COEUR d'ALENE - These are the people call centers call for help.
Canadian market research company SQM Group is expanding to Coeur d'Alene, seeking applicants right now for 80 jobs that will be filled by March 1.
SQM - Service Quality Measurement, based in Vernon, British Columbia - conducts customer satisfaction research surveys with people who have just used a call center, said Mike Desmarais, the company's founder and president. Through its call center in Canada and soon in Coeur d'Alene, SQM's unique research and data analysis has helped more than two-thirds of its 450 clients improve their call center customer service and reduce their operating costs, Desmarais added.
"Our clients are Fortune 500 companies such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield, U.S. Bank, Office Max, Capital One and Marriott," he said. "As more than 70 percent of our clients are U.S.-based, it's important to service them from the U.S. rather than Canada."
The 80 new jobs in Coeur d'Alene are telephone survey representative positions (see the ad in today's Classifieds section) who will work at the company's facility on Mineral Drive. Starting pay is $12 an hour, plus health and other benefits.
What sold SQM on North Idaho was PPP - professionalism, proximity and politics.
"Steve Griffitts and his team, they're absolutely the best there are," Sarah Kennedy, SQM's vice president of business development, said of North Idaho's economic development agency, Jobs Plus, Inc. "And from a practical standpoint, Coeur d'Alene is ideally situated. You can drive from Coeur d'Alene to Vernon in about 5 hours."
And then, there's politics. Kennedy described Idaho as "pro-business," and Desmarais took it a step further.
"We were always looking at the West, but when you're conservative and Republican like I am, Coeur d'Alene was natural for us," he said. "Spokane and Seattle didn't speak to us. They weren't a fit for us culturally."
Desmarais said the recruiting process, which began in earnest with a visit to Coeur d'Alene in August 2010, picked up momentum because of two Steves - Griffitts from Jobs Plus and Meyer from Parkwood Business Properties.
"Steve Griffitts was probably the key factor [in deciding to expand to Coeur d'Alene]," he said. "I've had a chance to work with a lot of people in business development, and Steve and Hilde [Shetler] and Jame [Davis] have been absolutely amazing. I've never seen anyone work as hard as Steve has to help us make this move."
Though they don't necessarily agree on all things from a political perspective, Desmarais was equally effusive in his praise of Steve Meyer and his son, Chris.
"Steve and I really hit it off," he said. "We have a lot of similarities and he's been extremely helpful."
That helpfulness was widespread here, Desmarais noted.
"I got this vibe that a lot of people were helping me, giving me that kind of support, from everyone at Jobs Plus to Steve Meyer to our attorney there, Jason Whiteley from Witherspoon-Kelley. He's been absolutely terrific.
"You have a beautiful city with a dynamic downtown corridor. You've got great curb appeal. What really makes it attractive is when you talk to people, it's less about bureaucracy and more about getting things done."
Desmarais said he's confident the region's available work force will fit his company's needs. He pays more than most call centers and offers better benefits because, he said, "It's the right thing to do.
"The job is a good job and it's a very important job. I don't want anyone to look at it and feel like I'm taking advantage of them. We want to be viewed as an employer of choice - we pay people fairly and it's a very happy place to work. Yes, I pay a little bit more but I have a premium product as a result of it."
Kennedy, the company's vice president of business development, said SQM's low turnover rate since its opening in 1996 and major growth several years later speaks volumes about its desirability as a workplace.
"You'll find many of our staff have been with us since the beginning," she said. "That's almost unheard of in the call center industry. We like that - we want that tenure."
Griffitts said SQM will be every bit as good for North Idaho as North Idaho is for the company.
"When you walk into that organization, you recognize right away they have amazingly qualified people in every cluster," he said. "They're cutting edge people. They won't accept mediocrity in themselves and their organization, and they'll make everyone they work with better.
"The words 'call center' should never be used with them."