COVID-19 will lead to a surge in job opportunities in Australian-based call centres, according to a senior executive in the sector.
The pandemic has already seen financial services organisations forced to relocate their operations after shutdowns in traditional off-shore hubs.
Westpac notably announced it was bringing back 1,000 frontline operators from The Phillipines in July. Telcos made similar statements after lockdowns in India. Even Australia-based back office roles at banks have been repurposed to deal with a massive upsurge in inquiries.
Citrus Group general manger Mary Blake - whose company has been involved in many large-scale recruitment drives as well as setting up new centres - thinks the trend will continue with the one million call centre workforce climbing even higher.
“Prior to COVID, the call centre industry sat under the radar but it has really come to the forefront, especially with people in lockdown,” she said.
“We've seen how the banks are having to repurpose staff with many more people in a sort of call centre capacity.
“It’s not just the day-to-day banking questions or financial services questions. We're seeing a lot of traffic directed to more complex inquiries and an increase in questions around hardship?
“Call centre agents deal with a lot. They're not nice fluffy phone calls.
“These guys are often getting abused and frustrated but they take it on the chin. The resilience level that they have is phenomenal - just like our frontline staff throughout the pandemic.
“So we are certainly seeing the market growing rapidly because of COVID.
“And we have seen quite a number of roles that might have been made redundant or downsized that are growing to really support the frontline areas of the business.”
The whole Early Access to Super situation led to a massive upsurge in inquiries, with many more about insurance, according to Mary who has been involved in the call centre sector for 25 years.
“People without insurance realise that they need to change policies, which leads to more complex questions. The financial planning market is growing as well. Seemingly simple questions like accessing super are often more complex.
“So people working at the centres have to have an understanding of the infrastructure that sits within Australia.”
The growing use of chatbots has not seen the total demise of human interaction and the need for agents with a high level of interpersonal skills, according to Mary.
She explained: “We have seen a distinct increase in the use of chatbots for what we would call first level inquiry - things that someone could self service them themselves - like password reset, lost and stolen cards. That's quite simple. It frees up the agent to take a more complex based inquiry to really be able to drive that.
“So we're certainly seeing opportunities for skilled individuals. It really is a career for someone coming into the market.”
Mary has seen the sector flourish before being streamlined and migrated offshore. Now she is seeing a resurgence of opportunities for all ages.
“We're seeing people of all ages realising the opportunities they can get from a contact centre,” she added.
“We've seen an increase in the retired population wanting to work part-time and filling a gap that we may not have seen 10 years ago.
“So they get from it what they want. We're seeing people coming straight out of high school and within four or five years, earning $70, $80, $90,000 as a leader and have some fantastic skills behind.
“There's a number of different entry points for someone to have a true career in an environment that is quite complex.
“I would encourage any person who has been hit with unemployment, or seeking a new role, to consider a rewarding career in the contact centre industry. These jobs are open to anyone, and businesses are looking for people of all ages and all skill levels to join their growing onshore teams.
“A lot driving the call volumes or conversations is the Australian public who are asking why it takes five times to get an answer? So we're seeing that resurgence of the market.
“It has been really positive to see businesses hiring local workers. I cannot imagine any company that previously utilised offshore contact centres looking back – the opportunity to work with locals is priceless.”