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What Could be the Impact of COVID-19 on 2.5 Million U.S. Call Center Workers?

by King White, on Apr 20, 2021 2:06:10 PM

The global call center industry was massively disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that the majority of the 2.5 million call center workers at 8,154 call center facilities in the U.S. shifted to a work-from-home (WFH) model in a matter of weeks. There are mixed reviews on its sustainable long-term future due to many factors discussed in last month’s blog Call Center Work-From-Home Trends in Post-COVID-19 World. To help evaluate the potential impact on the U.S. call center industry, Site Selection Group has utilized our proprietary database that tracks the location of most operating call centers across the U.S. to understand what states and industry sectors might be impacted the most by a transition away from the traditional bricks-and-mortar call center model.

States with the largest call center employment

Although some people might think of the Philippines or other high growth offshore markets when thinking of call center meccas, the U.S. call center market has the largest number of call center workers in the world. Site Selection Group estimates there are 8,154 call centers with greater than 50 employees in the U.S. employing nearly 2.5 million workers. This doesn’t include smaller call centers, home-based agents prior to COVID-19, and call centers hidden inside of some companies.

The sheer size of the U.S. call center industry is much larger than other nearshore and offshore geographies such as India or the Philippines. As a result, the long-term impact on call center employment and call center real estate conditions could be greater in states with higher numbers of call centers. The following table provides a summary of the 10 states with the greatest amount of call center workers that were working in call center facilities prior to the COVID-19 pandemic:  

Top 10 States Based on U.S. Call Center Employment

Rank State Call Center Employees # of Call Center Facilities
1 Texas 288,498 752
2 Florida 251,150 681
3 Arizona 160,268 347
4 North Carolina 129,922 364
5 Georgia 124,527 470
6 Virginia 116,792 210
7 Ohio 113,066 381
8 Pennsylvania 89,230 420
9 New York 86,111 245
10 Tennessee 72,451 290

 

Some industries may be impacted more than others

The call center industry touches virtually every industry sector including telecommunications, financial services, insurance, healthcare, hospitality, information technology, retail and e-commerce, and manufacturing. These industries have captive, in-house call centers of all sizes and types providing customer service, sales, technical support, collections, reservations and other various activities requiring voice and non-voice customer interaction. In addition, the business process outsourcing industry has become a dominant call center industry employer that services multiple industries which are often in the same facility. The business process outsourcing industry has grown dramatically over the last 25 years and now has the greatest market share of call center jobs in the U.S. The following table provides a summary of the five industries employing the greatest amount of call center employees:

Top 5 Industries Based on U.S. Call Center Employment

Rank Industry # of Employees # of Call Center Facilities
1 Business Process Outsourcing 536,883 1,691
2 Financial Services 500,446 1,065
3 Insurance 358,508 775
4 Telecommunications 230,172 625
5 Healthcare 186,843 659

 

Conclusions

The call center industry has become a critical part of the labor market in the U.S. The industry has seen many geographic location trends over the last 25 years. These trends began in the 1990s with a migration from large, Tier 1 U.S. cities to smaller tertiary labor markets, then shifted to a global location trend focused initially on offshore regions and now to nearshore geographies. The work-from-home trend is the latest disrupter impacting the industry. The call center industry has been resilient and locations strategies have consistently come in waves. As a result, the long-term implications of COVID-19 and the work-from-home trend are unknown and should be interesting to watch unravel over the coming years.

Topics:Call CenterEconomic IncentivesEconomic Development

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