The future looks bright for contact center agents in the US with positive employment growth predicted to continue for the rest of this year. Growth was particularly healthy in the second half of 2013 thanks to the need of health care exchanges to hire new staff due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
Although, growth is not expected to match the figures for the second part of 2013, where new jobs soared to 28,157, the outlook is still good and fears this sharp spike could be followed by a slump in new jobs in 2014 are likely to be unfounded. The National Association of Call Centers (NACC) stats show the post-recession employment roller coaster ended in the first quarter of 2012 revealing stable growth since then. “It´s still positive growth and there´s no indication there will be a slowdown in employment in the near future,” says NACC research director Paul Stockford regarding the expected staffing numbers for 2014.
Onshore Prospects Set to Grow
He adds in certain sectors jobs that were previously outsourced are expected to return to the US. “Financial services and airlines are also growing pretty well. A lot of these call center jobs are coming back onshore.” Stockford says the trend to bring jobs back to the US is in part due to concerns about keeping the customer happy over larger financial transactions. For example, airlines often process large ticket purchases for long haul flights in the area of US$1,500 compared with low-margin sectors such as cell phone companies where there are less risks associated with an off-shore contact center. Mark Cook, vice president of employment agency CallMe! agrees this is a likely future pattern, “I think there´s a feeling that bringing call centers back into the US so that they can be better managed with less reliance on prescriptive protocols is definitely a trend.”
Keeping it Local
Another tendency is the growth of smaller more regional contact centers thanks to the growth of cloud technology according to Stockford, “The first quarter this year has seen a trend towards de-centralization which is probably a combination of cost management and cloud management which will promote smaller contact centers.” He points to the fact that many operations are closing their contact centers of several thousand seats in favor of regional ones with around 350 agents. “The ACA may also have played a part in this with US states such as California opting to run their own state-wide health care exchange hiring local agents.”
Expectations Fuel Jobs
“Growth has been sporadic but always positive. This time the focus is on investing in customer care functions. Look at social media – you can´t automate a response to a blog, Twitter or Facebook but you can put a telephone agent on to communicate via Twitter. There are companies out there that have zeroed in on social media and are really exploiting it,” explains Stockford who also observed that contact centers continued to employ agents in order to retain their customer base even during the worst of the recession.
Cook concurs that future trends for the industry look bright, “The market is quite buoyant, our business has benefited from the increased demand of call center staff. Companies are seeing a lot of opportunity and they are seeing turmoil in this sector as to how best to service clients’ needs.” He points to the opportunities and challenges social media growth is throwing up for companies. “The thing I love about it is that it’s an easy portal for consumers to express themselves and it’s easy for an airline, for example, to take this intelligence and turn it into a customer opportunity through the contact center.”
He adds that social media offers the potential for contact centers to expand and become more effective in tailoring communication directly to customers’ needs. Cook says as the economy improves companies will want to build on the minimum staffing levels they maintained during the recession.
Stockford agrees saying there is greater business confidence with companies prepared to invest in customer care. “Customer experience is really picking up speed with these different channels. There’s nothing but growth as far as I can see.”
This article was originally published by NSAM sister publication Customer Experience Report.