Perhaps you work in a call center and you’re deathly tired of taking calls. Or maybe you’re thinking about switching careers but don’t want to go back to school. In the following article I’ll share some of my background, how I’ve earned promotions, and some what I’ve observed over the last 10 years in various customer service/support positions.
You’ve read it before, you’ll read it again – tech support is the burger flipping equivalent of the IT world. It usually pays $10-15 an hour, which is certainly decent, but nothing to write home about. You have to politely explain the same things over and over again to customers, who you will almost certainly grow to despise. You’ll have supervisors who aren’t fit to work with goats, let alone humans. But it can also be a great place to jump-start your career. Here’s why – most tech support jobs don’t require a vast knowledge of “everything”. Nor do they require a computer science degree. If you’re at all computer literate and can bluff your way through an interview, you’ll probably get the job. One of my peers @ IBM Global Services had literally never been on the Internet before being hired to do Internet technical support. To be fair, this was 10 years ago – but the basic premise mostly holds true today. A high school diploma (or equivalent) is more than enough education to get your foot in the door. I was hired to work at IBM even though I’m a high-school drop-out. The job I recently quit paid me more than $80k/year (US), and I still haven’t graduated from high-school.
Many of the following tips are nothing more than common sense. Not all will apply to every call center or tech support position.
8 Tips to get promoted out of the call center
1. Try to find a tech support job where you’ll be directly employed by the company you’re fielding calls for. Working for an outsourcing company (such as Nucomm, Convergys or Stream) can help you build your resume, but the promotion possibilities are typically limited to becoming a supervisor, trainer or “lead tech”. While each of those positions is certainly a promotion (and an increase in pay), they’re also not for everyone. If you’re seeking a job as a server admin, network admin, programmer etc, outsource companies don’t often have these positions available for you to be promoted into.
2. Pay very close attention to your metrics. Chances are good you won’t have much choice in this department, as your supervisor is almost certainly paying very close attention. If average handle time (average call time) is something that you’re graded on, make darn sure you’re well within the accepted ranges. If your handle time is too low, you’ll be accused of hanging up on customers or not fully supporting them. If it’s too high, you’ll be accused of being “too chatty” or helping customers with unsupported issues. Your supervisor is rated on how well you perform, so never give him or her reason to think negatively of you. Don’t give excuses either – your supervisor doesn’t care that the customer said you “made his day” by taking an extra 20 minutes to help them. Your supervisor cares that your metrics are in line.
Some call centers will focus on a specific metric for a period of time. It’s critical that you pay attention and make sure that you’re covered for that specific metric. Example: your company has decided that April is “first call resolution” month. During this period, make sure that your first call resolution is as high as possible, and don’t worry too much about the other metrics. The supervisors and call center managers will sit around at the end of that month and look to see who had the highest FCR. Make sure you’re on that list.
3. Volunteer for extra duties or assignments, even if they’re ‘beneath’ you – especially when asked. If you’re a “level two” tech, and asked to perform level one chores, just say “no problem” and do it. Team-players are not forgotten. Sometimes you’re asked to do things just to see what your reaction is. Keep that in mind.
4. In the same vein as the suggestion above, pro-actively suggest ways to improve process, training, or other aspects of your role. If your company has a knowledgebase or web-based troubleshooting site (like this one!), submit documents to it. Let the company know through your actions, not just words, that you’re a valuable resource. Telling your supervisor and co-workers that you’re “too smart for this job” will only alienate you – even if it’s true. SHOW them that you’re being under-utilized.
5. Volunteer or request to chair-side with other departments. If you want to work in a Network Operations Center, ask your supervisor if it could be arranged for you to sit with a NOC employee (during a not-too-busy time) for a few hours. Not only will you get a hands-on view of what a typical day in the life of a NOC person is (and possibly find out that it’s NOT the job for you, as I did) you’ll get to meet and network with new people. Also, people love it when you show interest in what they do. If you do decide you want to work in the NOC, whoever you chair-side with will give you a strong recommendation if you just pay attention to what they say, and at least pretend to be interested. It almost goes without saying, but don’t even think about asking to chair-side during your ‘on-phone’ hours. Yeah, you’ll have to give up time on one of your days off.
Similarly, if you want to be a programmer, write something that helps in your current role. Improve the outage board. Make a better version of an existing tool. Then show it to your supervisor and before you know it half the call center will be using it, and you’ll be asked to create new tools.
6. Let your intentions be known. Tell your supervisor that you want to be promoted, eventually. The turnover rate at call centers is so high that no one expects this to be the job you want for the rest of your life. But be willing to put in some time. Don’t think that you can be promoted within the first few weeks of your new job.
Do NOT bring up this subject if your metrics (average call time, average first call resolution rate, etc) are not up to par. The very first thing your supervisor will tell you is to do a better job in your current role. Also, make sure to explain that you don’t mind “paying your dues” first and that you don’t expect to be promoted overnight. Depending on the company and your relationship with your supervisor, you may want to ask if the two of you can put together a plan to help move your career forward. The two of you can set goals and a rough time-line to achieve them. While it’s unlikely that you’ll get a “do x y and z and you’ll be promoted” response, it shows that you’re willing to do what it takes. This is also a good time and place to ask your supervisor what you can do to better your chances of a promotion, and make sure it’s on paper (or in email) so you can later show that you did everything that was suggested/required.
7. Smile. And yes, I know, this is the hardest one. It’s true in all jobs, but especially in call centers – the folks who smile are the most liked. The person who sits quietly in the corner, never talks to anyone and has a permanent frown isn’t going to be looked upon favorably. Sorry, it’s just the way it is. If it takes thinking of how you’d like to toilet-paper your supervisors house in order for you to smile, do it. The smile will also come across when you’re speaking with customers, no matter how much you want to hang up on them.
8. Become an expert in at least one subject. It never hurts to be known as the ‘go-to’ person for a given topic. If you’re an OS X/Apple expert, let your peers know that you’re willing to help them, since a lot of tech support employees are very Windows-only. Or learn one of your tools inside and out, and then document some of the more advanced or difficult features. But don’t let this backfire – many people also become arrogant when they’re a subject matter expert, and acting like a know-it-all will not help your career.
Are you a call center graduate as well? What did you do to get promoted? Share your tips in the comments – and if they’re good I’ll add them, so it can be a proper “10 tips” list :)