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Rich Tehrani


Call Centers Are
Changing Lives

By: Rich Tehrani, Group Editor-in-Chief,
Technology Marketing Corporation



I grew up in the call center business, and couldn’t be more proud of that fact. Over the years, call centers have been used for admirable activities such as coordinating life-saving organ transplants, blood drives and fundraising for virtually all the top charities. More recently, call centers have been responsible for adding jobs to regions of the country and world where jobs were once scarce. This industry has given hope to millions — many of whom could not find work or were not able to work in other areas. Call center jobs provide stability and benefits such as health insurance to people who would otherwise not have those necessities.

Millions of jobs are attributable to call centers around the world. Ironically, many people in the industry told me, in the late 90s, that the Internet would wipe out the call center business. This was considered “conventional wisdom” at the time. It was not only wrong, but we found that the exact opposite happened. Sure, in many cases, Web sites take the place of call centers, but here we are, a decade after the leading edge of the Internet boom, and call centers have continued to explode with growth worldwide.

I thought I was aware of all the ways call centers could do good work for humanity, but recently I learned about a new one, and I thought it was worth sharing. I received an e-mail from Ken Smith, Program Manager of the new call center training center supported by the Military Order of the Purple Heart. I had to learn more. As I peeled away the layers, I found that beyond human interest, there is a great call center story — one that could change much of the common wisdom of the convential U.S. call center industry.

Millions of jobs are attributable to call centers around the world.

How It Got Started
In November of 2005, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation (MOPHSF) started its first class of 15 disabled, combat-wounded veterans in an online call center training program called Veterans Business Training Center, or VBTC.

The training was 15 weeks, 600- hours long and focused on the Five9 (http://www.five9.com) dialing platform. As it turns out, Five9 (news - alert) gave MOPHSF very favorable rates for their service and should be commended for doing so. The foundation allowed the trainees to use this platform to call prospect donors on behalf of the foundation to solicit contributions in the state of Virginia. The program was a huge success. It has now expanded into 25 states, and the VBTC is accepting applications online at its Web site at http://www.purpleheartfoundation.org/j ob_training.asp (you can access this site easily via http://www.tmcnet.com/308.1).

Ken forwarded me a press release (you can view it at http://www.tmcnet.com/306.1) that was issued late last year about this program, and it includes some interesting details. For example, there are now over 221,000 veterans who have been deemed unemployable by the VA. In the same release, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who chairs the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, had the following to say:

“It was just a few weeks ago that my committee held a hearing concerning the dramatic increase in the number of veterans deemed unemployable by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. I’m pleased that the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation has stepped up quickly to help veterans with disabilities get the training and support they need to reenter the workforce. I am sensitive that many veterans deemed unemployable may never return to the workforce. But I believe that there are some, perhaps thousands, who could be helped emotionally and financially by working, and this program is an important step in that direction.”

The Purple Heart Foundation’s new initiative is called the “Business Training Center,” and will provide remote and virtual in-home national training in the near future. The 15-week program will provide 600 hours of training for positions in the information industry.

The idea then was to find a local college to work with over the training. The program is located in Annandale Virginia, so Smith approached and had positive conversations with a large community college called Northern Virginia Community College, or NVCC (http://www.novatrain.net).

NVCC accredited the course syllabus, and this allows the foundation to have veterans use their educational benefits to attend the training. Furthermore, the Veterans Administration can reimburse the costs of this training. The foundation pays trainees $11 per hour while in training, and the total costs of training, including this stipend, are $8,700.

There are 225,000 qualified disabled veterans who are receiving services from the Veterans’ Administration today.

This autumn, NVCC will be offering a 300-hour module that will train a disabled veteran in ways to start, operate and manage a 15 to 30 seat call center. It will assist these veterans in gaining the required recognition that is needed to compete for government contracts under the Disabled Veteran Affirmative Action Plan, or DVAAP (http://www.opm. gov/veterans/dvaap.asp). (You can access this site easily via http://www.tmcnet.com/308.1).

