14,000 jobs: Tulsa area has right ingredients to be mecca for call centers [Tulsa World, Okla.]
(Tulsa World (OK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Nov. 03--Galiena Swagerty is passionate about helping people, sympathizing with them and helping them work through tough situations.
On the phone, she's had people start a call upset and yelling at her.
"By the end of the call they're like crying and thanking me so much for helping them, and those are the calls that I love," she said. "We helped them, and that's our main goal."
For little more than a year, Swagerty has worked at Capital One Auto Finance, which handles customer service and collections related to auto loans.
Count her among the more than 14,000 in the Tulsa area who work in contract call centers, operations that support their companies' main function and back-office operations.
Call Tulsa a mecca for call centers, a customer care cornucopia.
Since 2000, at least eight centers have opened in the Tulsa area, according to data from the Tulsa Regional Chamber. The number of call center employees has grown 55 percent from 2002 to 2012.
Overall, these centers have an annual economic impact of approximately $1.3 billion on the Tulsa area and support an estimated payroll of more than $881 million, according to estimates compiled by Bob Ball, economist for the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
But why? For starters, it's cheaper to do business in Tulsa than in many other locales.
The cost of doing business is 17 percent below the U.S. average -- offering lower energy rates, office and rental costs, and taxes -- which is a major factor why the area attracts support offices for different headquarters, said Ball. Being located in the center of the country also is a plus because it's more easily managed from a time zone standpoint.
"Plus, it's true that our workforce is productive, has a good reputation and is hard-working and gets the job done," Ball said.
Salaries of call center representatives vary depending on the types of jobs handled.
In Tulsa, the median salary of a typical call center representative I, who handles inbound calls and answers questions about an organizations products and services, is $27,736, or $13.33 per hour, according to Salary.com. This job typically requires a high school diploma or up to two years of experience.
Other positions require more education or experience and pay more. A call center representative IV has a median salary of $47,734, or $22.95 an hour, according to the website.
Advantages to bringing jobs to Tulsa
Workforce diversity -- including backgrounds, cultures, personalities and perspectives -- is a core value for U.S. Cellular, which employs more than 400 customer care associates at its Tulsa Customer Care Center at 4700 S. Garnett Road. The building also serves as the regional headquarters for U.S. Cellular's West Central region.
Established in 1983, the center is the largest of U.S. Cellular's four customer care centers, handling an average of approximately 160,000 calls monthly. The company's other customer care centers are located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Waukesha, Wis.
Before the end of the year, the center plans to hire up to 80 employees, including 30 to 40 for telesales and 40 for customer service.
And because it is the largest, the likelihood of customers being routed from anywhere in the United States to a customer care associate at the Tulsa site is greater, said Rudel DeCastro, director of the company's Tulsa center.
"It's important we have that diversity to connect with our customers regardless of where they are coming from," DeCastro said.
John Cook, a native Tulsan and director of Capital One Auto Finance, noted that the Tulsa center has been successful in recruiting people from different walks of life -- repair and maintenance, restaurants, retail, college graduates and even people from other local call centers.
The common denominator among all, however, is this desire to help people.
Capital One Auto Finance, which opened its Tulsa office in 2006, has more than 600 employees working at its center in the Cherokee Industrial Park, 6929 N. Lakewood Ave.
In May 2011, the center had 350 employees.
"I've spent time as a call center auditor for years in a previous life," Cook said. "So I've been all over the country, and what I have seen and do know is that in the Midwest we are very hard workers. ... We're highly educated in this area. There is a good work ethic."
Also, Tulsa is "accent neutral," which is helpful because customers can't detect where they're calling. A Southern accent might not go over well with someone from the Northeast, and a Northeastern accent may not appeal to someone from the South.
"A good portion of our population is willing to do this type of work," said John Klonecki, human resources director for West Corp. "The workforce has the skills that we're looking for and easy accessibility. Everybody complains about the construction all the time, but let's face it -- it's easy to get about anywhere in Tulsa in about 15 minutes as long as it's not 8 a.m. or 5 p.m."
Strength in telecom
West Corp. handles inbound customer service calls for three different Fortune 500 companies, including toy, credit card and health insurance companies. The firm also does account servicing for a major telecom provider.
"We do everything from claims processing to a simple transfer call to post sales support to just regular customer service," Klonecki said.
The company, located at 3810 S. 103rd East Ave., employs about 600 and currently has more than 160 mostly seasonal job openings for a toy company through the end of January. Klonecki noted, however, that last year the company hired extra people for the holidays and ended up retaining them afterward.
Tulsa's robust telecom infrastructure makes it popular with call centers, Klonecki said.
"Tulsa has 100 percent fiber digital switching networks," he said. "It's got amazing self-healing capability. Your down time is negligible, if it exists at all, which is really important.
"If our site lost communication for an hour, that represents millions of dollars down the drain."
Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466
Tulsa-area call centers and customer care centers
Company Employees Established
Alorica Inc. 641 2005
AT&T Wireless 1,100 2000
Avis Budget Group 530 1975
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma 843 1941
Capital One Auto Finance 600 2006
Cavalry Investments 140 2002
Coca Cola Enterprises 375 2007
Cox Communications 600 1970s
Deloitte & Touche LLP 244 1995
DirecTV 1,200 2004
Dish Network 850 2004
Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group Inc. 524 1958, 1991
FMS (Financial Management Services) 104 N/A
Hilti Inc. 584 1992
HP Enterprise Services 750 1972
IBM 650 1995
iPacesetters 350 1990
Level 3 Communications 600 1996
Metropolitan Life Insurance 350 1991
State Farm Insurance 800 1989
Sutherland Global Services 70 2005
Trase Miller 150 1995
United Recovery Systems 120 1999
U.S. Cellular 475 1983
Verizon 1,100 1995
West Corp. 525 1997
(As of October 2013. Source: Tulsa Regional Chamber)
By the numbers
17 Decrease in overall costs, in percentage, for call centers to do business in Tulsa than the U.S. average, according to the Tulsa Regional Chamber. Benefits include lower energy rates, office and rental costs, and taxes.
1.3 Economic impact, in billions of dollars, of call centers on the Tulsa area. They have an estimated payroll of more than $881 million.
55 Growth in percentage of call center employees in Tulsa from 2002 to 2012
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