A Rockledge business that helps process orders for subsidized home phone service is helping to ring up hundreds of jobs for the Brevard County economy.  This company joins several other major local players in the call center industry.

Telecom Sales Center of Rockledge began operations in February with 80 employees, and was up to 242 within a month, on its way to a projected staff of 500 by September, according to Thomas Biddix, chairman of the board of its parent company, Associated Telecommunications Management Services.  The facility takes orders from customers of USA Free Phone, which offers subsidized “lifeline” phone service for people meeting financial eligibility criteria.

Among the other companies with major facilities in the local “inbound” call center industry – centers that take incoming calls, rather than doing unsolicited outgoing calls – are GCI Commerce and Percepta.

“The call center business is still alive and well,” said Steve Wood, vice president of call center operations at GCI Commerce in Melbourne.

Biddix said he is pleased by the caliber of the staff he is hiring for Telecom Sales Center’s 450 sales agent jobs that pay $9 to $11 an hour, plus potential commission, and the 50 manager jobs that pay $11 to $15 an hour.

“It’s a very talented workforce that we are getting,” Biddix commented.

“There are a lot of skilled unemployed people living here,” added John Calkins, outreach communications specialist with Brevard Workforce.  That helps make the Space Coast an attractive location for businesses looking to ramp up staff.

Wood pointed out that Brevard County also has an overall good business environment, good quality of life and relatively short commute times, making it attractive to companies like his.

Stimulus Help

Biddix said a special federal economic stimulus program is funding 96 percent of the base pay for the sales agent positions at his company until September.  He credits Brevard Workforce and the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast for helping his company secure that funding.  The City of Rockledge also provided financial incentives to the company.

“It’s a blessing for us, as local people who live here, to be able to open the facility,” Biddix emphasized, adding that, without the stimulus money, “We would not have been able to bring the jobs here nearly as fast.”

“We were obviously happy when we heard the news” of Telecom Sales Center’s hiring plans, Calkins responded, noting that it is a good example of how federal stimulus money is bringing jobs to this area. “Any time we’re able to keep jobs or add jobs, we are achieving our goals.”

The new Telecom Sales Center jobs are “nothing to laugh at,” Calkins explained.  “It’s a serious addition to the local economy and it’s definitely a positive thing.”

Separately, Biddix said his company spent a total of about $1 million on equipment and renovations for its Riomar Drive facility, which previously had been operated by another call enter company that closed about five years ago.

Biddix forecasted that he would consider bringing 1,000 more jobs to Brevard County in the future, should his company be able to secure additional stimulus money to help initially fund them.  Those jobs would be customer service positions to handle inquiries from people who already have lifeline phone service.

Other Local Leaders

While the staff at Telecom Sales Center deals with one product category, GCI Commerce handles orders for about 80 clients, according to Wood.  That includes companies in the apparel, electronics, health and beauty, and sporting goods industries, among others. Consumers would see a product advertised online by these companies, then call in, and be routed to GCI call-takers.

GCI’s Melbourne operation, which opened in 2002, has a year-round staff of about 600, including about 200 who work from home taking calls.  Its staff includes about 50 people in supervisory and management roles.  GCI adds about 400 temporary workers in the fourth quarter locally to handle the Christmas holiday rush of orders, and received 3,000 applications for the 400 seasonal jobs last fall, Wood said.

Wood pointed out that about 80 percent of the staff works full-time, typically making at least $10 an hour, with up to $200 a week more in commissions.

According to Wood, growth in online retailing is helping business at GCI, which also has similar order-taking operations in Georgia and Wisconsin.

Officials of Percepta, whose client base is focused largely on the auto industry, declined to be interviewed about their Melbourne operations.

The company, however, notes on its website that, following a 15-month comprehensive certification process, Percepta’s Customer Relationship Center in Melbourne received Customer Operations Performance Center certification.

Percepta said Customer Operations Performance Center standards are “the most prestigious and rigorous measurement system in the contact center industry” and “offer a high performance set of global best practices and benchmarks that simultaneously increase service quality and customer satisfaction, while lowering costs.”

“Achieving the level of excellence necessary to obtain this certification shows the dedication and commitment of our Percepta team,” the company noted.  “By receiving this certification, we are able to further demonstrate that Percepta pursues our goals with customer focus, continual improvement, and our people are at the core of what we do.”

“Se Habla Espanol?”

Steve Wood, vice president of call center operations at GCI Commerce in Melbourne, said, while GCI does not do this, some call center companies in recent years set up operations outside the United States, in such countries as India and the Philippines, as well as in Caribbean and Central American nations.

But Wood sees a potential trend for the call center industry that went overseas to come back to the United States to overcome concerns customers have raised about “language issues” in communicating with call-takers for whom English is not their first language.