Responding to a shortage of workers and brisk turnover, call center operators pile on the perks.
By Ken Ibold
From the annoying dinnertime telemarketers to the helpful person who answers your call on the toll-free number, call center employees have become a hot commodity in central Florida. At least 10 companies have recently opened or expanded their call centers in the region, adding as many as 3,000 jobs. The jobs typically pay $8 to $11 per hour -- better than many tourism jobs -- but are renowned for their monotony and limited career paths.
With a high demand for service workers generally, call centers have had to get creative to remain competitive in attracting and retaining employees. Some employers boast of signing bonuses; others crow about job perks they hope will tempt workers to stay: casual dress, flexible hours, top commissions and dental plans.
When Boston Communications Group opened its call center in DeLand last year, workers were tops on the company's mind. "We have gone out of our way to invest in the physical environment so people will perceive this to be a good place to work," says Jerry Confer, vice president and general manager of the Teleservices Division.
With pay scales that are on the upper end for the community and defined avenues for career growth, Boston Communications has filled virtually all of its 500 positions through word-of-mouth and a sign posted outside the building.
Although attrition is low for a call center, Confer says the company is looking at still more ways to convince more employees to stay. For example, Boston Communications is developing a plan to have an outside company build a day care center adjacent to the facility that would offer reduced rates to Boston Communications employees. Until then, highly flexible hours give workers the opportunity to take advantage of whatever childcare options they can find. "Deland has been a tremendous success for us," Confer says. "Our efforts to recruit people have been relatively painless."
Another company that hasn't had too much trouble retaining call center workers is Connextions.net, an Orlando company that provides order fulfillment services to Internet vendors. One vendor sells exotic home-furnishing items that come from all over the world, so Connextions.net looks for call center employees with a light foreign accent to add to the purchasing experience. In addition, employees participate in chat groups about the products and do research on the products' backgrounds. "It's not the standard call center operation," says Peter Kasabov, the company's COO and senior vice president. "So the call center people really like it."
In the News
Daytona Beach -- Budget Group (NYSE-BD) threw plans to compete in the used car business in reverse, saying it would sell or close its car lots and cut up to 1,000 jobs nationwide. The moves come as part of an effort to cut $100 million a year in expenses and refocus Budget on its car and truck rental business.
Kissimmee -- The Kissimmee Utility Authority (KUA) and the Florida Municipal Power Agency are constructing a third generating unit at the Cane Island Power Park. The $127-million generator, to be completed in about 18 months, will more than double KUA's total generating capacity.
Lake Mary -- SunStar Health Plans faces a Feb. 1 deadline to respond to attempts by state regulators to liquidate the HMO. The state contends the 83,000-member HMO does not have adequate capital reserves, while the company says the dispute centers on the methodology the company's actuary used to determine adequate reserves.
An arbitration panel ordered software-developer HTE Inc. (Nasdaq-HTEI) to pay the city of Tacoma, Wash., more than $5 million after customer-billing software that was delivered in 1997 failed to meet the city's expectations. The city said the software did not perform as promised and was not Y2K compliant. The company says the arbitration award was unjust and will seek to have it amended or overturned.
Melbourne -- Ameritech's SecurityLink division has signed a lease on 10,000 square feet of office space, where it will employ about 80 by the end of March and about 100 by next summer.
DialAmerica Marketing has opened its ninth call center in Florida, this one estimated to employ about 175 people within a year. The 7,031-sq.-ft. facility is the 66th call center nationwide for Mahwah, N.J.-based DialAmerica.
Axiom Technology International said it has landed a deal with Lockheed Martin to service Sidewinder power supplies for F-16 fighter jets, of which Lockheed has produced 4,000. The company, a subsidiary of Advance Aerospace Systems, said repairs of high-tech avionics will play an important role in the company's future as the military tries to keep aging planes operational.
Orange County -- AT&T Corp. said it will expand its AT&T Local Services office in the Central Florida Research Park and hire as many as 600 people in the next year. The new jobs will largely be technical in nature, including data base maintenance and circuit engineering.
Orlando -- Holland-based Showquest Entertainment plans to move its headquarters in with its Orlando-based subsidiary, Showquest Studios. Showquest also owns Vekoma International, a top amusement park ride designer, and Storyline Inc., a merchandise manufacturer. A relocation of the headquarters has been approved by company executives, but a suitable site for the combined offices has not been finalized. The move would add about 150 people to Showquest's local workforce of 100.
Another possible expansion by Universal Studios came a step closer to reality when the Orange County Commission approved a request to rezone more than 2,000 acres owned by Universal. Plans include thousands of hotel rooms, a golf course and 300 acres for rides and attractions. No dates have been set for construction.
The potential for light rail lives on. Now Walt Disney World is studying the possibility of using light rail to move guests around its property and between parks. Disney averages about 200,000 guests and employees on its property daily, and many areas suffer from rush hour-like gridlock.
Lockheed Martin Corp. may close its computer services unit as a cost-cutting move. The closure would only affect the 50 people still working in the 52,000-sq.-ft. facility, and the company said they would be transferred to other units.
Cinemark USA opened a 20-screen cinema complex on International Drive that includes reserved seating for those who want to pay an extra buck. The reserved seat area is a 75-seat balcony in each of the theaters.
World Commerce Online Inc. has signed a deal with Dole Food Co. under which Dole will wholesale cut flowers through World Commerce's Floraplex wholesale system. Dole's Fresh Flowers Division is the largest grower of flowers in the world.
Developer Epoch Properties of Winter Park announced plans for a 743-unit apartment complex in MetroWest that will include shops, restaurants and recreational facilities. The complex will be the largest in MetroWest and could expand to as many as 1,400 units.
Daytona Beach: Adams Mark Marches On
Adams Mark Resort said it would go ahead with plans to add 300 rooms, despite a federal lawsuit charging the resort with discrimination last year during Black College Reunion (BCR). The federal complaint followed lawsuits from five visitors who said they were mistreated because of their race. The controversy threatened to derail the $45-million expansion, which will link the resort with Daytona's $200-million oceanfront redevelopment plan. Company President Frank Kummer not only decided to proceed with plans to expand the hotel to 737 rooms, he also offered BCR organizers $50,000 per year to help manage the event, providing the funds are matched by local businesses.
The 15-year-old BCR, which attracts about 100,000 people each April, has sparked complaints from participants that many local businesses discriminate against them. Residents complain of rowdy behavior and congestion. The city of Daytona Beach has been caught in the middle, officially neither sanctioning nor opposing the event.