U.S. Call Center Agents Grow as Expats

Call center services provider LiveBridge is using its new global facilities not only to provide competitive services to its clients, but also as an engine for unique opportunities within the company. The firm recently launched its 700-seat call center in Cordoba, Argentina, with the oversight and guidance of several stateside employees, many of whom found roles that would not have been open to them as quickly in their home centers. "One of our key missions is our offshore development strategy," says Chris deLambo, director of marketing for LiveBridge. Although the company has operations already in several states, as well as in Canada and India, LiveBridge needed a Spanish-speaking facility to meet client demand, and selected Argentina for the new site. "There is a readily available, educated workforce there with all of the regular cost-efficiencies you have in an offshore environment," DeLambo says. But that workforce wasn't ready to be handed the keys to a brand new customer care facility. To bring services online and enforce its quality standards, LiveBridge seeded the new center with several employees up and down the chain of command through internal job postings. In all, LiveBridge moved 10 employees to Cordoba to ramp up the call center, often with a promotion attached to the move that substantially improved their wages. "These are people who were hired in as call center reps--entry level positions--at the end of 2003, but came onboard and showed promise...so when we decided to open Argentina, we tapped [them]," DeLambo says. One of the transferred employees, Naida Meagher, had just four days to prepare for the move. "It's amazing what you can do when you have to do it," she says. "Honestly, the economy was so bad in Oregon, and I wanted to get back to project management and project implementation, and this seemed like it was a good fit." Like other employees LiveBridge entrusts with site-launching leadership roles, Meagher went through a month of fast-paced courses at the company's Virginia facilities. Meagher, who served as a phone rep with LiveBridge and a previous employer, was quickly brought up to speed as a professional trainer. LiveBridge's U.S. agents working offshore can expect a stay of a year or more. "We'll see all of our training staff on site here at least through the fourth quarter, possibly through to 2005," says Ken Carosella, director of operations for the Argentina facility. The staff has learned Spanish quickly to keep pace with the local teams (neither Carosella nor Meagher, nor many of the other U.S.-based employees, had mastered the language before the engagement), but Meagher says the larger adjustments have been cultural. "It's such a warm, welcome group," she says. But the Argentine pace differs from the American, so work activities tend to be spread out in the day. "It's been a change to my schedule, having meetings at 10 at night." For his part, Carosella has had to adjust his basic food cravings. "Argentina is known for wine and meat, but I miss Denny's and peanut butter," he says. Despite the changes in lifestyle neither is in a hurry to leave. "Six months ago if you asked me about Argentina, I wouldn't have been able to tell you anything not in the history books," Meagher says. "I will stay here as long as they want me to, and I will take another [international] assignment."
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