Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Caring for customers in Franklin County

Franklin County, like many rural counties in the U.S., has struggled to transition from resource-based industries, like logging, and manufacturing, to the 21st century world of information, and technology.

Barclays, a major global financial services provider, based in the UK, has chosen Wilton, Maine for their newest customer care center. This is slated to create 50 jobs immediately, with a total of 200 positions being added to Franklin County's workforce over the next 10 years.

[Empty cubicles waiting for new hires, at Barclays' new customer care center, in Wilton]

While some decry call centers, viewing them as one of Maine's many low-wage employers, others see Barclays as a positive development for an area that has been hard hit by job losses, and a dearth of living wage jobs.

Jen McEntee, Barclays' site director for the new customer care facility, located in the old Bass Shoe building, understands some people's reservations. A veteran of over 15 years in the industry, McEntee, a Wilton resident, sees this new center as much different than the usual call center that many people hold as a stereotype.

“Barclays is trying to get away from the ‘typical’ call center that people immediately think of,” said McEntee. “For one thing, all our calls are inbound. We do not make outbound telemarketing calls.”

With many corporations continuing to attempt to off-shore most of their customer care operations, experiences remain mixed. While some calls, and customer contact can be done by unskilled workers outside the U.S., consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive about handing private and personal information to someone that they perceive as untrustworthy.

[The first group of trainees and instructors prepare to go live]

[The values that Barclays brings to its customers]

“There is a much to be said for keeping jobs in the U.S.,” said McEntee. “Customers have become very sensitive, particularly in light of the recent Hannafords Supermarket situation, and others, where personal information was compromised. I think people feel much better speaking with a representative that is conscious of the needs of the customer, and the situation they are handling, as well as knowing the cultural issues.”

Barclays pays competitive wages for the area, with full benefits. These benefits include vacation, dental, a 401K option, as well as an opportunity to earn monthly incentive bonuses. Additionally, the company is committed to the communities where they locate their facilities, allowing their employees to opportunity to participate in community service projects, while being paid by the company.

Currently, 10 new hires are undergoing three weeks of intensive training, in preparation for going live on the phones. After the training is finished, these graduates will begin offering Barclays’ clients world class customer care from Wilton, Maine.

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