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Tupelo call center employment expected to climb to 250

The September 11 announcement of a new call center in Tupelo was accompanied by announcement of an almost immediate hiring effort.

Those employees will apparently be working for an enterprise geared toward worker satisfaction, offering amenities rare in Mississippi companies.

Terri Feely, vice president of human resources for N.E.W. Customer Service Companies Inc., told an audience of approximately 100 at the Advanced Education Center that the Sterling, Va.-based company would hold three job-information sessions. Employment at the center, to be located in a portion of the Mississippi Furniture Market building in West Tupelo, will eventually reach 250 customer service representatives.

Ray Zukowski, N.E.W. vice president, says the center should open October 22 with approximately 80 employees. He expects that number to be around 100 by the end of the year. The center will be a service center for DirecTV customers.

“This is our expansion for this year,” says Zukowski. “We anticipate another one next year.” He reiterates that the center is not a telemarketing enterprise. “There is no outbound calling.”

Employees, says Feely, will receive five weeks of training before beginning servicing customers via phone. She says the ideal N.E.W. service representative will have some computer skills — at least experience using one — and will have some customer-service experience that could come from many sources, including working retail.

Starting pay is $9.50 per hour and will include a substantial package of benefits, including insurance ranging from health to disability, paid holidays, vacations and other perks, such as an onsite fitness center.

“We also have an incentive plan,” says Feely, “that pays bonuses based on meeting certain specific metrics such as attendance, quality of calls and time (length) of calls.

“We also take time to have fun.” She describes a corporate culture that builds camaraderie through events like pizza parties, ice cream socials, theme decorating contests and active involvement with “worthy causes.”

“We like to say N.E.W. is a great place for great people,” says Feely. “The better you take care of people, the better the outcome.”

Mitch Carroll, N.E.W. director of operations planning, says the center will operate “24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.” Fully half of the 15 million calls handled last year by the 3,000 employees in its “customer care centers,” as N.E.W. calls them, were handled and solved during the initial phone call.

The company contracts with companies like Best Buy, JCPenney, Wal-Mart, Toy-R-Us and Office Max.

Company officials notes that N.E.W., a privately held company, prefers to promote from within. The manager of the Tupelo center is Mike Workman, a Charleston, Miss., native who is relocating from another N.E.W. center in Montana.

“We offer multiple advancement opportunities,” says Feely.

Carroll says the company’s Tupelo location could begin offering employees the opportunity to work at home, a program now taken advantage of by approximately 400 of its workers. Those service representatives are regular N.E.W. staff. Some don’t need the company’s insurance benefits since they are already covered by the spouse’s insurance so they receive a higher rate of pay.

N.E.W. operates one offshore call center in the Dominican Republic, while the rest are in the United States, an exception to many companies locating their call centers in primarily Asian countries.

“We find it much better to service customers if our employees can see and use the products,” explained Carroll. “DirecTV is only a U.S. product, only available in the United States.”

“A lot of these jobs got to places like India, but a lot of these jobs could go to places like Mississippi,” says Gov. Haley Barbour, who attended the event to make the official announcement.

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