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Call centres often serve as the all-important first point of customer contact for a given company, and this fact highlights their importance to the customer service strategy of a company. The growth of this sector has exploded over the last few years as Canadian and international companies around the world increasingly handle more and more transactions over the telephone, 24 hours a day. In fact, it's estimated Canadians make $1 billion in business transactions over the phone each day, much of it through call centres.

The call centre industry employs close to one million Canadians. Its unprecedented growth is attributed to a variety of business factors, including a society with increasingly less time and the demand for service and support that is a phone call away. To companies, call centres have become strategic marketing tools providing links to customers, as well as giving them a crucial advantage in customer relationship management. The convergence of computer and telecommunication technologies has also evolved allowing companies to provide clients with superior customer service in a cost effective manner. The important role call centres play in the customer service strategy of a company puts to rest misconceptions they simply telemarket and cold sell. Their role within many companies has grown to include servicing both in-bound and out-bound calls, providing technical help, offering product support, accepting orders, and managing customer accounts.

What does the boom in this industry mean to students and new grads? It spells opportunity, exposure to different business functions, and a job that sees beyond just customer service. Call centre reps must be skilled in everything from computer proficiency in technical help centres, to making sales, to up-selling and promoting loyalty. In addition, due to the bilingual and multicultural nature of Canadian society, employees who speak French or other languages also find an invaluable place within the call centre industry. Students or new graduates who are functionally fluent in French will find an advantage in securing employment in this sector. For those who are still in school, call centres offer the flexible schedules necessary to work while finishing a degree.

The most common entry-level position for students is as a customer service representative. After graduation, there is the possibility of pursuing this industry as a full time career choice with escalating levels of responsibility on both the customer service and operations management side of firms, moving up to become a team leader, supervisor, trainer, coach, manager, and director. Responsibilities of various positions range from the management of a shift to procurement of new contracts; outsourcing to contracting; development to consultation. Types of call centres have also become equally varied as service related industries are growing to include everything from telecommunications, finance, insurance, loyalty programs and government information services.

Although the size and function of call centres has developed significantly throughout the country, growth is especially evident in the maritimes. New Brunswick is currently touted as the call centre king along side Queen Ontario, which is home to two thirds of call centres in Canada. Growth of the entire industry is estimated to be more than 20 per cent per year, a result of the increasingly skilled and multilingual workforce, the lower cost of business and an exchange rate that continues to attract American operations and companies.

As these industries compete for customers by providing the best service experience, the reliance on call centres and enhancing the first point of customer contact will undoubtedly keep business and career opportunities ringing off the hook.

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