An industry that employs nearly 10,000 people locally is expected to grow by almost 40 percent during the next eight years as companies return jobs to the U.S. from foreign countries.
Telephone call centers are the latest industry to reshore — or return jobs to the U.S. — after years of shifting those jobs to India, the Phillippines and other countries.
Locally, more than 9,500 people are employed in the call center industry by companies including Assurant Specialty Property, PNC Mortgage, GE Credit Services and Victoria’s Secret Direct.
Call center employment is expected to grow 38 percent before 2022, much faster than the 13 percent average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Businesses increasingly are contracting out customer service operations to call centers because they provide consolidated sales and customer service functions, bureau officials said.
Globally, spending on call centers is projected to reach $370 billion by 2020, driven by the revival of the economy, rise in business activity, and strong focus on cost reduction through outsourcing, according to a new report this month by Global Industry Analysts Inc.
Call centers have a “staggering impact” on the way modern businesses communicate with their customers and represent a crucial element in successful delivery of high-quality service, the GIA report said.
The U.S. represents the largest call center market worldwide. Experts forecast continued growth as more companies bring their customer contact operations back to the U.S. because of changes in technology, rising overseas labor costs, and the need to improve customer service.
For example, Teleperformance — a Paris-based global outsourcing giant that employs 675 area workers at its call center in Fairborn — is boosting its U.S. market share with the acquisition of Aegis USA Inc.’s operations in the U.S., the Philippines and Costa Rica. The $610 million deal closed this month.
“We are seeing activity from existing companies, and a couple prospective companies in the past year that are talking about bringing some jobs back to the United States,” said Erik Collins, Montgomery County director of economic development.
The Dayton region is attractive for call center operations because of the quality and availability of its workforce, as well as its low cost of living, available sites that meet industry infrastructure requirements, and good public transportation system, Collins said. In addition, area residents have a neutral dialect.
“The fact that we’re Midwest and we don’t have an accent per se — at least we don’t think we do, compared to other parts of country, I think that certainly is an advantage,” Collins said.
When customer service representatives are perceived to speak clearly, they also resolve customer issues 88 percent of the time, according to a study by CFI Group. In contrast, when they are not perceived as speaking clearly, they resolve customer issues only 45 percent of the time.
Last year, Assurant Specialty Property expanded its call center operations from Springfield to a satellite office at 4646 Needmore Road in northeast Dayton. The insurance provider employs about 1,900 workers at its site along Interstate 70 in Springfield, and another 200 at its center in Dayton.
“The Springfield-Dayton area has been a great home for us for more than 20 years,” said Robert Byrd, an Assurant Specialty Property spokesman. “There’s a good workforce there, it’s a desirable area to live, transportation back and forth is easy, so it has been a great place for us to locate.”
Assurant looked at numerous locations before deciding on a former technology service center in Dayton, Byrd said. That facility already had much of the infrastructure in place that the company needed, including telecommunications capabilities and redundant power supplies.
“Communication is key, and we’ve got to have the ability to stay up and running,” Byrd said.
Sinclair workforce development
The projected growth in call centers at more than 50 local companies has spurred the creation of a Customer Service Certified Credential at Sinclair Community College, officials said. The credential, which is nationally-recognized, is endorsed by the International Customer Service Association.
“We’ve got so many employers here in the area that are in this business. Whether they’ve got five people or 500 people, anything we can do to feed the pipeline makes their recruiting efforts that much more lucrative,” said Hope Arthur, Sinclair’s director of workforce solutions.
Sinclair Workforce Development launched its 8-day Call Center/Customer Service Certification program in 2011, in conjunction with the Dayton region’s Contact Center Alliance, a group of more than 50 area employers. The program provides participants with the skills necessary to prepare for entry-level employment in the industry.
Program participants must have a high school diploma or GED; possess basic computer skills; pass a criminal background check; and be age 18 by the end of the course.
Call centers “are the heart of the business,” said Paulette Duerson, a recent graduate of the program. “The call center is the day-to-day public contact. It’s the representative of the company,” she said.
Josh Sims, another recent graduate, said the course helped build his confidence and communication skills. “I have a passion to talk to people,” he said.
Arthur said program graduates are guaranteed interviews, but not jobs, with area employers that include PNC, Victoria’s Secret Direct, Teleperformance, MetLife, Account Control and Bon-Ton Stores. About 70 percent of program graduates have received job offers in the industry within about 90 days, she said.
Assurant managers help teach some of Sinclair’s classes. “We are involved in that sense and applaud what they are doing,” Byrd said.
Hohenberger said Sinclair’s program helps differentiate the region. “I think it gives us a leg up when we are competing with other communities,” he said.
Miami Valley impact
Call centers, also known as customer contact centers, help diversify the region’s economy beyond aerospace, advanced manufacturing, information technology and health care, said Marty Hohenberger, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of business development.
“Typically, the call centers that we have in the area are significant job producers. We see them as an important part of the economy,” Hohenberger said.
An estimated 5 million Americans are employed in call centers, including about 9,488 across the 14-county Dayton-Springfield region, with 7,105 in the Dayton metropolitan statistical area, according to development coalition data.
In addition to retail sales, the region’s call centers support the financial services, insurance, health care and technology sectors.
‘Livable wage jobs’
Average weekly pay for call center workers is $550, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s below the $819 weekly average for all private occupations, but about twice as high as the rate for minimum-wage workers.
Local call centers pay a broad range from $10 to $17 an hour, plus monthly incentives, depending on the skill level required, Arthur said. Typically, technical call centers pay higher wages.
“These are livable wage jobs,” Hohenberger said. “For a lot of folks that work in these call centers it can be a launching pad to move into sales positions or customer service positions.”
Many of the region’s call center workers are part-time students and “trailing spouses” of U.S. service members stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he said.
Hohenberger said the Dayton Development Coalition typically has new call center projects in its pipeline, but the agency is cautious about over-saturating the market.
“If you have too many call centers you’re not on the short list anymore. I think we’ve got probably a good balance of call centers. We haven’t exceeded that saturation rate,” he said. “I think it’s a good mix across a number of different industries. It isn’t all just telemarketing outbound-type service centers. It’s a lot of inbound support and customer service centers.”