The U.S. Census Bureau has outsourced call center operations for the first time, awarding EDS, Herndon, VA, a $100-million contract to handle 11 million inbound calls and 4.5 million outbound calls in a five-month period for the 2000 census.
In addition, to handling high call colume, the call centers would have to be equipped to field questions and make calls in six languages: English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Tagalog ( a Filipino dialect), and Korean.
“The way the teleservices industry has expanded and grown there is a lot of infrastructure we can take advantage of for the 2000 census,” said Edwin B. Wagner Jr., program manager for the Census Bureau. “They have the capabilities we don’t have and we would have to build from scratch if we were to do this ourselves.”
A toll-free number to respond to consumer questions about their census forms, was used for the first time for the 1990 census. Calls were routed to 2000 agents at more than 40 district offices and processing offices.
“We ran into technical problems in accomplishing the 1990 program,” said Wagner. “When you look at the call center industry and their infrastructure of computers and agent work stations and the telecommunications network and the large trunk lines that come in, we would have to build all of that and put that all into place to accomplish that in 2000. They really are the experts in doing this kind of work and we are not.”
Although the bureau has the expertise to answer the questions on the toll-free 800 line, its put out a request for proposal for the two-year project because it needed the infrastructure, Wagner said.
“We didn’t want to buy a lot of equipment and we wanted to acquire the existing technology in the industry,” he said. “Of the 11 million calls that we are estimating, 8.5 million will be in a 20-day period. If we were to do this ourselves you are talking about an incredible effort, when it would be more efficient to go to the call center industry.”
Approximately 30 call centers and 6,000 agents will be used. Centrobe, an EDS company in Louisville, CO, will provide two centers, which will serve as “command centers” for call routing and support. For the remaining call centers, EDS has contracted with Affina Corp., Peoria, IL; APAC Teleservices, Deerfield, IL; Call Interactive, Omaha, NE; GEO Tel Communications Corp., Lowell, MA; Precision Response Corp., Miami; TeleTech Holdings Co., Denver; and West Teleservices, Omaha.
“We looked at this contract for bureau and we are going to make this easy for the public,” said Shawn Donovan, director of business development and government industry group of EDS, who was also responsible for selecting the subcontractors. “The goal is to be as proactive as possible.”
The first year of the project will involve setting up and testing the system, Donovan said.
“This year we will develop solutions and test and fine tune the program,” Donovan said. “Since this is the first time the Census Bureau outsourced its call center operations, there is no sound historical data to work from, this presents the contractís only real challenge.”
On the outbound side, Wagner said outsourcing the contract would ensure the accuracy of the census. By having the ability to call back people have left information out of their forms, or had discrepancies in the information they provided, the bureau will be able to provide the President of the United States more complete and accurate information.
The census questionnaires will be mailed out in March, 2000 and are due to be mailed in by April 1. Once the census is complete the bureauís contract with EDS will be terminated.