Mississippi to Host Call Center Conference
Posted on Sept. 13, 2004 | Tech News World
The potential importance of call centers to the Mississippi economy
will be highlighted at an upcoming conference hosted by the University
of Southern Mississippi's (USM) Office of Research and Economic
The "Gulf South Call Center Conference: Staying Competitive
in a Globalizing Industry" will be held September 19-21 at
the Grand Casino Gulfport Conference Center and Oasis Hotel.
time is right for the call center industry to come out of the
shadows and be recognized," said Dr. David Butler, assistant
professor of economic development and director of the international
development doctoral program at USM who is chairing the conference.
"We will share national trends and patterns in this critical
industry. It employs a major labor pool of 3 percent to 5 percent
of the U.S. working population, 100,000 to 140,000 people,"
Three national-level announcements pertaining to the call center
industry will be made at the conference, he said. Not ready to
release details, Butler said subjects of the announcements will
include the initiative of research, a professional organization
and the university/business relationship.
Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) Executive Director Leland
Speed and Southern Mississippi President Shelby Thames will be
among those making these announcements. They will also be among
the speakers, along with Butler, Dr. Angie Dvorak and Ken Malone
of USM and Bill Sisson of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce.
People who might want to attend this conference include call center
managers, economic developers at all levels; vendors who supply
technical goods, elected officials and media representatives,
according to Butler.
"Call center managers will benefit personally by learning
how to position themselves more competitively," he said.
"It will help economic developers who want to attract a call
center or have a fear of losing one. Elected officials should
attend or send a representative from their office because we're
talking about solid, good middle class jobs with call centers."
What a Community Needs
prerequisites for locating a call center in a community are availability
of labor and skilled labor and infrastructure , Butler says. He
feels these requirements can be met in Mississippi and says USM
would like to partner with the state to create long-lasting clusters
of call centers. A cluster is a concentration of similar industries
in an area that can borrow from each other and build on each other's
"There's a strong relationship between USM and MDA,"
he said. "We have the ability to communicate to companies
to help them make decisions and to ensure that call centers don't
go oversees." Butler spent the last 10 years examining call
centers and the U.S. culture extensively before writing his book,
Bottom Line Call Center Management: Creating a Culture of Accountability
and Excellent Customer Service. The book was published in March
of this year with great response.
"There's a lot of excitement about the book," he said.
"It has had media attention and sales. With talk of jobs
going to other countries, it's a timely subject that ties in with
the presidential election."
Regarding the book, Butler has appeared on CNN's "Lou Dobbs
Report," did a National Public Radio interview and was the
subject of an Associated Press story. He says there wasn't a lot
of solid information out there for economic developers and businesses
in the call center industry. Information in this book could improve
"The challenge is that most companies in this industry don't
know a lot about this industry," he said. "For instance,
Xerox (NYSE: XRX) is interested in making their products and are
not in a customer service frame of mind. We want to educate these
industries on call centers so they make the best decisions they
can, especially when they consider locating call centers outside
Butler says a lot of real data from the breadth and depth of his
research will be given at the conference. Communities and call
center managers can take advantage of proactive, hands-on information.
Taking It Stop by Stop
will be three preconference workshops on combating turnover at
call centers, formulating return on investment for your call center,
and how to market your community for call center development.
"We will walk them through step-by-step on ways to reduce
the 30 percent turnover and give proven methods of how managers
can convert their value to the company in dollars," Butler
said. "And we will give a how-to for economic developers
to communicate that they have call center friendly locations."
Becky Thompson, director of business development and trade at
MDA, said, "We expect services like call centers and back
office operations to become an increasingly important component
of Mississippi's economy. So we're thrilled to have such an
outstanding expert as Dr. Butler help us in our efforts to make
the state even more attractive to these types of operations."
higher the skill-level and autonomy of an employee, the more
satisfied the worker usually is. And happy workers tend to
be more productive. She said companies and customers are creating
a backlash to traditional customer service structures. She
said the system is training consumers to be "more aggressive
and obnoxious" to get something completed. But some companies
are recognizing the problems and are training and enabling
employees to work more effectively.