PageMart Boosts Results, Decreases Costs in Mexico

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Wireless communications provider PageMart Inc., Dallas, is tripling the number of full-time, Spanish-speaking customer service representatives it uses in Mexico, bringing the total to 100. The rise represents an expansion of its relationship with Merkafon, a call center based in Monterrey, Mexico

"The Monterrey call center is handling 100 percent of our Spanish-speaking customer traffic and a large portion of our national retail traffic," said Paul Turner, vice president of customer service for PageMart. "We have plans to double in size in 1999."

The company, which has jumped from 18th to sixth in the wireless communications industry in less than two years, will finalize the contract with Merkafon this month. PageMart provides service to more than 2.5 million subscribers in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. The company has 900 in-house agents at its Dallas call center.

"PageMart does not presently use other outsourcing agencies," Turner said. "In the past we have used ATC and Direct Services Marketing. PageMart sells and outsources its own services to customers such as Excel, GTE, Southwestern Bell, and PacBell."

Turner added that PageMart selected to go to Mexico for bi-lingual customer services because of the diminishing U.S. labor market and to reduce overall costs.

"[We chose] the network out of Monterrey because of quality," said Turner. "They have a different workforce and lower end costs, these were significant factors in the decision to use Merkafon."

Turner added that Merkafon's individual representative productivity equals or exceeds PageMart's domestic customer service productivity.

"The quality and customer satisfaction numbers are the same," he said. "We have a liaison on-site who will do the monitoring of their call center agents."

"We have a comparative advantage," said Jesus Rodriquez, president of Merkafon. "Since we are situated in Mexico our labor is less expensive, which allows us to give our clients a lower price. If we are able to provide for our customers a level of quality as much as a comparative advantage, we can give a competitive advantage."

Rodriquez said that the representatives hired by Merkafon are highly educated and they cannot be hired by the hour. By contrast, in the United States, a teleservices agent is considered a lower-end job, and when the unemployment is low, there is significant turnover in the teleservices industry.

The Mexican teleservices industry experiences 36 percent turnover annually, which is the equivalent of 3 percent a month.

Merkafon provides high quality bilingual agents who are skillfully able to handle PageMart's Spanish speaking customers who expect personalized attention.

PageMart invests an average of $4,000 in training for each of its in-house representatives. The company established PageMart University, an extensive training program which familiarizes representatives with the call center and PageMart's products.

Merkafon representatives will be in training 48 hours a week for four weeks where they will learn how to activate pagers and voice mail, upsell various products, and send messages to the client.

"Hispanic people are able to speak for a longer time," Rodriquez said. "They feel comfortable speaking. Talking time and characteristics are different. They are warmer people and understand the characteristics of Americans so the necessities are different."

Merkafon will send some agents to work in the United States once a year to better familiarize them with American customs and business practices.

PageMart uses the call center operations to support its retail sales. The company will conduct a Christmas promotion at its 15,000 United States retail locations.

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