The ideal call centre worker is a Generation Y woman who can handle the phone, emails and up to 10 web chats at the same time.

"Those Gen Y skills in social media are proving assets in the workplace," says Dr Catriona Wallace from research firm, who was in Auckland last week to deliver her annual benchmarking report on the New Zealand contact centre industry to a conference.

Call centres have become a ubiquitous part of modern life and commerce, accounting for more than 80 per cent of the contacts which organisations who have or use them will have with customers.

It's probably going to be the entry-level job for many young people, although only about one in five is likely to go on to another role in the same organisation.

Wallace says that's because it is a high-stress job with high staff turnover - 28 per cent here last year, 40 per cent across the Tasman - and few firms have processes to identify people who might have other talents and move them to other roles when they inevitably get jaded with dealing with 75 calls a day.

"A lot of companies can't hang on to staff."

Wallace picked call centres as the thesis for her doctorate in sociology 15 years ago because she was looking for a place to study organisational behaviour in a high-technology environment.

Call centres fitted the bill, with workers spending more than 80 per cent of their day using technology.

There are just less than 30,000 call centre seats in New Zealand, with a workforce of between 40,000 and 50,000. The average base salary for a full-time agent is $40,685, 4 per cent up on last year. Supervisors average $55,838, a 2 per cent increase, and managers $88,879, up 7 per cent.

Wallace says call centres are increasingly becoming multi-channel contact centres, using voice, email, social media and SMS messaging.

Some 48 per cent of call centres have fully or partly implemented multi-channel integration and another 31 per cent intend to do so over the next two years.

"That is transforming the job agents do. Employers will select more tech-savvy Gen Y staff and it will become a more interesting job."

Smart organisations are also looking at ways they can use social media to create online communities around their products or brands.

Wallace looks at performance measures such as the rate calls are abandoned (on average 5 per cent), the rate problems are resolved on the first call (77 per cent), the average speed of answer (21sec) and the average handling time (nearly 5min).

The average cost per inbound call last year was $8.08.

Wallace says organisations have seen call centres as part of their operational costs, which meant constant pressure for cost savings.

But one in five customer interactions last year included an opportunity to generate revenue and this is likely to increase.

Technology is driving the evolution of call centres and Wallace says New Zealand tends to be ahead of Australia in this respect.

More than half of contact centres have implemented knowledge or content-management systems and 31 per cent have e-learning in place.

A quarter can handle SMS messages. Only 7 per cent can currently do web chat or monitor social media but 12 per cent intend to invest in web chat over the next year.

About 14 per cent have put in speech-recognition tools and 2 per cent have ventured in to the world of biometric identity recognition and speech analytics.

Wallace says such cognitive load analytics can improve the way a centre works, such as by monitoring the tone of voice and word choice of the customer and automatically bringing in a supervisor on to the call if things get sticky.

Where New Zealand is behind Australia is in the percentage of call centre staff who work remotely - 20 compared with 12 per cent - but the potential is there to catch up once broadband is rolled out more widely.

The issue of offshoring is one which hangs over the industry but Wallace isn't concerned about the prospects of jobs going to India or the Philippines.

"There's a service shift," she says.

High-value work will probably stay local.

Voice inquiries are going to the Philippines and the technical/back office calls are going to India - with customer satisfaction surveys confirming that is the best place for them.