sealPurdue Business and Technology Briefs

April 1998

Purdue study confirms corporate investment in call centers

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A copy of the 1998 Benchmark Report is available from Kate Walker at Purdue News Service, 765) 494-2073.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Business call center budgets are growing by 12 percent per year, salaries are on the rise, and employee turnover is down, according to a Purdue University study.

The 1998 Call Center Benchmark Report -- a comprehensive study of 442 corporate, in-house call centers in the United States representing 24 industry categories -- was compiled by Purdue's Center for Customer-Driven Quality. A corporate call center is the hub of customer service and access by telephone or Internet. It often is where product orders are taken and complaints are handled.

"For almost every product made in the world, there is a toll-free customer-service telephone number or Internet address to contact with questions or problems," says Jon Anton, a researcher with the Center for Customer-Driven Quality.

The fourth annual study, sponsored this year by Ameritech Corp., gathered data in nine areas of call center interest: company information, business information, call center costs, human resources, call handling, caller satisfaction, call center technology, space and environmental design, and call center management.

"The results from this year's study show that companies value their call centers enough to increase their investment in salaries and workplace support," Anton says. "The study also illustrates the trend to use call centers as strategic weapons. Call centers used to be back-office operations that were viewed as a costly, but necessary, nuisance. Now, they are viewed as a front-line business tool used for building relationships, increasing sales and nurturing customer loyalty."

Key findings of the study include:

  • Based on annual budgets, call centers are growing at about 12 percent per year.
  • Sixty-eight percent of the call center budget is spent on human resource items such as training and technical support.
  • More college students are taking the front-line jobs.
  • Job turnover within centers is down because of better working conditions and attention given to employee empowerment.
  • More than one-third of respondents use multilingual telephone service representatives, with Spanish the most common language after English.
  • Average salary of call center agents (front-line operators) was $32,000, up from previous years.
  • It costs an average of $6,572 to train a new telephone service representative.

The Purdue University Center for Customer-Driven Quality operates within the Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing. The center, which is self-funded by nearly 200 corporate members, focuses on every aspect of call center training and research. The center employs undergraduate students who learn about the profession of customer access management, which includes call centers and teleweb centers.

"The students who work with our program are heavily recruited as call center managers by the country's most prestigious corporations," Anton says. "It costs more to get new customers than to keep them loyal by giving them great customer service. Our graduates know how to manage customer access and how to run an effective customer relations operation, whether it involves teleservices, the Internet or a kiosk at a shopping mall. We have found that companies truly value those skills."

The center will conduct its annual "Call Center Campus" conference June 2-4 at Purdue. The conference will focus on assessing the value of a business call center.

For more information, contact the Purdue Center for Customer-Driven Quality at (765) 494-9933 or Jon Anton at (765) 494-8357, e-mail,

Opportunity knocking loudly for technology grads

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Technology education is no longer the domain of trade schools and correspondence courses, according to Ronald J. Burkhardt, director of student services for Purdue University's School of Technology.

"A college degree really does make a difference in this field," Burkhardt explains. "And a Purdue degree carries a lot of weight with employers."

The school's placement rate for 1997 was 94 percent, with another 4 percent of graduates electing to continue their studies in a master's or doctoral program.

Recruiters visiting the West Lafayette campus this past year resembled a Who's Who list of Fortune 500 companies. Corporations that hired Purdue Technology graduates in 1997 included the McDonnell Douglas Corp., Boeing Co., General Motors Corp., International Business Machines Corp., Procter & Gamble Co., Kellogg Co., and the Walt Disney Co. Average starting salaries ranged from $30,000 to $60,000, depending on the career field.

Burkhardt credits a dynamic, well-connected faculty for much of the graduates' success.

"Faculty members here have an average of 10 years experience in the field and retain their ties to their former companies," he says. "The needs of industry really drive the curriculum, and it's constantly revised to meet the demands of employers."

This relationship between instructors and high-tech industry has helped establish Purdue as a national leader in technology education. Today, nearly half of all textbooks used in technology education nationwide are written by Purdue faculty.

Students in the School of Technology can choose from 14 academic majors offered by eight departments: aviation technology, building construction management technology, computer technology, electrical engineering technology, industrial technology, mechanical engineering technology, organizational leadership and supervision, and technical graphics.

Because the academic offerings and career possibilities are so varied, many students don't recognize the opportunities associated with technology education until after they've begun their college careers.

"Technology is really the bridge between the idea and the actual delivery of a product or service," Burkhardt explains. "We do the applications end of engineering and small business, making it a very broad yet highly specialized field. Sometimes students don't discover the School of Technology until after they've been on campus for a while."

The word is obviously getting out. Enrollment has grown to 4,100 students this spring, up 151 students from a year ago, making Technology the third largest school at Purdue behind the Schools of Engineering and School of Liberal Arts.

In the fall of 1997, an additional 1,728 students were enrolled in Purdue technology programs located at 11 outreach sites in Anderson, Columbus, Elkhart, Indianapolis, Kokomo, Lafayette, Muncie, New Albany, Richmond, South Bend and Versailles. The statewide program allows students to earn an associate in applied science or bachelor of science degree from Purdue by attending classes closer to their own communities. It also provides opportunities for people already working in the field to update or enhance their technical skills.

CONTACT: Burkhardt, (765) 494-4935; e-mail,

Compiled by Kate Walker, (765) 494-2073; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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