Customer Service Salary Trends
Employees working in content development and customer support earned big pay increases this year — as much as four times the national average. Data from the C2HR Annual Compensation Surveys also uncovered that compensation escalated for executives and middle managers among content developers (programmers), while management grabbed the biggest gains among connectivity providers (MSOs).
These findings were based on 2019 data collected from 55 companies, including 41 content developers (cable programmers, broadcast networks and digital content creators) and 14 connectivity providers (MSO, satellite, telecommunications and home security companies). New participants included Vivint, Inc., and Vector Security, Inc., which represent an expansion into the home security and smart home services market, Disney Direct-to-Consumer & International, Fox Corporation and Ovation LLC.
“The C2HR Annual Compensation Surveys reveal that our industry is investing in mission-critical jobs with pay increases well above the traditional 3% merit budget,” said Pamela Williams, CAE, C2HR’s Executive Director.
New Content and Scarce Talent Spurs Pay
Although television is still the most widespread content-based medium, digital viewing is rising steadily, fueled by the proliferation of direct-to-consumer streaming products and the ensuing need for original content. As a result, content investment is increasing at media and digital companies. Collectively, Disney/21st Century Fox, Netflix, Comcast, AT&T, and the new Fox invested over $60 billion in original content in 2019.1
“It’s not the world we used to know. There is a tremendous amount of competition for talent, and it has created some compensation disruption,” said Hali Croner, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Croner Company, the leading compensation consulting firm that conducted the surveys for C2HR.
The recent C2HR Compensation Surveys revealed the extent of that disruption (see Figure 1). Among programmers, content jobs garnered year-over-year increases ranging from 6% to 11%. For example, executive producer and senior vice president (SVP) of original programming captured 11% and 9% base salary gains, respectively. Director of music content scored an 8% raise, while VP of original programming, SVP of current programming and manager of program acquisitions reaped base salary increases of 6%.
Content developers saw similar gains among jobs related to content distribution. Base salaries climbed 9% for studio/remote technician and 8% for senior manager of broadcast operations, while SVP of broadcast operations and senior master control salaries rose 6%.
Keeping Customers Happy
Competition, combined with the desire to deliver a seamless customer experience, also drove pay among connectivity companies. C2HR’s survey illuminated a whopping 12% increase — four times the national average — for expert-level customer care technical support Level 3. Individuals beginning customer care careers also garnered above-average base salary gains. Customer care technical support Level 1 (developing) nabbed 5% raises. Technology experts who keep networks running smoothly also benefitted. Network operations center support engineers and managers of network operations centers received 8% and 7% salary boosts, respectively.
“It’s clear that the companies in our industry value the people who can resolve customer concerns quickly,” said C2HR’s Williams.
These results were also reflected in broader industry trends, as highlighted during C2HR’s Conference in October 2019. Problem-solving, customer service and technical skills were identified as key attributes of the workforce of the future. Attracting and retaining such talent not only impacts compensation but also learning and development programs.2
Connectivity Companies Raise Pay
C2HR’s Compensation Survey revealed escalating compensation at all job levels for connectivity providers. Management captured the largest gains — a 5.3% increase in total direct compensation (TDC), which includes salary, bonus and incentives. Management’s increase was largely driven by stock awards. Salaried and hourly employees scored 4.1% increases, which was above the 3% merit budget and much better than last year when salaried employees saw 2.1% growth. Competitive pressures to retain experienced talent helped drive up the across-the-board increases, Williams said.
Results were mixed for content developers. Like connectivity providers, executives and middle management accrued the biggest gains, driven by hefty bonuses and stock. TDC for executives escalated 6.9% and 6.1% for middle management. For professional positions, TDC rose just 3.2 percent, close to the merit budget, and 3.8% for operating support.
Croner cited competition with content creators like Netflix and Apple as the driver behind executive compensation increases. “[Technology companies] need people who know how to acquire programming, do the legal and business affair negotiations and have the talent relations,” she explained. “As programmers, those individuals have always been executives, which is why we see compensation lifts like these.”
Tight labor markets in the East and West continued to skew MSO installer salaries upwards in those regions, especially for skilled talent. Expert-level service techs earned 11% more in the West and 8% more in the East. MSOs in the Southwest, Mountain, Midwest and South generally reported salaries below the median (up to -5%) for installers and techs.
