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MarCom Looks to Caribbean for Help With Business Rush

MarCom Technologies was among the many teleservices firms whose business dropped steeply after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Businesses nationwide ceased outbound calls for fear of offending public sensibilities in light of the tragedy.

That steep decline in outbound calling lasted about 10 days, said Hank Schuyler, president of Bradenton, FL-based MarCom. Now, the company is struggling to keep up with the flood of business that has followed the anthrax mail scare.

With business up 30 percent in October and a similar rise anticipated in December, MarCom is scurrying to hire telephone agents. The company, which operates six call centers in Florida and one in Philadelphia, is expanding its 125-seat centers in Fort Lauderdale and Melbourne, FL, by 64 seats each by the end of November.

MarCom, owned by French teleservices giant SR.Teleperformance, also plans to open a center in Hollywood, FL, by early December.

But the rush to increase its calling capacities has led the company to look abroad for an affordable way to expand. MarCom plans to open two call centers in the Caribbean next year. Schuyler would not reveal the locations for competitive reasons but said one is to open by the end of first-quarter 2002, the other by April.

MarCom is preparing a 50,000-piece mail campaign to promote its offshore centers to companies that may wish to take advantage of low labor costs in that region for calling to the United States. The campaign will include outbound follow-up calling to accompany the mailers, Schuyler said.

Hiring for the new centers has not been a problem. With Florida and other vacation spots hit hard by the steep drop in the travel industry after Sept. 11, job seekers are plentiful, and at MarCom's Orlando call center there are “stacks” of job applications, Schuyler said.

Gearing up a new call center from scratch can be a challenge, Schuyler said. To assist, employees at MarCom's present centers will be sent to work in the new facilities to form a “core” team of employees.

In the Caribbean centers, MarCom will dispatch present employees who are natives of the islands where the new facilities are to be located to work for six months to a year. These workers will provide experience and guidance in helping new telephone agents adjust to the standards of U.S. call centers, Schuyler said.

“It doesn't work, flying in for four days and leaving,” he said. “You have to have someone parked there.”

MarCom's parent company, which has extensive experience with international teleservices, has helped ease the transition to offshore call centers, Schuyler said. Also, high literacy rates — up to 98 percent — in Caribbean nations as well as English-speaking traditions left over from British colonialism make the transition easier.

Though new contracts account for some of MarCom's new business, most of the company's new work comes from existing clients, Schuyler said. Calls for insurance-related products have been a particular source of new business. Overall, calls for the financial services industry, to which MarCom caters, have risen since September.

MarCom's standby industries are providing enough work to keep the company at maximum calling capacity through the second quarter of 2002. Because of that, MarCom is expanding into other arenas, including collection services, to broaden its income sources.

The Sept. 11 events also seem to have changed how teleservices plays into marketing strategies, Schuyler said. Companies that once followed up direct mail pieces to consumers with a telemarketing call are now using outbound calls to precede the arrival of mailers to consumer mailboxes.

More companies are outsourcing inbound teleservices support that they once provided inhouse. Though not a direct effect of the terrorist attacks, the ensuing economic downturn may have been the final straw for companies that were considering outsourcing teleservices as a way to cut expenses before Sept. 11, Schuyler said.

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