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Report: U.S. call centers vanishing

Barney Beal, News Writer

The news continues to get worse for American call center agents.

The latest study to point out the decline of U.S.-based call centers predicts that 3,000 will close by 2008.

The report from London-based Datamonitor plc found the number of call center agent positions in the U.S. will shrink from 2.86 million in 50,600 centers to 2.72 million in 47,500 centers. Agent positions are terminals from which agents make or receive calls. Multiple agents can use an agent position for different shifts during the day.

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"The American call center market is in decline," said Mark Best, Datamonitor analyst and the report's author. He said there currently are 109,000 agent positions offshore across the globe. By 2008, he estimated the number of positions would swell to 249,000.

"That really hinges on the cost savings that can be had," Best said.

The predictions are based on data from outsourcers and service providers, as well as shipment forecasts from call center technology from vendors such as Nortel Networks Corp., Avaya Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.

The U.S. isn't just losing call center jobs to India, the No. 1 destination of offshore call center work. The Philippines, Canada and Mexico are also hot spots. For example, the report found about 800 new call centers with 93,000 positions will open in Canada in the next four years due to U.S. outsourcing demand and natural growth.

"The positions that we see going abroad are usually in financial services, technology and outsourcing work," Best said. "It's typically lower-value calling, like a balance inquiries."

Positions that require higher levels of skill and cross-sell and up-sell capabilities tend to stay in the United States. That is due mainly to perception, Best said. Outsourcers would argue that offshore agents could effectively field those types of calls as well.

New self-service technologies that divert inbound customer calls from live agents are also contributing to the decline in positions, Best said. However, the report does not break out how much loss is attributable to outsourcing and how much to self-service. Recently enacted "do not call" legislation has also had an effect, though it has been slight, Best said.

Agents who work from home, thanks to routing technology and Internet applications, are having a negligible effect on the decline in positions, Best added.


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