Waiters, desk clerks help recruit call center employers

Bill Kuncz took a careful look at a key measurement of the Reno-area labor force — the percentage of workers with some college education — as GreatCall Inc. scouted the nation for a new call-center location.

But he paid close attention, too, to a less-scientific measurement: The quality of service he got from the folks in hotels and restaurants around town when he came for a visit.

Those waiters and desk clerks helped sell the chief financial officer and other executives of GreatCall, and the company said last week it’s opening a call center in South Meadows.

Employment in the 19,000-square-foot center at 9290 Gateway Drive initially will be about 75, and GreatCall’s trainers already are working with the first hires in a classroom at Truckee Meadows Community College.

The San Diego-based company, which provides wireless health-and-safety products to older consumers, expects that employment in Reno could grow to 200 within a couple of years and 400 within five years.

That growth means that the availability of a skilled pool of workers was a key question for the company as it looked seriously at eight cities as potential sites for the call center.

Kuncz says the number of workers with some college background is a particularly telling statistic. Those folks have shown an interest in bettering themselves, and they’ve shown an aptitude to complete the sort of extensive training required by GreatCall.

The Reno call center will provide traditional customer support for consumers who buy GreatCall’s Jitterbug cell phones or download one of its apps.

The center also will provide live, 24-7 emergency and medical response to users of the company’s 5Star Urgent Response product. (That business grew by 250 percent in the past 12 months, says privately held GreatCall.)

Those technical skills need to be blended with kind and gracious skills in providing service to often-elderly customers, Kuncz says.

The customer-service skills he saw on display around Reno and Sparks demonstrated the depth of those skills in the region’s workforce.

Kuncz and GreatCall aren’t the first call-center employers to notice that phenomenon in the northern Nevada workforce, says John Parel, business services manager with JobConnect in Reno.

In fact, it’s helping some of them get over any misgivings they might have about the available pool of workers, given the strong growth of customer-service employment in the region in the past year.

To some degree, those misgivings are misplaced, says Parel. Last week, for instance, JobConnect could identify 3,831 workers in its system who had customer-service background — many of them with a year or more experience in the field — and the jobs agency could identify more than 460 workers with outbound telemarketing experience.

Mike Kazmierski, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, says the quality of the region’s workforce helps land call-center employers.

“This community gets customer service,” he says.

Other key factors are the state’s tax and regulatory structure as well as the growth of call centers across the U.S. economy.

GreatCall worked with Dallas-based Site Selection Group, a consultant to companies that are looking for new sites. Kazmierski notes that face-to-face calls with site-selection consultants have been a priority of EDAWN this year.

Tim Ruffin and Melissa Molyneaux of Colliers International represented the landlord in the lease negotiations.

GreatCall will require about 10 weeks to complete $1 million in construction at the south-Reno facility.

Kuncz says the company looks to the Reno center as a stand-alone operation, one with its own information technology, human resources and management support.

Part of the reason that the company decided to expand outside its Southern California home, he says, is a need for geographic diversity to provide protection against service interruptions from natural disasters or other problems.


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