ServiceZone: Workers wanted

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 20, 2003

The US economy may be in recession, but instead of down-sizing because of company cutbacks, ServiceZone plans on hiring at least 100 new faces per month until January.

Located on Hwy. 84 in the Andalusia area, the Fortune 500 company provides tech support and insurance services to business customers of the top manufacturers of personal computers (PCs).

"We want to educate the community on what it is we do," Jeff Miller, site vice president said. "It's not a surprise for us to receive a call from a client saying 'come fix my computer.' If you call the manufacturer, and the manufacturer is how it goes to our phone reps. The same is with insurance. I think it is a little bit of what we do. We actually work for Fortune 50 to Fortune 100 companies within our site. We provide these services to them. For example, if someone calls us over the phone that can be fixed, we fix it over the phone. If a job is going to require parts to fix the problem, then we will dispatch on-site technicians, ship the parts, and have the customer taken care of that way. From A to Z, we fix that computer."

The (local) hub does not have computer parts to send to customers, but dispatches parts with a technician if necessary, said Miller. If someone, for example, needs a computer fixed which would require new parts, an on-site technician and the parts would be sent to that client. Service Zone provides this service to any one in the US, added Miller.

"We dispatch the part and the on-site technician, and that is anywhere in the US," he said. "While they (the company in which Service Zone provides tech support) do this service worldwide, they have other call centers that are specific to international companies that we don't (cover). We're totally dedicated to the US customers."

There are eight call centers for the computer company, including one in the Philippines. But Miller said the company is striving to keep the calls in the US, and not the one in the Philippines.

Tech support doesn't stop with PCs, according to Employment Manager Beth Sexton.

"We're expanding tech support for customers," she said.

Some of the expansion includes portables (laptops), wireless products, and printers, added Miller.

"We're known within our client as what they call the 'Super Q,'" he said. "That means we take every product line they offer, with the exception of enterprise servers. We take portables, we take desktops, we take PDAs, we take wireless, and printers. That is great, because we're the only one that does that, and we're the only site that is 24/7 for them as well. So, it shows a lot of commitment from them, and it shows a lot of commitment from us to do a great job. We have all of that. Our other sites are specialty sites, such as only portables, but we take them all.

"We've seen over the past three to five years a huge push for companies to lower operating expenses, and international call centers - various international companies can offer similar services as in the US for much lower costs," Miller continued. "Companies, like Microsoft and all of large companies, are utilizing offshore centers, and they're saving millions of dollars at the cost of American jobs. Our business, and it's not just us, but our industry has lost tens of thousands of jobs overseas, and we're starting to see some of those jobs come back. This is just a prime example. US customers like to speak with US representatives. There is always some sort of barrier, speaking with an international person whether it be language barrier or a culture barrier. Whatever it may be, it's not the same for someone in Alabama speaking with another person in Alabama. When it comes down to something as frustrating as your computer not working, you don't want there to be a language or communications barrier."

One of the goals of the business is to educate the public, especially customers and those interested in joining the staff, about what it is they do and offer.

"We offer paid vacation, medical, dental, and 401K (life insurance)," Miller said. "There are plenty of benefits to offer, but there are no part-time positions available."

Miller added for some extenuating circumstances, such as a college student or a person already employed to work two or three days a week, could be permissible.

"We may actually have a good match there, where we could use some extra people during these peak times or overflow times," he said. "So most of the time it works. Another thing we can do is hire full-time employees to meet our staffing needs, which I think is really what we want to do.

"With 15 different shifts, we staff based on call projections," he continued.

The company has been in business since 1999, but the local hub has only been in business since July 2002. Since then, Miller said the company's size has doubled.

Miller said although the peak hours are between 9 a.m.-5 p.m., they are meeting the hiring goals set monthly until January of 2004 at 100 employees.

"We're actually meeting our hiring goal each month," he said. "And we've been doing very well throughout this hiring ramp. The performance is based on our addition of almost 150 people working on the phones right now, and with (the new hires) we've been number one in technical support for our (primary) client. I think that says a lot about how we're doing, and how we help new employees. We've basically doubled our size in under 60 days, and we've continued to be the number one site for our client."

The Covington County Economic Development Commission has assisted ServiceZone in bringing the number of jobs to the county, said Miller.

"I think we've had tremendous support from the economic development (commission)," he said. "I work with (CCEDC President) Tucson Roberts, and I usually talk to him at least once a month if not more. And so anything they can do to help us, I feel they have. The offer is there. I think we have gotten great support from the area businesses. I think there is a genuine interest in the community to see us succeed, and that is very encouraging and nice to know. The area businesses, just to give a perfect example, Pizza Hut gave us special pricing on ten pizzas. That was a perfect example of a business stepping up and helping us out. It's mutually beneficial."

There are four call centers in the US, including the local one, and the spots for the centers are located in low population areas for a reason, said Miller.

"The cost-of-living affects the cost," he said. "With the low cost of living (in Covington County), we're able to charge customers less. We don't have a huge corporate office with huge expenses."

The insurance services is new to Service Zone, according to Miller.

"Insurance services, which is a new business unit for ServiceZone, were looked at by the company," he said. "We looked at the market for call center services, and believed there was a lot of opportunity in insurance services where we could save insurance companies money by out servicing their call centers. With that, comes customer care and sales within the insurance industries we're starting."

A major insurance company, for example, would do enrolling for a large company, and Service Zone would provide services so that customers would have any questions regarding the health plan, Miller said.

"With that policy, we're required to be a licensed insurance agent for every continental US state," he said. "We want to answer the 1-800 numbers and sell that (insurance) policy."