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March 15, 2002
Print edition

Call Center Executives Command Big Bucks

Top performers in big demand despite economic downturn

By Stephanie Patrick Staff Writer

GREATER METROPLEX — In his many years as a call center executive, Blake Wolff has noticed a correlation between communication with customers and a company’s revenue.

“How well you treat a customer during a chat can be the opportunity to lose a client or make a lifetime customer,” said Wolff, a former senior vice president at CompUSA Call Center Services and now president and CEO of the call center services company Telvista in Dallas.

And when revenue rises, so apparently do salaries.

Some experienced customer service executives like Wolff have seen their salaries climb to as much as $300,000 in recent years, according to a recently released survey by The Broadmoor Group. The Dallas-based executive recruiting firm found top U.S. financial services companies are offering heads of customer-service operations an average of $210,000 plus bonuses and stock options.

Those in telecommunications receive between $123,800 and $210,500 plus bonuses and stock options, according to the nationwide survey of more than 400 customer service executives at companies with revenue of $1 billion or more.

Salaries for top executives have increased 25% to 30% in the past four years at the nation’s top companies, said Jim Leverette, managing partner of Broadmoor. The results of the two-year survey show a shift in how corporations view the importance of customer service and more emphasis on strategic thinking, he said.

“Traditionally, customer service has been thought of as a cost center with all the negative connotations that term implies,” he said. “Now, many companies are seeing the direct or indirect impact customer service has on the bottom line. Salaries for seasoned executives with customer-oriented business experience are reflecting the realization that customer service matters.”

Call centers have been hard hit by the economic downturn, and industry giants such as SBC Communications and Verizon Communications have announced layoffs in recent months. Nonetheless, industry experts say a well-run call center can still garner a company several million dollars a month in revenue.

And, since the typical call center executive runs between five and 15 call centers — and up to 50 isn’t unusual — an executive with extensive project management experience is highly regarded.

“You can compare these candidates to a Michael Jordan or even a Michael Finley for what they may potentially bring a company in added revenue over time,” said Butch Hawking, a former Kansas State University basketball coach who now focuses on call-center recruitment for Plano-based recruiting firm Kaye/Bassman International Corp. “The top executives are creative people who not only know how to save their companies money, but know how to motivate workers in an industry known for its high turnover.”

“My phone has always rung off the hook, but in the last few months I have spoken to 10 executive search firms,” said call center executive Paul Turner, who recently left the telecommunications sector for another call center post after nearly 20 years working for companies such as Weblink Wireless and MCI.

Kaye/Bassman had more than 15 open positions for call center executives earlier this year and talked to several hundred candidates. While the Dallas-Fort Worth market is a hub for call centers, with more than 400 in the area, the recruiter’s final five placements were experienced candidates from outside the Metroplex.

Most customer service executives in the financial area have bachelor’s degrees and extensive project management experience. Those in telecommunications or computers may work their way up the ranks without college, but several years of management experience are essential.

“It certainly is less expensive to keep a customer you already have than to go to the expense of acquiring a new one,” Turner said. “I think many companies are adhering to that.”

Contact DBJ writer Stephanie Patrick at spatrick@bizjournals.com or (214) 706-7121.