Destination Call Center

Before you buy a switch, hire staff, install a single piece of software, train any agents — before you take a single call — you’re going to have to find a place to put your center. Site selection is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make. It affects every decision that comes after — from the kinds of wiring you install to the services you offer your customers — for years to come. Where do you locate your call center to provide the maximum advantage to your organization and your customers?

Finding a site for your call center is more difficult than finding a site for many other types of business. And it is more difficult to find the ideal site for your call center now than it was just a few years ago.

The choice of locations has never been broader — you can put an effective center just about anywhere these days. But having more choices means you have to do your homework better than ever to find the right site for your center. It used to be a simple matter. You’d put your center in an established call center-friendly city, like Omaha, hoping to get the best telecom connections, and an educated, accent-free workforce.

But that’s not the most cost-effective solution anymore. While there are a huge number of centers scattered throughout the American (and Canadian) Midwest, other factors let you enlarge the area of consideration. Many companies no longer see the Midwest as an attractive area for new centers (though existing ones continue to thrive) because of the tight labor market.

In essence, the traditional barriers have been eliminated, which makes the decision of where to locate if anything, harder. You can get good telecommunications services just about anywhere in the continental US and Canada. Similar conditions exist in other regions of the developed world. And (at least in the US), the cost of telecom has dropped dramatically through the past decade.

A call center is not physically demanding as to the kind of space that you put it in, either. I’ve seen centers in office buildings, strip malls and industrial parks; squeezed into back rooms and former warehouses; converted supermarkets and trading floors — there’s no end to the ways to house a call center.

Given that, you can place a call center anywhere you like. It means that you can choose the physical surroundings based on your specific company’s needs. If you need to be near an order processing center, for example, or the CEO’s summer cottage, you’ll not find that too much of a problem.

What is good news for call center managers is there are plenty of locations, both in the United States and abroad, that are eager to have your call center join their business community.

Call centers are so malleable, physically, that you can just as logically conclude that New York City is an appropriate venue for your center as Ponca City, Oklahoma. In real life cases, both of those cities had something critical for the company that ran a center. In New York’s case, it was a company that already had an office presence in town; converting an extra room into a small, informal call center made sense, even at New York real estate prices. New York City has some of the highest costs for office space and labor in the country, plus a telecom environment that’s not always what I could call a welcome mat for high-tech businesses. But that’s where one company set up a center dedicated to outbound calling on small accounts. They already had the telecom in place, and the networking infrastructure. At $100,000 to revamp the existing space and furbish it for call center work, it made more sense to add-on than it did either to locate somewhere cheaper, or even to outsource.

In the case of Oklahoma, you have a very different environment. Space is cheaper, and there is room to spread out. Several years ago a major outsourcer built a jumbo center, investing more than $5 million to build a 42,000 square foot center in Ponca City, a small town of 29,000 people.

They were not just looking to add an informal center to an existing business function. Instead, when placing a major facility, they were thinking costs, and thinking long-term. So state incentives played a major role in their decision. Oklahoma has a highly developed government program designed to attract call centers, because they quite correctly see call centers as a killer job creation engine for their communities. And in the case of the big centers, you can transform a small community overnight, build a tax base, create a reason for local people to stay in the community instead of migrating to bigger cities, and so on. Call centers do for these communities what factories did a few generations ago.

Dig a little deeper, and you find that Ponca City has an excellent school system, including vocational schools, that can provide a steady stream of support reps with some technical skills. The University of Oklahoma is not too far away, either. Outsourcers like small towns — they provide stability and permanence. But they choose carefully, because if you make the wrong decision, you’re stuck with a multimillion dollar investment.

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