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Nextel takes its first call

"Studies have shown it takes seven seconds to set the tone of a phone conversation. Nextel customer care representatives are busy learning to establish a rapport with the scores of business representatives calling the company's new Bremerton office.The Nextel call center, at the corner of McWilliams Road and State Route 303, opened its doors Monday, July 23. The company's 48 customer representatives - the first installment of an anticipated workforce of 500 - have begun fielding calls from customers who need repair information, technical assistance or have billing questions. An additional 77 representatives are in training.The center, Nextel's first on the West Coast, currently takes 4 percent of the total calls coming into the corporation. The western location allows the firm to extend its hours, said Colleen Williams, vice president of Nextel's Bremerton site. Other call centers are located in Atlanta; Denver; Hampton, Va.; Rutherford, Va. and Temple, Texas.The July 23 opening was right on schedule and Williams said she is pleased with the start-up's efficiency. I've brought up a lot of call centers, but this has been the most phenomenal, Williams said.The call center will have positive repercussions on the community, even for people who aren't directly employed by Nextel, according to Zoltán Szigethy, executive director of the Kitsap Regional Economic Development Council.Based upon minimum hourly pay offered by Nextel, an annual payroll of $10 million will come to Kitsap County. These primary jobs and their income will generate many more secondary service jobs in our community, Szigethy said. The labor pool on the Kitsap Peninsula is strong, Williams said, and the firm has been able to hire employees with relatively high levels of education. Most have some college education - that's fairly unusual, Williams said.Williams acknowledges that being a call center representative is not an easy job - employees talk on the phone up to seven and a half hours a day, and move little outside their pods. Plus, they are often talking to customers frustrated by technical difficulties. To boost morale, the firm has included an Internet access area and a large, sunny break room in its 60,000-square-foot facility. All employees eventually will carry free Nextel cellular telephones.What we're trying to do is give representatives a flexible schedule and let them know they can do things here without leaving the premises, Williams said.The starting wage for customer care representatives is $10 an hour including a benefit package which includes medical, dental, vision, a 401K, tuition reimbursement and stock purchase programs. Wages cap out at $18 an hour for senior customer representatives, Williams said.Nextel, which employs 16,000 nationwide, won't be at full capacity in Bremerton until the first quarter of 2002, Williams said. According to company literature, 90 percent of Bremerton call center jobs are full-time positions for customer care representatives, with the other 10 percent in supervisory or operational capacities. The next three-week training session begins July 30, with 50 students. The one after that will begin Aug. 22 and have 100 students.The center will take calls from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday through the end of August. After August, the center will operate as late as 10 p.m., and will be open Saturdays, Williams said. "

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