A Throwback Call Center, Nestled in New York's Heart

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In a cramped office in midtown Manhattan, workers crowd into a tiny space in a building that is just blocks from the famous Madison Square Garden. Whether they know it or not, they are members of a nearly vanished breed.


The workers are outbound teleservices reps for DCM, a teleservices fundraising firm. While the vast majority of the industry operates out of warehouse-like call centers far from urban centers -- or farther still, abroad -- DCM abides at its location in New York.


Visiting DCM is something like an encounter with a living member of a species thought extinct. In the 11th-floor office, phone reps sit at cramped desks dialing by hand and reading names and numbers off paper cards in little plastic boxes. There are no computer terminals.


DCM's story will be recognizable to those familiar with Murray Roman -- considered by many to be a founding father of telemarketing -- and his Campaign Communications Inc. Like Roman once did, DCM hires New York actors and performing artists to work its phones.


The work force matches well with DCM's core business. DCM works solely on fundraising campaigns for performing arts organizations, such as the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.


"They're not just selling anything," DCM president Phil Miller said of his staff. "They're selling something they really believe in."


Like other teleservices firms, DCM deals with high turnover among its staff. Miller estimated that up to 45 percent of his phone reps had been with the company for more than a year.


Turnover has a magnified effect in a high-cost labor market like New York. DCM first tried opening its call center in Jacksonville, FL, but that lasted only six months, and the company eventually chose the New York location, Miller said.


"It would be great to do it in Montana, where the overhead would be cheaper," he said. "But we couldn't have the same quality of callers."


The company has about 55 workstations and works on six to eight campaigns at any given time. Along with providing outsourced teleservices, DCM manages campaigns for clients with in-house call centers.


DCM is looking at moving to a paperless environment, so one day the paper cards may end up relegated to extinction, along with the dodo. However, there are no predictive dialers, and no plans to install any, due to the relatively small size of its clients' calling files.


The system has been exceeding its clients' goals. Last summer, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra called on DCM right before the end of its fiscal year on June 31 to save a fundraising campaign that was falling short.


"A quick ramp-up always makes us nervous," Miller said. "There is a certain amount of momentum you need to get before a campaign takes off."


DCM took over the campaign and raised $47,360, beating the goal of $38,075. The company accomplished the task partly by calling prospects who previously had said no, but also with the enthusiasm of its callers, who are trained to sell the client's nonprofit mission and not be afraid to ask for large donations, Miller said.


"They understand the mission and the importance of supporting that mission," he said. "The callers have a fervor for music."


Scott Hovanyetz covers telemarketing, production and printing and direct response TV marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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