Written by Jim McBride
The contact center – or call center, as the terms are interchangeable – is the critical hub for serving clients/customers across multiple channels for nearly every organization large and small. Live-agent, chat, email and social media links consumers through thousands and thousands of interactions with the contact center.
In the Phoenix metro region, the contact center “industry” converges with the tremendous growth of financial services companies in delivering a hotbed of potential careers for the active and passive job seeker. Contact center roles are often a gateway into career growth and do not necessarily require starting at the entry level.
In front of a full house, Jessica Pierce facilitated two panel discussions addressing careers, advancement opportunities and workplace culture with eight high profile, award-winning contact centers in the financial services sector. Each company represented on the panel has been recognized by employer branding firm Best Companies AZ for workplace excellence so, clearly, they know their stuff.
For those in career transition, this was an excellent opportunity to hear first-hand from senior leaders how to get your foot in the door and grow your career within these respected organizations. All eight companies are in growth mode and looking to hire hundreds of employees.
Panel 1 – Career Advancement & Opportunities
- Heather Marcom – Freedom Financial Network, Head of Talent Acquisition
- Willie Cordova – USAA, Director of Member Solutions
- Andrew Seals – Voya Financial, Director Retirement Readiness Services Center
- Dexter Johnson – Farmers Insurance, Head of Direct Service and Sales
Q – What can you tell us about entry level positions in your contact center and the potential career opportunities?
Farmers: We currently have openings for entry level sales and service positions, but we also have many openings for individual contributors, including back office processing, reporting, analytics, IT and project management.
Voya Financial: Customer service roles are a launch point for many of the higher-level jobs which require licensing (i.e. Series 6). Right now, we’re looking to fill roles in workforce management and benefits administration, which are not entry level.
USAA: We are targeting customer service and claims roles, which do not require previous experience. Representatives handle inbound calls from members. We’ll help you get licensed once you’re on board.
Freedom Financial Network: All of our customer service is inbound. No outbound calling. We have openings for debt relief, negotiators, back office payment processing and call center sales.
Q – What career pathways have you established within your company?
Freedom Financial Network: We call it a career ladder. You can move from an entry level 1, 2 or 3 position into supervisor or even over to sales and lending, which pays more. From there, we’ve had employees move into IT, marketing and training positions.
USAA: The progression is typically from associate – as we call them – to specialist to senior associate. We challenge our leaders to have career advancement discussions and develop a career trajectory. There are internal programs for learning IT skills, such as coding. We’re developing your skills for life, not just for USAA.
Voya Financial: We expect our leaders to prepare development plans and have conversations about career progression with their team members. Employees are empowered to ask questions and get involved. The entry level position is your entry point.
Farmers: On a formal basis there are career path discussions between managers and their employees. Informally, we have peer resource groups focused on diversity and like-minded ideas and interests. Want to become a leader? Well, let’s show you how to run a huddle.
Q – Are there opportunities for the mature job seeker who doesn’t want an entry level position?
Voya Financial: We have many roles based on experience. You could start as a senior representative.
USAA: We’re willing to go externally to find certain skill sets and experience. We do try to promote from within but sometimes there’s a real need to find fresh blood.
Freedom Financial Network : It’s a combination. Some of our roles require experience, but in the call center experience is not necessarily needed. Sales experience can come from any industry. Roughly 50% of our roles are filled externally.
Farmers: Promoting from within is important. But we cast our hiring net externally, as well. I recently hired a director from the outside. We have an immediate need for analytics and reporting skills, which will likely come externally.
Q – What is your company’s policy on promoting from within?
Farmers: There are growth opportunities for everyone, regardless of tenure. We will help you prepare for that next job and fulfill your career potential.
Voya Financial: We have an 18-month requirement for eligibility due to the complexity of the entry level roles. We want you as an employee to be comfortable. However, there are times when the eligibility requirement is waived.
USAA: The timeframe is 12 to 18 months in the current job to be eligible for promotion. Many of those next roles will require licensing, so it can take some time to learn.
Freedom Financial Network: You must be in the role for three months. We know that people want to move up the career ladder. We do not have any license-required positions.
