From Offshore to Your Living Room: The Quiet Migration of Call Center Jobs


As the downside of outsourcing becomes more apparent, companies look to increase employee job satisfaction and retention rates.



The popular conception of the call center industry is that it's an employment sector in peril, losing outsourced jobs to overseas companies and marketing opportunities to the National Do Not Call Registry. Or to coin a phrase: "Please listen carefully, as our industry conditions have recently changed." The nature of call center careers may indeed be changing, but not as drastically as media coverage of the industry would lead one to suspect. In fact, the statistics relating to phone-based jobs in customer service, sales, and marketing in the U.S. just might surprise you.


Employment trends in the call center industry


A 2004 report by McDaniel Executive Recruiters found that there were about 50,600 call centers in the U.S., which together created about 2.86 million call center jobs. The report predicted a 5% decline in employment over the following four years due to factors ranging from offshore outsourcing to the DNC list to self-service technologies.


But the danger of losing customer service jobs to overseas call centers may have been overstated. A 2005 report by Gartner, Inc. found that offshore call centers represented less than 2% of U.S. customer service outsourcing. The report also predicted that by 2007, 80% of the companies that outsourced their call center work with the intention of saving money would fail to do so.


That prediction seems to be coming true. For example, economic growth and the rising cost of living in India, one of the primary destinations for outsourced technical support and inbound call center jobs, have decreased its appeal. WNS Global Services, one of India's largest call center companies, saw its net income decrease from $26.6 million to $9.5 million over the past two years.


From offshore to virtual


So where are all the call center jobs going? One answer is to other overseas nations. The Philippines is a leading destination, thanks in part to its high unemployment rate and lower wages. But spurred by customer complaints and the benefits of developing technologies, some American companies are focusing their efforts on improved customer service and retention of in-house employees—literally in-house.


A report by Datamonitor titled Remote Workers in the Contact Center states that, by 2009, virtual call center jobs will account for 7.5% of call center employment. Geographically dispersed and often home-based, virtual call center rep jobs cut costs for businesses and increase flexibility and job satisfaction for employees. Many companies are already using virtual call center technology to great advantage. For example, the reservations department at JetBlue Airways is entirely virtual, and their annual turnover rate is just 4% versus industry rates that often exceed 50%.


--Joshua Avram

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