August 12, 2008
Jefferson Bee, August 5, 2008
There are many folks who scowl a bit when they hear the word "outsourcing." Outsourcing is frequently blamed for the loss of American jobs to countries like Mexico or India. In central Iowa, outsourcing is a good thing. Outsourcing has brought jobs to Jefferson, Manning and Newton. Rick Grewell and Sheldon Ohringer, principals of Caleris, Inc. are convinced that Iowans can best meet the needs of the companies to which they provide business process outsourcing and technical support.
Caleris opened its Jefferson facility in 2005 in the former Fareway building. The company had started in 1993 offering technical support, and by 2004 it had built a strong business handling inbound "help" calls at a Manning call center. (Although Caleris facilities are commonly called "call centers," Grewell draws a sharp distinction in how the term is used. "We don't do any outbound sales or anything like that. I don't like telemarketing and Caleris doesn't do it," he said.)
Most companies prefer that they not be names as outsourcing their helpdesk work, but Sony Corporation allows Caleris to mention it freely. "Say you go to Best Buy and get a Sony DVD drive for your computer. You get it home and you can't get it to work. You call the 800 number in the owner's manual, and you talk to someone at Caleris. They'll answer the phone using Sony's name, but they're in Manning," Grewell explains.
In 2004 Grewell and Ohringer began looking for a suitable site for expansion. "We looked at a lot of different towns. Most placed have the infrastructure to meet our needs. Our primary consideration was community support, and the availability of space and quality employees. Greene County Development Corporation is an extremely forward-looking group wanting to bring jobs to town. GCDC made it easy to come to Jefferson," Grewell said.
The facility opened in early 2005 with a limited number of positions offering technical support for internet service providers. At the time, Grewell and Ohringer had plans to hire 90 or more people in the next several years, and less than three years later, they're close to meeting that goal. Providing content and website moderation services has become a specialty of Caleris, and that work is done in Jefferson and in a new facility in Newton. Caleris website moderators check online content, such as images and video, for things that don't meet whatever standards the client sets. "Our clients are website hosts trying to keep their sites G-rated," Grewell said.
The largest photo hosting website is a Caleris client. Caleris website moderators go through up to 6 million photos a day checking for inappropriate material, such as pornography or violence. They flag or block material that doesn't meet guidelines or that violates copyright laws. "Our agents (employees) see the work they do as keeping the net clean. They want the internet to be a place their children can go to," Grewell said.
Caleris agents in Jefferson continue to provide information technology (IT) support. Persons who call a toll-free number for help downloading software or installing a modem may very well talk with someone in Jefferson.
While some companies have chosen to outsource their work to India, Caleris uses as a slogan, "Outsource to Iowa, not India." We offer higher quality service," Grewell said. "Our people are easier to understand, and that means a lot less frustration. Call time to us on average is half as long as on a call outsourced to India."
The skill level and training of Caleris agents varies depending on the job they're doing. Some agents doing IT support spend as long as two months learning about a product before they began helping customers. Those doing website moderation may only need a few hours of training. "When we're hiring someone we're not looking for a technical background. We can train anyone. We're looking for people with good people skills, people who can talk on the phone and be polite," Grewell said. "giving good customer service is a native ability. That's hard to teach."
Caleris has grown from a total of 50 employees in 2005 to 300 in 2008, and Grewell looks for that type of growth to continue through 2009. The company offers a complete benefit package in terms of insurance, and another benefit is invaluable. "If you work at Caleris, you'll learn a lot. You'll be a lot more comfortable with your computer at home. We try to make it an interesting place to work, and we try to take care of our employees. We know our employees are the most important part of the business," he said.