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Convergys expansion underscores call-center growth in Charlotte

Customer-service company Convergys said it has room to increase employment at its southeast Charlotte call center following a $1.8 million renovation of the facility. The expansion project for the company comes amid growth in U.S. call-center jobs in recent years.

Cincinnati-based Convergys announced plans for the renovations in February, saying at the time it would add 1,600 jobs in Charlotte. On Tuesday, as the company rededicated the southeast Charlotte call center, it said it has slightly exceeded that figure, adding 1,650 jobs at its two sites in Charlotte. Its current employment in Charlotte is about 1,400 because of attrition, the company said.

Steve Chrabaszewski, program management director for Convergys, said Tuesday that Charlotte is an attractive place for call center companies for many reasons. For one, the area has a strong supply of trained customer service professionals, he said. Also, the East Coast is a good location from which to handle customers in different time zones, he said.

The company’s expansion underscores a national trend. U.S. call center employment has shown annual gains every year since 2010, according to seasonally adjusted federal data. Last year, the sector employed 452,000, up 1.6 percent from the year before.

Paul Stockford, research director for the National Association of Call Centers, expects U.S. call center job gains to continue. There’s been an increase of roughly 10,000 U.S. call center jobs per quarter since the second quarter of 2012, he said.

Some companies, including many major U.S. airlines, have stopped off-shoring customer service jobs amid complaints from customers frustrated with dealing with overseas call center workers, he said. Companies have also been investing in call centers in part to mine client data, he said. He said analyzing recorded calls between customer service representatives and customers can help explain, for example, why they are canceling accounts.

Companies have also realized it’s not always cost-effective to offshore the jobs, he said. But businesses with thin profit margins, like cell phone companies, continue to offshore customer service jobs as a means to cut costs, he said.

Charlotte a hub

In Mecklenburg County, there are roughly 50 call centers, according to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. Those centers employ about 14,000.

The University City area and the area near interstates 77 and 485 have become hubs for call centers, because of access to freeways and public transportation, said Kati Hynes, vice president of economic development for the chamber.

Hynes said the chamber likes to see growth in call center employment, even though the jobs can be low-paying.

“As economic developers, we really have to service all levels of employment, not just bringing in the high-paying jobs, but bringing in all levels of salaries to service all levels of people,” she said.

According to The Employers Association, a Charlotte-based human resources consulting firm, call center representatives earned on average roughly $30,000 in the Charlotte metropolitan area as of April. Call center supervisors earned about $47,000.

Hynes said Charlotte has tended to attract call center jobs that handle in-bound calls from customers, rather than those focused on out-bound sales.

Hynes said that while Charlotte has many financial services call centers because of its banking industry, it has seen growth in health care industry call centers during the past three to five years as the health care industry has grown in the region and nationwide. That growth has created more need for customer service positions to service patients, she said, leading to call centers opening in the region, she said.

“They’re doing a variety of things, like a lot of them are lab results that people are calling with questions about,” she said. “They’re kind of like doctors network call centers. They have this call center that services all of these doctors’ offices by making their appointments for them.”

Second-largest hub

Convergys, who says its clients include Fortune 500 companies, calls Charlotte its second-largest employment base. Lake Mary, Fla., is its largest. Convergys employs 3,000 in North Carolina.

At its southeast Charlotte site, on McAlpine Park Drive off Monroe Road, it employs roughly 550, according to the company. Its other site, in the University City area, employs about 550.

Convergys has about 80,000 employees worldwide, with operations in Canada, India, Latin America, the Philippines and the U.K. According to the company, 34 percent of its employees work in the U.S.

Chrabaszewski, of Convergys, said these days the call center industry finds itself taking a close look at where it locates employees as it seeks to provide high-quality service and watch costs.

“Everyone who’s in this industry is looking at those different levers and working to find the right balance,” he said.

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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