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Released August 12, 2004

SOUTHERN MISS TO HOST GULF SOUTH CALL CENTER CONFERENCE SEPT. 19-21 IN GULFPORT

HATTIESBURG - A professor at The University of Southern Mississippi recognized as the leading expert on the call center industry will be the featured speaker at a conference hosted by the university Sept. 19-21 in Gulfport.

The "Gulf South Call Center Conference: Staying Competitive in a Globalizing Industry" will focus on the latest research and trends in the United States call center industry and will include as its primary presenter Dr. David Butler, director of the international development doctoral program at Southern Miss.

"Our purpose for this conference is to share with stakeholders in this industry the trends and patterns occurring in the call center industry," Butler said.

Butler has conducted extensive research over the past decade on the industry, leading to the publication of his book "Bottom-Line Call Center Management: Creating a Culture of Accountability and Excellent Customer Service," which was featured on CNN's Lou Dobbs Show earlier this year.

The conference, to be held at the Grand Casino Gulfport Conference Center, will be hosted by the Southern Miss Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development and the Center for International and Continuing Education.

Butler has also undertaken call center research overseas, working with Southern Miss graduate students studying the industry in Ireland in 2004. "In June, Dr. Butler led a group of 11 students to Ireland, where the team collaborated with local organizations and corporations in collecting data on call centers in that country," said Susan Steen, director of the Southern Miss Center for International and Continuing Education. "Dr. Butler's innovative approach provides students with the opportunity to acquire international experience and conduct research firsthand, both of which are vital for success in today's global society."

Other speakers for the conference include Bill Sisson, vice president for the Mobile Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Angeline Dvorak, president of the Southern Miss Research Foundation, and Leland Speed of the Mississippi Development Authority.

Call centers, which are part of most industries, deliver services either on an inbound or outbound basis. The majority of communication--an estimated 85 percent-- goes through inbound call centers dealing with anything from catalog order sales to high- level technical support. Outbound call centers account for 10 to15 percent of the industry, typically providing telemarketing services.

Successful call centers should have professionally trained employees who can give companies a competitive edge through quality customer service, Butler said. Often, the call center associate is the 'face' of the company and a critical component of the company's success. "These are the face and voice of companies, many of which no longer have a storefront presence, and thus are highly valuable if leveraged correctly," Butler said.

In recent years, there's been considerable flux in the industry, Butler said, as companies seek the best solution for their call center needs. "There's been some outsourcing and off-shoring (overseas outsourcing) as well as recent trends of repatriation of U.S. call centers that were previously off-shored," Butler said.

Call center managers, economic developers, specialists and consultants and elected officials, among others, are encouraged to participate in the conference to gain the latest information from research conducted at the university, Butler said.

"The call center industry is less than 30 years old, so it's still going through its youthful growth stage," Butler said. "With the correct research and information we will share at this conference, we can help its stakeholders help it mature."

Butler estimates that 5 to 7 percent of the nation's workforce is in the call center industry, employed in 100,000 to 140,000 call centers. The average salary for call center employees is $20,000 annually.

Sisson, who is the former executive director of the Southern Miss Center for Community and Economic Development, said there is an upswing in call center expansions nationally. "It's a competitive market and is an industry that every economic developer wants to foster," Sisson said. "Call center jobs are good paying positions with outstanding benefits, which really help round out any local economy."

For more information on the conference, including registration, schedule of events and hotel accommodations, call the Center for International and Continuing Education at (601) 266-4186 or visit www.usm.edu/cice/ce/prodev/call/.

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August 16, 2004 5:26 PM