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From call centres to customer contact operations

The initials ‘CIOLA’ may not mean much to newcomers to the field of careers information, advice and guidance but it is a group whose members are experts in writing, publishing and disseminating careers information. They work mainly for careers guidance companies, local authorities and careers publishers and distributors. CIOLA members meet regularly to update their knowledge and share resources and intelligence. If you would like to participate in their meetings in London, do get in touch with Alison Dixon ( who can tell you more!


Today was actually the 140th meeting of the CIOLA group and they had a guest speaker who talked about burgeoning careers in customer contact centres. Paul Smedley is founder and chair of the Professional Planning Forum ( which is heavily involved in professionalising roles across the sector. He spoke about the change of culture that is taking place in customer contact operations and the move away from the old-style call centre. It brought home one of the challenges of providing impartial advice and guidance in schools. How can you act in the best interests of the young person if you are not up-to-date, if you do not understand the complexity of what is happening in the industry and if your head is filled with the stereotype of what it is like to work in a call centre? Paul talked about some of the forward-looking employers in the sector but acknowledged that it is still early days. Apprenticeships, for example, are few and far between. Nevertheless, the industry is developing a suite of practical qualifications at levels 4, 5 and 6 with the University of Ulster Business School that will provide career progression up to BSc honours standard.


Paul’s advice to young people was forthright. Working in a customer contact centre is a good place to learn about people and hone your customer care skills. Think carefully about what kind of customer care operation you join – organisational cultures vary. They can be good but they can also be alienating so check out what the experience will be like. Some employers facilitate home-working which opens employment to a wider range of people. The best employers also engage their staff and reap the dividend. Engaged staff deliver happier customers and more innovative ideas with a positive impact on the bottom line (For further information on employer engagement, see Engaging Success). 

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