Call Centre Agent/Customer Service Adviser

Nowadays we expect quick and efficient service on the phone. In response to our expectations, local authorities are employing growing numbers of call centre agents and customer service advisers to provide local people with information, advice and resolution of their enquiries over the telephone.  Increasingly, these telephone services are provided through call centres (sometimes known as contact centres), which may be run directly by the local authority or by a private contractor working on behalf of the local authority.  A variety of job titles are used. As well as call centre agent and customer service adviser, titles include 'call centre operator', 'agent' and 'customer adviser'.

Work Environment
The work environment could be a state-of-the-art dedicated call centre/contact centre or a more conventional office, but it will normally be designed so that staff can spend most of the working day sitting in comfort. Adjustable chairs, footrests, good lighting and air conditioning all make the workplace as pleasant as possible.  Work-wear is normally smart business dress.  The service may be provided in the evenings and at weekends, as well as during normal office hours.

Daily Activities
The main task is to answer incoming calls from residents within the local authority. These could cover matters such as:

  • eligibility and entitlement to housing benefit; 
  • eligibility for housing; 
  • entitlement to council tax discounts; 
  • library enquiries - renewal of library books, for instance; 
  • advice on environmental issues - for example, queries about the council's recycling facilities, bulky waste collections, street cleaning; 
  • complaints about local shops, market traders or restaurants; 
  • social services - for example, a member of the public might report their worries about an elderly person living alone.

Where possible, call centre agents and customer service advisors provide callers with the information and advice they need. They may use a computer-based system to look up information and to carry out tasks such as renewal of library books. When enquiries are complex they can refer callers to specialists, such as Housing Officers or Trading Standards Officers. Agents and advisors wear headsets, allowing them to talk on the telephone whilst using their hands to operate a computer keyboard. They can quickly check answers to straightforward enquiries and note customers' requirements whilst talking to callers. In busy periods, staff will take calls in quick succession. When there are fewer calls, there may be time to carry out other activities, such as answering e-mails or web-based enquiries, administrative tasks, training activities and making outgoing calls to canvass feedback (checking that tenants are satisfied with recent repairs, for example).

Skills & Interests
The main requirements are:

  • an interest in people; 
  • the ability to work as a member of a team; 
  • excellent customer service skills; 
  • a clear voice; 
  • good hearing and an active listener; 
  • a polite, helpful telephone manner.

Quick thinking is necessary to respond effectively to enquiries. Written skills are likely to become increasingly important as centres take on responsibility for answering queries made by e-mail, fax or letter.

Entry Requirements
Personal qualities are more important than previous experience or academic qualifications. This type of work attracts people from a wide variety of backgrounds and age groups.  Selection is likely to involve an interview and test of telephone skills.  Training, which is provided by employers, usually covers telephone techniques, computer skills and the specific area(s) of local authority services the operator will be dealing with.  Call centre agents may be encouraged to work towards NVQ/SVQ level 2 in processing information using telecommunications. NVQs/SVQs in customer service at levels 2 and 3 are also appropriate. Employers may grant day-release to enable staff to study for these qualifications.

Future Prospects & Opportunities
The rapid expansion of this type of work means that promotion prospects are very good. Promotion within a call centre environment is normally to team leader, responsible for supervising a dozen or so operators and then to management.  There are also opportunities to transfer into other careers within a local authority environment. It would be possible, for example to apply for a post as a trainee social worker, administrator or trading standards officer. Information acquired whilst employed in this position would provide an adequate basis from which to take further training.

Further Information & Services
Call Centre Management Association
Institute of Customer Service
Apprenticeship information

You may find further information about this area of work through Careers Wales ( or in your local library, careers office or school careers library.

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