I recently heard a somewhat disturbing story about a woman who applied for a call center job in Connecticut - she had all the proper qualifications including past experience and the proper skill sets - but she was turned down because of her bad credit score. This wasn't a job at a financial services company or bank, either - actually it was at an ecommerce company. In fact, I've heard quite a few stories lately about people being turned down for jobs because their credit is less than stellar. It seems employers are increasingly doing credit checks as part of their background checks on employees. I can see doing it for sales reps at an insurance company, bank or financial services firm - but for a $10-an-hour call center agent position at an ecommerce company? Wow. There was another article today in the New York Times about a man who had worked hard and overcome great odds to get through law school and earn his law degree -- he even passed the bar exam -- only to be declined for a job due to the amount of student loan debt he had.
TMC's offices are located in Norwalk, CT, and every now and then I've enjoyed driving over to the South Norwalk ("SoNo") section of town to have lunch or maybe do some shopping after work. It's a fun, bustling and vibrant part of town - with lots of shops and restaurants and bars. But due to a recent parking ticket I got I will never go back there to shop again. Yes, getting the ticket was my fault: You see, the city uses this new kind of parking meter that I'm not that familiar with - it has a red flashing light at the top that tells the parking attendant that the meter is out of time. At the time I parked, on the street, I thought the red flashing light meant there was still time left on the meter. When I looked at the meter, I could have sworn it said there was still more than 30 minutes left, but apparently I didn't look close enough. When I returned my car about 30 minutes later, there was a parking ticket on my car. The fine? $25.
I was pleased to read that call center outsourcer Ryla is planning to hire an additional 600 full-time employees for its center in Saraland, Ala. According to the article, Ryla offers a range of customized customer contact services, including inbound customer care, tech support, help desk, outbound data collection, surveys, automated messaging, retention programs and back office process support. It also focuses on delivering on-demand, project-based solutions requiring quick ramp-up for crisis response, seasonal retail and political needs - a growing niche in the contact center industry for which there are few providers. Founded in 2001, the company currently employs 550 full-time staff at its Saraland facility and 2,500 company-wide. The only thing I wondered is what contracts the company recently won -- and what is driving the current growth. This news is like a shaft of light breaking through the storm clouds - because, let's face it, for the past couple of years we've been witnessing a lot more call center closings than openings. At the very least, most companies are cutting back staffing at their centers. It's a stark contrast compared to 2006, when it seemed two centers were opening for every one that closed or downsized. The way I look at it, there are two basic reasons why the call center industry is shrinking right now: Number one is the economy. People simply aren't buying goods and services the way they used to, so call volume has dropped significantly.
A report today from an online news outlet in the Philippines speculates that outsourcers, in their quest to attract good talent, have raised wages for call center workers in that country way too much in the past five years -- and now that the recession has hit they are finding these wage increases "unsustainable." The news comes despite the fact that the call center industry in the Philippines is predicted to grow 15 to 20 percent this year. In the article, Benedict Hernandez, president of the Contact Center Association in the Philippines (CCAP), said that salaries of call center agents increased annually by 10 percent, starting in 2004, when the industry experienced rapid growth as the Philippines became a preferred outsourcing destination. He said 10 percent year-on-year salary inflation is "simply unsustainable," regardless of whether the country is in a recession or not. The concern for outsourcers is that the call center industry in the Philippines, which represents about 70 percent of the BPO industry in that country, will end up pricing itself out of the market if call center workers continue to get higher wages. The problem is, the outsourcers will have to pass the cost of these higher wages onto their customers - and this could cause companies to terminate their contracts and seek outsourcing in other countries where labor is cheaper. It's basically a no-brainer when you consider that roughly 80 percent of any call center's operating budget is labor. The article indicates that there are two other factors that have caused costs to rise considerably for call center outsourcers in the Philippines: First, there was a high number of holidays last year, and when call center workers are required to work on holidays they generally get time-an-a-half or double-time wages. The article also mentions that there has been an increase in recruiting efforts - the recruitment rate among call center companies rose from 5 percent to 8 percent - and this also equates to increased operational cost.
TMCnet's Brendan Read today covered the news that The Telework Coalition (TelCoa), a Washington, D.C. based telework education and advocacy organization, has released a list of top ten reasons to have employees work from home. I think the list is fine -- and overall I agree with its points. But for each of the points it raises I also see some challenges that could hinder the growth and adoption of teleworking solutions. Just for the heck of it, I'll go through the list and offer my two cents for each of the points: For the Employer and the Economy: 1. Improve the ability to recruit and retain skilled labor for enhanced productivity, creativity, and higher quality work from anywhere in the U.S. I'm still not entirely convinced this is true. For one thing, just because there are qualified applicants for positions who live far from your offices (and are therefore unable to work on-site) it does not necessarily mean all these applicants want work-at-home jobs.