Despite being plagued by high employee turnover, poor working conditions, and low wages, the industry is surging ahead from being a back-office operations unit to becoming a strategic entity by which businesses handle customer relationships, boost sales, and increase profits.
The call-center concept made its modest beginning in the '70s, when the U.S. airline industry adopted it to revamp their customer services. Today, many large businesses employ in-house call center operations to interact with their customers. In some organizations, even internal functions such as help desk and sales support are performed through call centers. Other organizations turn to independent call centers for outsourcing and co-sourcing options.
- Most call centers today provide their services in the areas of customer service, inbound/outbound marketing, sales support, reservations, market research, technical help, and credit collections.
- They support global companies' CRM strategies with the help of strategically located large contact centers.
- Immense growth in consumer use of the Internet and email has fueled this evolution.
- The huge amount of customer data available to companies has enabled them to utilize one-to-one marketing.
- The market has accepted outsourcing CRM operations to third parties who are able to provide cost-effective and better services.
- Call centers have emerged as strategic business assets.
- Globalization has encouraged customers to expect services on their own terms—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in their languages of choice, and at the places of their choice.
- Innovations in technology are forcing call centers to periodically reinvent themselves.
- Wall Street's entry into operations has made the industry grow at a phenomenal rate.
According to industry estimates, about 5% of the U.S. working population—approximately seven million people-is engaged in the call center industry. Although at many call centers there may be only 20 people handling all the calls, most the centers of them have multiple sites where thousands of agents work. In North America alone, there are about 70,000 call centers. The industry has created five million new jobs in the U.S. in the last 15 years.
These trends suggest that in the years to come, call centers will continue to flourish and will play pivotal interface roles between organizations and their customers.