Thursday, 02 April 2020 00:00

Coronavirus And Jobs: Montgomery Call Centers Are Busy, And Hiring

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MONTGOMERY - Hundreds of cubicles stretch across the converted bowling alley, a cavernous space that was set up to hold more workers when a Montgomery call center outgrew its old building. Those cubicles now sit empty, but the calls are coming in faster than ever.

MONTGOMERY – Hundreds of cubicles stretch across the converted bowling alley, a cavernous space that was set up to hold more workers when a Montgomery call center outgrew its old building. Those cubicles now sit empty, but the calls are coming in faster than ever.

Places like this that handle after-hours calls and customer service issues have their phones ringing around the clock from across the globe as much of public life shuts down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Now, most of them just answer those calls at home.

More than 1,200 people work for three call centers in Alabama’s capital city, and all three are still looking for more help. They’re considered an essential service under federal guidelines, meaning their offices are allowed to remain open. “It’s a customer service issue, and every business lives or dies by its customer,” said Paul Stockford, director of research for the National Association of Call Centers.

Still, the global pandemic has accelerated a years-long push toward working from home. Stockford said the companies that have resisted that trend were caught flat-footed and are now scrambling to adjust in an industry built on tight workspaces and shared equipment.

Locally-owned ASK, which took over the former bowling alley on Carmichael Road, has had some of its staff working from home for years. Since the pandemic hit, they’ve sent 420 of their 450 employees home to work. Owner Rick Burley said some can’t work from home because of limited internet access or other problems.

They’ve hired about 30 people so far this year and are hoping to hire 30 to 40 more. Right now, agents are going through a two-week training process then being issued company equipment to take home. Pay starts at up to $9.50 an hour. You can see more at asktelemarketing.com/careers.

California-based Alorca has more than 200 people working for its Montgomery call center. Most of them have already moved to working at home, said Sunny Yu, the company’s senior director of global communications. Yu said the company is enforcing a range of health and safety protocols for those who remain in the office, including new cleaning routines, restrictions on visitors and social distancing “wherever possible.”

The company has a section of its website dedicated to its work-at-home model, and another about its COVID-19 response plan.

Alorca wants to hire at least another 50 people here, with salaries starting at $10 an hour. “To keep our employees and recruits safe, we are leaning on our virtual communication tools, including our online application form (Alorica.com/careers/work-at-home) and online test prior to any in-person meeting,” Yu said.

Florida-based Sykes has a global work-at-home program, but not in Montgomery. About 500 people work at its call center here, all from the office. Regional Communications Manager Hayley Westwood said the center remains open during the pandemic and cited its designation as an essential business.

“We have taken every possible precaution to keep our employees safe by distancing employees, practicing extensive cleaning measures to maintain a healthy environment, encouraging anyone who feels sick to remain home and emphasizing proper hand washing and other healthy habits,” Westwood said. “We continue to follow recommendations from the CDC and World Health Organization.”

Sykes starts new hires at $12 an hour, and that rate increases to $15 an hour after six months. You can see more at jobs.sykes.com. The company is conducting online video interviews.

Stockford wrote a column last month about the industry's move toward work-at-home business, before the COVID-19 outbreak changed life in America. It was published April 1 in Contact Center Pipeline magazine. In it, he noted that over half the industry now has at-home work programs, that those programs have been successful and that they’re growing fast.

He said that trend is going to continue, even on the other side of the pandemic.

“Millennials want that work-life balance,” Stockford said. “The call centers that have been dragging their heels… they’re really paying the price.”

PUBLISHED April 2, 2020 at https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/2020/04/02/coronavirus-montgomery-call-centers-busy-and-hiring/2879152001/

 
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