Customer service call center jobs, long outsourced to workers overseas, are coming back to the United States and bringing employment opportunities to the Metroplex.
For years companies shipped these jobs to other countries like India and the Philippines because it cost less, but that’s not the case anymore.
“It's about 15 percent cheaper to do it onshore than offshore now,” said Mary Murcott, president and CEO of Fort-Worth based Novo 1.
There are about five million call center jobs in the United States, which represents about four percent of the United States work force, Murcott estimated.
Texas has about 450,000 of these jobs, the most of any state, according to the Professional Association for Customer Engagement.
Novo 1 is one of an estimated 200 major call centers in North Texas, with 50 representatives or more.
Murcott said these are mainly middle class jobs, which often don’t require a college education.
“Middle class jobs actually have trickle-down effect and create other jobs,” Murcott said. “It’s good for people to have middle class jobs because they feed the rest of the economy.”
And that’s good for the region and the country.
Even President Obama spoke about making “America a magnet for new jobs” in his State of the Union address.
One reason call center jobs are returning to the United States is because wages abroad have gone up annually.
“What’s happened is the wages off shore have gone up 10, 15, 20 percent a year,” Murcott said.
Plus, American consumers complained their problems were not getting solved by representatives overseas. And technology has gotten better. Simple calls like password resets are now automated, or consumers can get their answers online.
“What are left are the contextually sensitive complex calls. And that's what needs an American who understands American way of life, to be able to answer those calls,” Murcott said.
“We really have that, you know, just American spirit that ability to empathize and then to go in and do the best we can to make sure we're solving whatever problems it is that the person on the other end has,” said Deidra Walker-Peany, who works Aegis, another call center company in Irving.
Walk the office of Aegis, or any call center, and hear a steady hum of conversations.
Catchphrases like, “May I help you?” and, “Thank you for calling,” are a constant.
It’s a rhythm with row after row of customer service representatives wearing headsets, looking at computer screens and talking to customers about everything from health insurance to utilities to roadside assistance.
Ironically, Aegis is based in India, but half of its business is in the United States, according to CEO Sandip Sen, making call centers in the U.S. necessary.
“Our largest concentration of call center agents in the United States is in Texas between Irving, here, and Kileen,” Sen said, adding that the DFW area is an ideal location for its American hub.
“It has a large labor pool. Second, I think the cost of living here is much [more] affordable as compared to the East and the West Coast. Third, for a company, which has clients all across the U.S., this is almost in the center, you know about three-and-a-half hours to New York and three-and-a-half hours to San Francisco,” said Sen.
The Lone Star State’s southern hospitality is a draw for call centers as well.
“We've had people from other states come and say we want some of that Texas charm on the phone,” said Murcott.
Walter Jamison, a father of two, has that charm. He has worked as an insurance agent at Novo 1 for more than a year. He had to do a typing test, an interview and a voice test to get the job.
“I have a speaking voice for this type of job,” Jamison said with a smile.
He also said he has the patience to handle angry consumers. That even-temper and empathy resonates with Americans seeking customer service help and may be the reason call centers are expanding in the United States.
“Kill them with kindness. Apologize. Please, thank you. That always works,” he said.