By Duncan Tucker
The ability to attract, retain and develop talent through strong recruitment, training and employee satisfaction programs is crucial in order to prosper in competitive environments like the Las Vegas call center industry. That’s the message from local service providers who insist that the challenges of market saturation can be overcome if you take the right strategic approach.
One of the most prominent onshore hubs in the United States, Las Vegas is home to a dozen or so contact centers run by the likes of Sitel, TELUS International, Barclaycard, MGM Resorts International, UPS and Zappos. While labor costs are reasonable, there are signs for concern for those considering investing in the market. A recent report by Re/code noted that the Las Vegas startup community has been hit by a raft of layoffs and several high-profile suicides in the last two years. Moreover, earlier this month, the nonprofit Brookings Institution published a report stating that Nevada is suffering a severe shortage of talent in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, which is hampering the state’s efforts to diversify its economy. However, this is unlikely to impact the call center outsourcing operations in the Las Vegas area that have fewer high tech demands and generally require less skilled service workers.
Curiously, despite the city’s prominence within the onshore call center industry, Katrina Menzigian, VP of Research Relations at Everest, told Nearshore Americas that “of the 25 or so established contact center outsourcing service providers we regularly follow, none seem to have significant delivery presence in the Las Vegas area. In fact, none were reported to us. Even assuming there are some things we didn’t capture, it’s fair to say that there’s not enough to really hit the radar screen.”
Why are so many major outsourcing providers avoiding the city? The fierce competition when it comes to recruiting to talent is one of the biggest challenges in Las Vegas, according to those who operate there, but they say this is can be overcome if you are an attractive employer with strong training programs and real career opportunities.
Make it Easy to Work for You
To get the inside perspective, Nearshore Americas spoke to Gabriel Bristol, President and CEO of Intelicare Direct, a call center service provider with facilities in Las Vegas and San Diego. “Currently in Las Vegas we have about 150 agents working various shifts to provide 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage for our various clients,” Bristol said. “In addition to Intelicare Direct, there are more than a half-dozen other centers (in Las Vegas) employing an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 agents, and that doesn’t count management or support staff.”
Asked about the biggest challenges of operating in the Las Vegas area, Bristol joked, “Other than the summer heat and monsoon season?” He then pointed to the need to attract the right talent. “The talent pool in Las Vegas isn’t that much different than it is in other cities, which is to say it’s mixed,” he explained. “The truth is every city has its challenges. In San Diego, where our other center is located, the cost of living is among the highest in the country. In Las Vegas, it’s a different challenge. Everyone knows the city attracts a certain level of transient residents, people who move here and move away almost as quickly when the experience of living here didn’t match their expectations. Hiring these people and then losing them quickly can really hurt the bottom line, so we take extra care during our employee screening to try and minimize that exposure.”
The key to overcoming this challenge is making your company a desirable place to work, Bristol said. “Intelicare Direct is a unique environment. We are an inbound customer service company only. We don’t do outbound calls. We don’t set appointments or sell magazine subscriptions. We handle inbound customer support only. That makes us special in the marketplace and as a result, we attract a lot of top tier talent from other call centers who want to work in our kind of environment.” Bristol continued: “To attract the top tier talent, we pay above the industry standard, only offer full-time employment with benefits and we’re a dog friendly and child friendly work place. In short, we make it very easy to work for us.”
The Market Continues to Grow
Employing a total of 1,395 agents at two different facilities in Las Vegas, one of the city’s largest call center operators is Nashville, Tennessee-based outsourcing provider Sitel. Cassidy Klundt, Sitel’s Las Vegas Site Director, told Nearshore Americas that he does not believe the local market is oversaturated.
There are “ten-plus call centers in the area, but it really depends on how you define that because you could have some call center operations of 10 to 15 folks and one person might call that a call center and another might call it a small operation,” he said. “There’s certainly a large number of call centers – and I think whenever you start to exceed ten-plus in a marketplace you’ve got to start to question the size of your operations and how you’re going to tap that market – but this market continues to grow and change.”
The most important thing from Sitel’s point of view is that “there’s a very large workforce,” Klundt said. “From a workforce perspective anywhere that you locate where the majority of the workforce is service-driven, that’s naturally going to translate to the call center environment,” he explained. “There’s a large casino base, there’s a lot of government employees and we have the largest air force base here too. So you have a large portion of the workforce coming from a servicing perspective and you also have a lot of families that are brought in because of the air force base and that translates to a very large labor force that is very conducive to the call center environment.”
Klundt added that labor costs in Las Vegas “are actually fairly reasonable. To put that into perspective, I had been running the Oak Ridge, Tennessee facility for the last three years before I came out here, and just from a labor market perspective there’s very similar costs in both markets and I think what really helps us is that Las Vegas is a much large market in comparison.”
Offer Career Opportunities
Klundt accepted that the Vegas labor market throws up certain challenges but insisted that these can be overcome through intelligent recruitment campaigns. “We always have to make sure we’re targeting the right folks. We have a pretty big mix of support types, like technical support, sales retention, customer service, so we have to consider how you target the right folks by way of advertisement,” he said. “This is a visually rich environment so you can’t necessarily count on a billboard because you cased used to that in Las Vegas. It’s all about involvement in the community and getting out to job fairs, and then we have a large portion of our sourcing that is referral-based, so we have ASET initiatives to make sure that our employees are really spreading the name of Sitel around the community by word of mouth, that’s a big part of our sourcing.”
Offering enticing long-term career opportunities is also “highly critical” to Sitel’s efforts to attract ambitious young workers who are less likely to leave after a few short months, Klundt said. In Las Vegas “there are more and more young and eager workers available and this is an ideal job and career opportunity for them,” he explained. “That’s a big value proposition for Sitel and I can attest to that. Being a Sitel for 11 years myself, I’ve actually gone through every position from agent to coach to operations manager to site director. Most call centers in this area cannot boast the track training programs that we have available to people to teach them the skills they need to excel in their career and move forward.”
Klundt added that he “would certainly welcome” the entrance of more colleges and higher educational institutions to help create a better educated workforce in the Las Vegas area. But one of the keys to prospering in this environment is for operators to ensure they have their own robust training programs, he said. “There that will require experienced workers but we don’t necessarily always require that previous call center experience – if you have service experience we’ll certainly teach you the call center side, that’s where we certainly benefit you greatly and that’s why I don’t think the market is over-saturated, at least from Sitel’s perspective,” Klundt concluded.