Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Creating Jobs in the Service Industry

Last week, I went to Starbucks and picked up a brochure about how Starbucks is helping to create jobs. This was timely given the President's speech and clearly it is a hot topic due to the elections and the state of our economy. Over the past few months, I have given thought to this topic and I believe our government can not only create jobs, but they can develop careers and help corporate America boost their profitability which in turn can be further invested back into our economy. I call this plan, " A Career in Service".


A Career in Service 
When one thinks of a job in a contact center or retail environment, a college degree does not come to mind as a requirement. Unfortunately, our country which prides itself on the concept that the customer is always right does not encourage the art of service as being a skill requirement for these customer contact jobs.  Other countries, specifically the Philippines, have created an education program for the contact center industry which prepares their students for a contact center job upon graduation and therefore gives their country a global competitive advantage.  

Suggestion: Local community colleges should offer a 2 year Service Professional program which teaches students everything about the service industry, the art of service, basic business skills, training/coaching skills, contact center technology, retail industry basics and customer experience. A four year program in this field would yield a Customer Experience business degree which is an emerging field that both marketing and operations students would be interested in. As part of the curriculum, these students would intern at local contact centers and  malls by working a minimum of 8 hours weekly towards their credits. Companies involved in the program would pay a student hourly wage and offer financial incentives for performance. During their internship, they would have a performance scorecard consistent with everyone in the program. Upon graduation, they would highlight not only their GPA but also their stats such as their average Net Promoter score on their resume. 

In the contact center industry, countries that can provide wage arbitrage have attracted outsourcers and American companies in large numbers for the past decade. Many companies chose to keep their centers in the US because of tax advantages, premium service experience or regulatory needs. 

Suggestion: While offshoring is not going to go away, the government can do more to keep these contact centers here not by just providing a tax advantage, but by contributing to the salary of these employees and by investing in training and education programs. Employees who have strong performance scores can earn special federally funded financial incentives and all employees who are interested in a career in the service industry, can earn their degrees by being trained on site by local colleges.  

The Cool Factor
Reality TV has certainly helped bring attention to those tattoo artists, hair salons, pawn shops and those crazy housewives. Someone needs to highlight the world of contact centers in the US and not only in India. There are so many interesting stories that can be told and if the media world could pay attention to this industry, it may attract a different talent set and innovate the hiring process.  Companies that value the customer, value the people they hire for contact center roles and ensure that these people are the best and brightest in their field. For many companies, they view these roles as entry level positions and a must to establish their careers within their organizations.

Suggestion: The government can partner with the entertainment industry to bring the “cool factor” to this field to attract college educated job seekers and recent college graduates. How about a documentary on contact centers in America or a reality show where the viewers travel across the country visiting various contact centers and retail stores to profile the people working there. OK so maybe it isn't totally exciting but someone with a more creative lens can figure it out. 

Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Higher Profits
For anyone who has worked in a contact center or in a retail environment, most people there are only working for the hourly wage as opposed to investing in their career. The impact of this can be attributed to poor customer experiences. If companies are able to hire from a higher skilled workforce across all levels of their frontline organization, their ability to improve the customer experience will be strengthened and this will resonate with retaining customers, higher spend rates and reduced costs of marketing initiatives to acquire back their customers. Companies will not be eager to offshore these call centers simply to reduce costs because the revenue generating results will be difficult to match.

What Happens to those not so happy employees?
Clearly, when raising the bar on service, the employees who fall to the bottom of the performance scale will have to work harder to improve their results or be left without a job. If the industry collectively raises the bar and hires properly skilled workers, the choice of these customer not so friendly workers will be to get the proper skills or take on roles where they do not interact with the customer. This will would make us all happier customers! 

So the question is, how can we get started? 

Happy Wednesday!

The Customer Experience Factory

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