Looking for a new job? At present, you may be the manager of a high-street travel agency or one of 50 people on the reservations team of a tour operation, but chances are that when you next approach your friendly local recruitment consultancy, they will be offering you a call-centre position as one of your possible options.
The number of call centres has mushroomed in the travel and tourism sector in recent years.
Research from market analysts Datamonitor forecasts that the number of call-centre agent positions in the sector is set to grow at an average yearly rate of 17% to reach 91,000 by 2002.
By the end of this year, the company estimates that the number of call-centre agent positions in the UK alone will be 22,000.
For evidence of the variety of opportunities already on offer in call centres, you only have to skim the recruitment pages of Travel Weekly each week.
Call-centre job opportunities which have recently been advertised include a £35,000-a year manager post based in Dublin, full and part-time posts at Going Places Direct call centre in North Tyneside, as well as retail travel advisor jobs at the new call-centre operation from theatre ticket agency First Call.
The reason for the dramatic growth in call centres is straightforward.
Call centres which are dedicated purely to processing bookings by telephone offer the customer the convenience of out-of-hours shopping from the comfort of their own armchair.
However, consultant Jonathan Wilson of Ellis Hayward warns that job seekers offered the opportunity to work in a call centre need to know exactly what they are getting into.
Working in a call centre is an undeniably difficult environment which needs to be made as pleasant as possible.
Wilson claims some employers are very thoughtless in the way they treat their call-centre staff.
“They are lined up and all they can see all day is a computer screen in front of them. They can’t even see each other. I spoke to one worker who said he worked in a room with 200 people but felt lonely.”
Wilson pointed out that it can be more difficult establishing a rapport with the customer without face-to-face contact.
“Call-centre staff have to work hard to develop the customer’s trust and they have to do this in a highly pressurised environment, all the time knowing there is an automated call distribution system monitoring how quickly each agent is processing the calls.”
Wilson notes that it is something of a contradiction that call centres are set up to offer the customer a better service by being open round-the-clock yet they are run on very mechanistic lines and often the only performance measurement is the number of calls handled in a day.
For call-centre managers, there is the additional headache of recruitment.
Finding the right staff is hard enough in the travel industry, but can be harder still in a call centre where staff turnover is typically 25% compared to the industry average of around 10%.
But it’s not all bad. Gail Kenny of Argyle Executive Recruitment says the director of a European call centre with between 300-400 staff can earn up to £80,000 a year.
Even at the lower end of the salary scale, Wilson adds there are positive benefits to working in a call centre.
“It’s a buzzy atmosphere and it can be a very fulfilling job if there is enlightened management who make the environment pleasant for all
” But there is nothing more depressing than seeing 200 desks lined up with staff treated like battery hens.”
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