Monday, 08 April 2013 10:25

Contact Centers by the Numbers

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In my research role at the National Association of Call Centers (NACC) at The University of Southern Mississippi, the two most common questions I am asked are as follows:


1.  How many contact centers are there in the U.S.?

2.  Can I get a directory of all the contact centers in the U.S.?


The second question almost always comes from some sales rep who thinks they are going to call every contact center in the U.S. and sell them his/her product (like they’re the first ones who have thought of that).  The answer to the second question is always “No,” for a couple of reasons.  First of all, NACC membership records are kept confidential.  The other reason this is a “No” is closely related to the answer to the first question.


The answer to the first question, the number of contact centers in the U.S., does not exist.  There is no reliable count of contact centers in the U.S. today.  The task would be overwhelming for a private firm to undertake and the only organization that has the manpower to undertake the task, the U.S. government, doesn’t count contact centers as contact centers in their economic census unless they are standalone contact centers like outsourcers.  In other words, companies like Convergys would be counted as a contact center.  Companies like Verizon, that may have a dozen contact centers, are counted as telecommunications companies.  Their contact centers are not counted as contact centers.


Last week I was interviewed by an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) regarding industry trends and issues for the updated Customer Service Representative job description in the BLS’ Occupational Outlook Handbook.  I was able to confirm that although there is interest in eventually getting an accurate count of contact centers in the U.S., no change in policy is imminent.  I did, however, get some other interesting insights.


Most interesting is the fact that according to the BLS, there are 2.2 million contact center customer service representatives in the workforce today.  Even though the economic census doesn’t ask about captive contact centers, they do ask respondents about the number of contact center CSRs they have in-house.  I find this fascinating because we have always used an approximation (guess) of about 3.5 million agents in the U.S.  We were way off, but not as far off as other estimates I’ve seen that are taken as gospel by the industry due to the name of the company purporting to know the number.


Here’s another interesting thought.  At the NACC we make the assumption that the average contact center is somewhere around 48 seats.  That’s based on member information we obtain and extrapolate to represent the population of all U.S. contact centers.  If we take that average and divide it into the number of known CSRs in the U.S., we’re looking at an approximation of about 45,830 contact centers nationally.  That’s less than half of the 100,000 number that’s usually thrown about in reference to the total number of contact centers in the U.S.


What if the average contact center size is larger or smaller than our estimate?  This idea opens the door to a lot of questions, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that the actual number of contact centers in the U.S. is closer to 50,000 than it is to 100,000.  I don’t think that has any negative bearing on potential sales for vendors or potential jobs in the future, but it does have value as a reality check in an industry that often touts fantasies and fiction as fact.

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