Call centre agents must have excellent communication skills to excel in this field

CHATTERBOXES: As much as 80 percent of an organisation's communication with their customers takes place via call centres. © Unknown. 31/07/07.
CHATTERBOXES: As much as 80 percent of an organisation's communication with their customers takes place via call centres. © Unknown. 31/07/07.

Maryanne Maina

Maryanne Maina

Globally, more than six million people work in call centres and 80 percent of the communication between companies and their customers takes place through contact centres.

South African contact centre companies recently won a bronze and a silver award at the 2007 Contact Centre World Conference and Awards Gala for Europe, Middle East and Africa. This industry is booming.

Call centres provide information and advice or sell goods and services to customers by telephone.

The call centre function may be handled by the company itself or outsourced to another company .

Positions for call centre operators are available in a number of different industries.

"There are various types of call centres to work in such as telephone companies, insurance companies, commercial banks, medical aid funds, power or water utility companies, wholesale and retail establishments, educational institutions and other organisations with a strong customer service orientation," says Zinzi Khumalo, a call centre operator based in Durban.

"Work may be on a full-time, part-time or a casual basis. You may also be required to work day or night shifts and to work over the weekend," he adds.

The exact nature of a call centre operator's duties varies according to the organisation's products or services.

Responsibilities vary widely and include answering telephone calls; noting details of the caller's query and logging it on to a computer; processing the information; providing the caller with appropriate information or advice; updating the database with changes and status of each customer or prospective customer; providing a high level of customer service; selling the caller products or services; handling payments; following up calls by sending letters, information kits, faxes or e-mail; and phoning customers to promote various products or services.

Call centre operators need to have excellent verbal communication skills; good listening skills; a pleasant and friendly manner of communicating; an interest in talking to people; clear speech and good hearing; a calm and even-tempered personality; aptitude for working with computers, a sound knowledge of the products and services of the organisation; the ability to work accurately and respond to complaints tactfully.

Khumalo says that call centre operators are faced with many challenges but the most common one is customer satisfaction.

"Customers have different needs and some of them can be demanding but you must remain cool and calm and treat their needs importantly, or you could lose your customers," he says.

There are no specific educational requirements for this job. Quest Learning Institute offers a National Qualification Framework Level 2 Contact Centre Support Diploma.

This diploma is essential for skills development, which enables the call centre operator to provide a customer with high-quality service.

The next career step for an experienced call centre operators is to progress to a team leader's position.

Khumalo offers advice to prospective call centre agents: "You need to read widely to keep yourself updated with this industry."