Making It in the Philippine Call Center Industry
Here's one industry you cannot go wrong, for now at least...
I started working for a call center in early 2006. For the untrained, call centers can also mean business process outsourcing companies, contact centers, strategic partners, etc. But those who have been in this business of offering customer service and support will tell you that there are different meanings to these three terms. I say we're splitting hairs. The core business function is customer support and there are several channels by which this service is delivered. Of course, the most popular is voice support or the call center. A contact point where millions of consumers call each day to find relief from the problems or issues brought on by the product they purchased from the expert on the other end of the line.
This business model started out in the Philippines in the mid-1990s and it got bigger and bigger until it became a real force in the economy. Affects employment rates and impacts the overall performance of the nation. What started as purely voice customer support has branched out to other support channels such as email, chat, and back-office processes. A good thing about customer support is that every industry thrives on it. If customer service is kept in check, a business can be a powerhouse. That is why some serious amount of strategic planning and funding goes to taking care of the clientele.
International businesses choose to outsource this part of their function to the Philippines simply because we have very good communication skills and we are cheaper than most. That is why the demand for trainable customer support representatives never wanes and anyone who can construct a decent sentence in English has a real shot at a high-paying and relatively stable job in posh business addresses. When I tried my luck on one such company, a call center, I got in at first blush. I realized soon enough that though my comms skills are at par with industry standards, I am not cut out to offer support through the phone. So after two unsuccessful attempts, I ended up with an email customer support account.
Getting Your Foot on the Door
My co-workers comprised of IT graduates, nurses, law students, and a whole lot of college undergraduates. The screening to get in usually entails two to three different interviews, a battery of written and online English exams and more often than not a phone or email simulation. If you clear these hoops then you are in for a work life that usually starts at 10:00 PM Manila time as most of our clients are in the U.S. You will be subject to various individual goals, more commonly known as key performance indicators that measure your performance according to speed and quality. If you perform well, you will be offered tenure after six months or less and if you are really good, your prospects for promotion are great.
Climbing the Ladder
So you have proven that you can work odd hours, do overtime anytime and come in during the holidays. You have also maintained the good results of your work in terms of speed and quality. You do not crack under pressure and you can maintain a generally amiable persona day in and day out despite all the stress that goes with the work. You can now start knocking on several promotion doors and improve your position in the company. If you want to stay in Operations your vertical steps may include becoming a Subject Matter Expert, a Team Lead or Supervisor, a Program Manager, a Program Director, a Country Manager, or a Vice President for Service Delivery. If you choose the support route you should go through the same steps but in the field of Quality, Training, Workforce Management, Administration, and Human Relations, etc., etc...Great benefits, numerous perks, and a fat paycheck await those who are brave enough to own a position of importance and prestige within the organization. Oh and do not forget the grueling hard work that comes with it. Good trade off by any standards...
The Corner Office Math
Each account held by a call center company usually has this vertical arrangement. Each call center manages anywhere from 5 to 10 or even more accounts. I do not know the exact figures but in the Philippines, as of this writing, there are hundreds if not thousands of legitimate call centers operating out of Metro Manila and the major provinces. The headcount is in the hundreds of thousands. The options are just endless and one of the biggest challenges of call centers is employee turnover or attrition. Call center agents are in the habit of joining bandwagons, when they hear that a new call center or a new account is offering this much salary, it is really too easy for them to make the move and improve their position.
The Best and the Brightest
The more successful agents hold out for the chance to climb the corporate ladder and become executives in as short as two years in the business. These are the ones who have decided to make a career out of their job and enjoy the gratifications that come from staying put and doing good. But then loyalty is only half of it because there are very specific competencies a person must have in order to climb the proverbial ladder. In order of importance, these are the competencies that an agent must possess: excellent English communications skills both written and spoken, knowledge of the account they want to lead, a healthy sense of urgency, or the ability to hustle, think and decide on their feet. Computer skills are also a must especially knowledge of the MS Office systems. Planning, analyzing, mentoring, leading, and public speaking is also pre-requisites and so it goes without saying that one must be oozing with confidence and the intelligence to back up their bid for an executive post.
I guess what people who are already in the industry fail to tell the hopefuls is that everything else can be learned as long as one can think and speak in English. These companies spend millions honing talents and rewarding loyalty and good performance. People who are not in the business often see those who are as highly intelligent and proficient in the English language but really the most important ingredient to becoming a success is plain old customer service, the willingness to help customers, and the ability to take on challenges as they come. Sure it's not for everyone but it is definitely not only for a chosen few.