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Transferring Skills From Retail and Hospitality to Customer Service Roles

By Elli Onopa, Aston Carter Director of Strategic Sales

The demand for call center and customer service workers is rising on a national scale. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects about 389,400 openings for customer service representatives each year. In 2020, the Contact Center market size was valued at $23.71 billion, and it is expected to reach $69.98 billion by 2028, according to Verified Market Research.

As the end of the year approaches, the need for call center workers continues to increase. The third and fourth quarters typically see a rising demand for workers, as ecommerce call centers experience higher call volumes around the holiday season and healthcare companies ramp up during open enrollment. During the 2021 open enrollment period alone, 13.6 million people signed up for marketplace insurance, raising the demand for health care contact centers.

Companies trying to meet their needs for customer service workers face a big obstacle: Talent shortages make staffing a call center increasingly difficult. By broadening their talent pool to include retail and hospitality workers with easily transferable skills, employers can find qualified candidates to support them during the busiest times of the year.

Addressing the Call Center Talent Shortage

While the talent shortage in call centers can be attributed to many factors, the desire for remote work is a major motivator for workers leaving the space. While call center jobs tend to be a mix of remote and in-person opportunities, some are expecting their employees to come back into the office on a hybrid or full-time basis. This has a significant impact on those with children or family care needs who are reliant on remote work to balance their work and home lives. An estimated 18 to 22% of U.S. workers provide care for a family member. In the customer support space, 20% of call center workers who left their company for a similar role elsewhere did so in search of increased flexibility, not pay.

Customer service is an important business driver for many companies and finding candidates with previous call center experience can be a challenge. Workers with experience and talent who stay at their companies do so because of internal promotions, flexibility and opportunities for growth. Those who do not stay may leave for higher-level roles which they are now qualified for.

The Great Resignation of Hospitality Workers

As employers are struggling to find and retain customer service workers, the retail and hospitality industries are facing a similar exodus of talent. An estimated 650,000 retail workers quit in April of 2021, which was the largest departure the industry has encountered in 20 years. This, in turn, led to even more departures as remaining workers struggled to keep up with the workload, causing high stress and burnout.

Stressful conditions and unruly customers impact team morale and leave some workers wondering if the job is worth the hassle. Combined with the lack of good pay, benefits and career progression that most roles in these industries offer, it’s no surprise that many workers are beginning to weigh their options. As many as 20% of hospitality workers are seeking a career change from the hospitality industry. Many have enrolled in educational programs to qualify for higher wages and pursue a “pandemic-proof” career.

Transferring Skills From Retail and Hospitality to Call Centers

With so many workers looking to transition out of hospitality and retail, call center employers should seize this opportunity to find uniquely qualified talent. Many of these workers come with transferable soft skills that can prepare them to work in customer support. Strong communication skills, problem-solving experience and knowing how to handle stress in a fast-paced environment are all vital to a successful customer support interaction. The customer-first, solution-based mindset that hospitality and retail workers bring to the job can help create a good experience for the customer.

Asking the Right Questions While Interviewing Hospitality Workers

The interview process is the perfect opportunity to learn how a hospitality or retail worker can apply their skills in the customer service space. Asking the right questions can help you more easily understand what transferable skills a candidate can bring to your organization. Some helpful questions include:

  • How do you manage multitasking? Customer support representatives often need to keep a customer at ease while they pull up relevant information or input credentials. In a similar fashion, hospitality workers must focus on detailed tasks while socializing with customers. This question can help you understand how the candidate manages accomplishing tasks simultaneously.
  • How do you cope with stress? It’s no secret that both customer service representatives and hospitality workers often deal with stressful situations. Ask for an example of a time the candidate had to handle a stressful task or encounter and what outcome they reached.
  • What is your approach to working with difficult customers? Emotional intelligence is vital to both hospitality and customer support roles. Ask the candidate to provide an example of a time when they reached a solution with a difficult customer and if there’s anything they would have done differently.
  • What attracts you to this industry? Talking to people, problem-solving and similar professional interests can bring a sense of fulfillment to customer service jobs. Candidates coming from retail or hospitality roles will have experience working with the public and will know if that’s something they enjoy and would like to carry into their new career as a customer service representative.

How to Attract Talent to Your Call Center or Customer Service Roles

Better compensation and benefits can help your company stand out from the crowd. But it’s important to keep in mind that many job seekers will prioritize flexibility or remote working. Some candidates are even willing to work for less compensation if they can work from home.

Another way to attract qualified workers from this talent pool is by offering career progression and learning opportunities, including opportunities to attend conferences or earn degrees or certificates. If a former food service or retail worker has begun a new educational journey on their own, they will appreciate the chance to continue their growth with your company. Call centers are often part of a greater enterprise organization, which gives workers more of a clear path to advancement. Career pathing tends to be less common in hospitality and retail, so make sure you communicate that benefit to prospective employees.

How to Onboard and Train Hospitality and Retail Workers

The onboarding experience helps new employees feel like a part of your team and sets the tone for the rest of their tenure with your organization. They should have a sense of your company culture from the very beginning. Managers can utilize this valuable time to build genuine relationships and figure out how best to support their workforce. This can be especially important for workers entering a new industry, like hospitality and retail workers.

According to a survey conducted by The Conference Board, 31% of workers plan to leave their jobs for career advancement. Offering internal mobility helps increase employee retention. Career development can be discussed during daily or weekly check-ins between customer service representatives and their supervisors. These meetings offer a comfortable setting where employees can discuss their goals and challenges openly.

During times of rapid growth or change for your organization, it can be helpful to have the support of professionals who specialize in reaching and growing call center talent. A staffing or Managed Solutions partner like Aston Carter can introduce your company’s culture and provide a tailored onboarding to your newest representatives, so you can spend more time focusing on other areas of your business.

Contact Aston Carter to learn more about how our strategic solutions can help you source new talent and establish a seamless onboarding process.

Elli Onopa is Aston Carter’s director of strategic sales overseeing our Professional Services business, nationally supporting advisory and BPO customers with workforce solutions needs. She started with Aerotek in 2013 and transitioned to Aston Carter in 2020. Elli has held several different local, regional and national roles supporting accounting and finance, healthcare and professional service clients.