Bonuses Remain Prevalent
The industry continued its broad-based support for short-term incentives or bonuses. Every connectivity respondent offered bonuses, as did 90% of content creators. Eligibility reached deep into the organizations, with 64% of connectivity providers and 54% of content developers offering bonuses to employees below managers.
However, long-term incentives (LTIs), such as shares, stock options and long-term cash, remained limited to management (See Figure 6). In spite of pressure from digital competitors, many of whom offer LTIs to all employees, penetration of LTIs remained largely unchanged in 2019. At connectivity companies, 86% offered LTIs, with 100% of executive management and VPs receiving incentives. Among content respondents, 76% offered LTIs in 2019, with 100% of executive management and 74% of VPs receiving awards.
“From the executive search perspective, the top talent wants to be rewarded for the significant impact they are making towards their company’s business goals,” said C2HR Board Member John Warrack, Partner at JM Search. “Competitive cash compensation and long-term equity rewards that are directly tied to their results are critical.”
This year, one connectivity company expanded eligibility for LTIs. As a result, the percentage of employees below manager receiving incentives rose to 17% — the highest in four years. Content developers pulled back on their LTI offerings. In 2019, 6% of employees below managers were eligible. Employers continued to primarily offer full-value shares rather than options or cash.
Having access to this wealth of pay data enables companies to provide market-driven total compensation packages that attract and retain the right talent, explained Halcyon Worrell, Director of Compensation at Charter Communications.
“The C2HR Compensation Surveys provide valuable and insightful information, which allows us to continue to make strategic and informed compensation decisions,” Worrell said. “Unlike other salary surveys, our peer competitors participate in these surveys, which makes the data reflective of our specific industry. That’s unique.”
Digital Continues to Outpay Media
Although many key content and connectivity positions accrued big compensation gains in 2019, digital natives continue to pay significantly more than traditional media companies.
“Content companies have kept their eye on where pay is going and have made adjustments by job family — if not universally within their organization,” Croner said.
According to The Croner Company’s 2019 Digital Content and Technology Survey, TDC at digital and technology companies ranges from 46% more for editorial (an increase from 2018, when editorial was the only area where media outpaid digital), to 68% more for content talent, to 91% for software engineering, to a whopping 143% more for data science jobs.
How can legacy companies compete against the challenges posed by the fast-growth of digital and its associated compensation rewards?
“Compensation professionals have to be open to seek and consider more innovative ways to attract and retain talent,” observed Worrell. “One way is to continue to build competitive total reward offers and not just follow the traditional approach.”
C2HR Board Member John Warrack advised members to play to their strengths. “Legacy companies have the experience and sophistication to create and maintain cultures that are meaningful and value career growth, development, diversity and inclusion for all employees,” Warrack said, adding that many fast-growing digital competitors are less focused on HR.
C2HR members have robust HR systems in place, enabling them to offer career development, succession planning and diversity initiatives. “These companies have the HR sophistication and experience to create meaningful environments for employees,” he said.
“While perks and amenities are important and should not be ignored, executive-level talent places a higher value on competitive cash compensation, career development and meaningful work,” Warrack added.
Health and Fitness Investments Grow
C2HR’s Compensation Surveys revealed that our industry fully embraced the idea that amenities are an important element of a compensation package. What’s more, the surveys demonstrated the employers’ creativity and ability to harness the power of their individual cultures when offering perks.
C2HR respondents increased their investments in free gym memberships and recreation with 57% of connectivity companies offering a gym benefit (an increase from 50% last year), and 46% of content creators (up from 29% last year).
“Given the challenges companies are facing in today’s competitive landscape, it was somewhat surprising to see the focus companies are placing on finding the right mix of amenities to attract and retain talent, such as onsite gyms and local gym memberships, daily meals, stocked pantries and commuter assistance,” noted Charter’s Worrell.
Enhanced work environments continued to be popular, as 71% of connectivity providers and 71% of content companies offered them. These enhanced workspaces often reflect a company’s culture or “unique personality.”
Telecommuting can be an important talent lure. Flexible, efficient use of office space, which is often unoccupied, has financial benefits as well. C2HR’s Surveys revealed that comprehensive telecommuting policies, those available to everyone, were not widespread. However, when examining telecommuting on a case-by-case basis, the prevalence of telecommuting was higher: 79% of connectivity providers offered the benefit and 71% of content creators.
“Industry employers have fully embraced the idea that amenities, combined with responsive pay practices, help attract and retain top talent in a highly competitive job market,” Williams said.
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