The Disabled Veteran Affirmative Action Plan requires the federal government to award three percent of all federal contracts to disabled veterans. With the U.S. government doing $2 trillion per year in contracting, the foundation estimates that there are 60 billion dollars’ worth of DVAAP contracts available.

The point is that, since so many disabled veterans were once deemed unemployable, it was impossible to hit this three percent mandate. However, since disabled veterans can now work remotely from their homes, many more of them will become employable. Some disabled veterans will be able to start companies that hire other disabled veterans, and these workers will be in an excellent position to find work, since the DVAAP dictates they must be hired if they are able and willing.

In addition, the foundation is in communication with FEMA (125 seat virtual call center), the Department of the Treasury (325 seat call center), the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (75 seat call center), HUD (50 seat call center), DOL (100 seat call center), Halliburton Corporation, Home Depot, FEDEX, UPS and a host of second- and third-tier companies in which to place veterans.

Veteran Computer Hospital
Imagine a disabled veteran trained on the use of the Five9 predictive dialer. Then imagine that same vet trained on Citrix. He or she could use a computer to remotely help other veterans with simple computer issues. The foundation envisions this concept to begin with a simple “Emergency Room” visit to the foundation’s Web site to request help with a host of issues. Using another anticipated partner, XoftspySE, they would be able to run a simple diagnostic that removes malware, spyware and browser hijacking files, and perform this feature from the at-home agents’ desks. At the same time, other “tier 2” trained agents would handle the more challenging cases and conduct training online to those individuals who wish to progress, all the while offering this service to the city, county, state and federal government, all under the DVAAP umbrella.

The veterans who participate are men and women and range in age from 25 to 65. They encompass different wars and all branches of military service. Many veterans have bilingual skills, and bring, as a very important skill, their command of English and their understanding of the geography of the United States. Because of these factors, they can aggressively compete for the business that is currently being offshored.

There are 225,000 qualified disabled veterans who are receiving services from the Veterans’ Administration today. The plan is to reach upwards of 10 percent of those potential workers and to train them in call center technologies.

One last point is that there is a tremendous incentive for any company who hires a wounded veteran. Currently, there is a tax credit of up to $7,500 per wounded veteran hired. Apparently, there is a complex formula needed to figure out exactly what this credit is. Here is part of the last e-mail that Ken sent me on the matter. It speaks for itself, so I thought I would pass it along as is: “We are asking the staff of Senator Craig (Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs’ committee), and the staff of Congressman Steve Buyer (Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs’ committee) to clarify the process, and for those veterans who are 100 percent service-connected disabled, (they are currently receiving $26,000 per year, tax free), we are asking that this group be awarded a tax credit of $12,500 per veteran (placing them on a level playing field with the Philippines, India, etc.) — reducing by half the exposure that the government is currently paying. Also keeping that tax credit in place indefinitely, assuring that the company hiring the veteran has an incentive to keep him/her long term.” Mostly everyone is rooting for us to do well, and while we are rookies in this game, we are quick learners, and have approached the problems we are facing from an ‘operations planning’ point of view. We have ‘lessons learned’ from things we did wrong, and would be willing to discuss our strategy with anyone who reads your article.

Please include e-mail address [email protected] and the phone number 703-340- 8763 in your article, in case someone is interested in hiring some disabled vets, or wants to have a special class trained (up to 100 at a time can be trained).”

In closing, I must say I am as proud as I have ever been to be part of an industry bringing jobs to those who were thought to be unemployable. In addition, I think what Ken and his team is doing is fantastic for the call center industry, disabled veterans and the corporations who hire these vets. In the long run, I hope there is some certification a company can proudly display if a certain percentage of their workers are made up of disabled veterans (and perhaps other groups, as well). This emblem could be a sign of a compassionate company doing good for their country and humanity. In the end, of course, companies primarily focus on profit, but if we can find ways to incent companies to not only be profitable but to give back to society, we have a true win/win formula on our hands.


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