If you're out of work and enjoy talking on the phone, the booming call center industry is hiring, thanks to increased broadband access and companies bringing their customer service departments back from overseas.
Cecille Williams, general manager of Messages Plus in New York City, which answers calls to about 3,000 clients, including hospitals and doctors, said that the growing trend of employers hiring U.S. call center operations was helping the business to grow and prosper.
Jobs Locator: A Breakdown of Who Is Hiring and Where
"In the last year or two, we have hired quite a few extra people," said Williams, whose staff has 100 employees, 14 of which were added in the last year. "We've doubled the size of clients we serve and we've doubled the size of employees that we've hired."
Across the country, the industry is booming: There are 500 new jobs for the travel website Expedia at a call center in Missouri and 4,000 new jobs projected by Alorica, an Atlanta-based company that runs 30 call centers nationwide.
It's definitely an added bonus to the bit of good news from a Labor Department report out this morning that said payrolls expanded by 17,000 jobs in July and unemployment fell to 9.1 percent.
100K New Customer Service Workers
Jobs4America, a group of mostly call center companies including Sprint Nextel Corp, revealed a plan this week to hire 100,000 new customer service representatives in the United States during the next two years.
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, which is pushing broadband expansion to rural areas, appeared with the group's leaders Thursday for the announcement.
"When you bring broadband to a community, when you connect homes to broadband, you're connecting community and people to commerce and you're providing opportunities for job creation," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski told ABC News Thursday. "For disabled people, for veterans, for single moms, for others who need to work, who want to work but for one reason or another can't commute, this is a real opportunity for job creation."
The announcement was made in Jeffersonville, Ind., where Accent Marketing Services, a member of the Jobs4America organization, is building a new site that will add 175 jobs. Novo 1 created 300 jobs in Michigan and LiveOps planned to add 100 jobs in Newark, N.J. Aegis Global said it would add 4,000 jobs across the U.S. in the next two years.
Nosa Eke of the online publication Call Center Times said the commitment to 100,000 jobs would "boost morale across the country" and attract people looking for work including retired Americans and college graduates.
5 Million Americans Work at 'Contact Centers'
Five million Americans work at so-called "contact centers" in the U.S. -- more than 400,000 of them are at telephone call centers -- and 4,000 new call center positions are added every month.
Eke said that in the last six years, new technologies such as instant messaging, webchats and email had forced changes in the type of customer service representative a call center company recruited and how workers were compensated.
"It used to be that 100 percent of call center [interactions] occurred over the phone," Eke said. "That has diversified. Now companies need people who are comfortable with new technologies. The needs [of a customer] have become more sophisticated. Now you need people who can write, communicate at a customer's level. There has been a change in skill set required in call centers."
Eke said that had affected the call center pay structure as well. "The average person [working at a call center] is making $14, $15 an hour. That's a jump from $10 seven years ago," he said.
Cheap Labor vs. Customer Experience
Genachowski said that some of the positions also would return from overseas, a move that Call Center Times' Eke said had been occurring in the last four years.
"There was a period where there was a lot of outsourcing [of call-center operations] because of cheaper labor," he said. "But most companies were not satisfied with customer service. Instead of looking at savings, they were thinking more of overall customer experience."
Messages Plus' Williams said it was a growing trend.
"[Overseas call centers are] cheaper but the service they get is not what they expect and they come back," she said.
Eke said the broadband initiative had been very effective in helping more people enter the workforce such as Tim Richards, 40, who had been out of work for eight months before getting hired at Accent Marketing in March.
"Looking for a job nowadays, you have to do everything online," said Richards, who'd been unemployed for eight months before getting hired by Accent. "Searching for a job, it's all Internet today."
He said Accent had helped to better himself and help others at the same time.
"I had my own setbacks," Richards said. "Being here has really pulled me out of a financial fire."