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Business/Economy

GCI will outsource call center to Philippines, saying it has been unable to fully staff it

(Bill Roth / ADN)

Alaska’s largest telecommunications company says it is moving its consumer call center to the Philippines to be run by Tata Consultancy Services, an India-based multinational technology company.

The transition will impact 142 call center jobs in Alaska, but 84 people will be offered employment elsewhere in GCI, said Heather Handyside, a GCI spokeswoman, on Friday.

GCI, founded in Alaska in 1979, employs about 2,000 people statewide. The sale of the company to Liberty Broadband of Colorado was completed last year.

Handyside said GCI has routinely been unable to fill about 30 to 40 positions in the call center, despite aggressive hiring efforts and competitive salaries and benefits. Handyside said she could not provide average salaries for call center employees.

Calls have increased, and wait times for customers have been pushed as high as 90 minutes, beyond the company’s five-minute goal, she said.

Moving the call center overseas will lower wait times and provide around-the-clock service, she said.

“They’ll have a company team just for GCI, and they have gone to great lengths to understand the company culture and Alaska,” she said.

Handyside said the positions require unique skills to address technical glitches with a wide variety of equipment and circumstances. The inability to fill the positions continued even during the COVID-19 pandemic that began a year ago, she said.

The outsourcing was first reported Saturday by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Joblessness in Alaska has reached unprecedented levels during the pandemic, along with government assistance for the unemployed.

Heather Hudson, the former director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said she believes the move will save GCI money.

“On the one hand, it’s not surprising given that a lot of companies are doing that, and given the current ownership of GCI (outside Alaska),” she said.

On the other hand, it seems the Alaska Legislature and the Regulatory Commission of Alaska should be doing more to keep at least some of the jobs in Alaska, she said.

“The RCA doesn’t have a lot of authority over what most of GCI does, but they should raise the issue and state legislators can raise this issue, too,” she said.

The need for internet services grew as more people stayed at home. GCI had an “outstanding” year financially as data demand grew with consumers and businesses, according to Liberty Broadband in February.

GCI has more than 200,000 consumer accounts, users that are not business or government clients, Handyside said. Those residential accounts often have multiple users and devices that might need support, from an internet router to a landline to a smartphone, she said.

“We have been getting between 3,000 and 9,000 calls a day, over the last year,” Handyside said.

GCI has offered signing bonuses, retention bonuses and other incentives, but has still been unable to fill all positions, she said.

“Our call center staff is fantastic,” she said. “But this was a real burden on them.”

Some Alaska customers calling for GCI support will begin noticing the transition in August, which will be phased to allow workers in the Philippines training time to familiarize themselves with GCI customer issues and needs, she said.

The transition will be completed in November, Handyside said.

The company, hoping to give its employees time to prepare, announced the change late last week, she said.

Commissions are being increased to allow employees to earn more money before the transition, she said. People who don’t take a job in GCI will receive a severance package, she said.

Brian Wendling, chief accounting officer with Liberty, said in an investors call in February that GCI revenue grew 9% in 2020, while a measure of adjusted operating income grew to $345 million, the highest year ever.

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