Q – With the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) how do you see technology impacting call center jobs? (from the audience)
Farmers: Technology, such as the bot, will have an impact on the most transactional of interactions with customers. However, there’s always going to be a need for critical thinking and emotional intelligence of the human being. We need empathy in the human contact. There will be a blend of technology and human interaction.
USAA: Our members want to talk with a human when they call in. The technology will make it easier to match the member with the representative that’s best equipped to assist a specific need or demographic.
Panel 2 – Culture & Employee Engagement
Drew Foster – American Express, Director of US Recruiting
Sherry McFadden – State Farm, Customer Care Center Director
Renee Brown – Vanguard, Senior Recruiter
Christine Sorensen – Charles Schwab, Team Manager Participant Services
Q – What does culture fit mean to you? What’s it like working for your company?
Vanguard: It’s a culture of empathy and communication. We all have to be mindful that the investment industry language can go over people’s head. We have a team environment focused on employee development.
Schwab: We’re here to help everyone grow and succeed. Someone’s always available to help, no matter what the situation. We conduct an assessment to determine ethics, teamwork and the type of work environment that would be the best fit for the candidate.
State Farm: We’re a relationship company steeped in integrity and tradition. We’re your neighbor. We’re there after a hurricane or an auto accident. That’s our culture, we care.
Q – How do you get your foot in the door? Do you have to start at entry level jobs?
AMEX: Some roles will require entry level experience at first, but not all. It depends on your skill set. I’m currently looking for workforce management skills, which does need entry level experience.
Vanguard: We’re regulated, so many roles require licensing and then you work your way up. You can pursue internal opportunities after one year. We have hired supervisors from the outside. About 85% of our hiring is from within.
Schwab: It really depends on your experience and license requirements of the role. We have lots of room for growth and it’s important to have those development discussions with your manager.
Q – What are the hot jobs at your company right now?
AMEX: Senior manager (supporting 18 cruise lines), director of workforce management, sales, fraud, team leaders.
State Farm: Enterprise technology, software development, coding, data scientist, frontline supervisors, bilingual supervisor, sales and service.
Vanguard: Data science, IT, senior financial planner.
Schwab: Always hiring in participant services and investor services. Our operation has 60 different departments and there are always openings.
Q – Describe the family friendliness of your call center. What support do you provide? (from the audience)
Vanguard: We have a 37.5-hour work week Monday through Friday. No weekends. All shifts end no later than 8:00 pm.
Schwab: Four 10-hour days are available. Paid four-week sabbatical every five years.
State Farm: H.O.P.E. – Helping Others Parent Effectively program.
AMEX: 20 weeks of maternity/paternity leave for parents.
Introducing – Career Connectors Academy Training Program
Brighton College is excited to announce its new partnership with Career Connectors that connects professionals in career transition to hiring companies and quality resources.
Career Connectors and Brighton College share similar values and focus on their clients, making both organizations stand out from the crowd. Brighton’s mission and goals ensure their students’ greatest success, and Career Connectors, as Arizona’s fastest growing job candidate program, strive to land people in the career of their dreams. They are working hand in hand to provide affordable online education certificate programs.
Based on Career Connectors’ partnership with Brighton College, a few of the best accredited online certificate programs are being offered to Career Connectors’ participants at a reduced rate. The online education certificate programs available include:
- Cyber Security Institute
- Business Institute
- Allied Health Institute
- Legal Medical Institute
- Paralegal Institute
- Professional Development
Ben Simpson – Vice President, Phoenix Operations
The Optima Tax Relief team has had one vision since inception – to help Americans nationwide deal with the aggressive collection policies of the State/IRS tax agencies.
- Founded 2011
- 80 employees in AZ; 100 by end of 2019
- No tax knowledge required to get hired
- Promote from within
- Hiring leaders as operations grow
- Team environment – “mischievous fun”
I/T Jr. Systems Administrator
Resolution Support Representative
Resources and Closing
Jessica thanked the many partners and volunteers for their contributions to the Career Connectors event. Job seekers were encouraged to utilize the many transition resources – professional resume writers, career coaches, LinkedIn coaches and take the free DISC assessment. Next up on the calendar: Connecting with Top Staffing Firms to Find Your Next Career, Thursday August 15th in Scottsdale. Stay tuned for weekly emails and LinkedIn posts.