre. Indeed, such is the development of the industry that many companies like the Voice Group now specialise in providing outsourced call centre services as a core operation. Over a million employees in the U.K. now work in a call centre, amounting to some 3.5% of the U.K. workforce.
Direct Line is credited as the call centre pioneer in the U.K, with their first call centre opened in April 1985. Few at that time predicted the sheer scale of the massive growth in the call centre industry that was to follow, or the radical change in the customer communication dynamic that was to result from the new paradigm.
At worst, call centres have been identified as producing some of the most stressful interactions of modern life, with one survey even rating bad call centre communication as more stressful than getting married! However, the call centre is arguably responsible for making direct communication with a company representative more accessible than ever, even if the scope of the dialogue is at times somewhat limited. As with all industries of this scale, the call centre experience can vary dramatically from provider to provider, if not quite from the sublime then definitely to the ridiculous.
The worst excesses of call centre culture have generally been witnessed in the sales arena, with cold calling and predictive diallers the usual suspects when it comes to the most regular ‘customer’ gripes. Indeed, if having either an aggressive sales representative pushing a product in which you have no interest, or receiving a series of calls which hang up on answer is annoying, the fact that you are not and have never wished to be a customer is perhaps at the core of the frustration felt by the recipients of such calls.
However, at the other end of the spectrum there is the efficient customer call centre, which when organised properly can provide near instantaneous resolution for service and billing issues. Lengthy waits for the processing of snail mail correspondence are fast becoming a thing of the past for customers of the more forward thinking business which invests in quality call centre operations.
The call centre has also provided badly needed jobs in some of the post industrial areas of Britain that would otherwise have suffered most from the decline of manufacturing output. While manufacturing jobs accounted for some 40% of the workforce immediately after World War II, this percentage has steadily declined since, with just 8% of UK jobs now based in manufacturing. Scotland and many areas of northern England were hit hardest by this decline, and now up to 5% of the workforce in these areas relies on the call centre for a career.
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