The US call centre giant Convergys will start developing a 333 staff operation at Stream’s old stomping ground in the Ulster Science and Technology Park (USTP) from the end of May.
The Sentinel understands the Cincinnati-headquartered company has also acquired the lease of Stream Global Service’s former Spencer Road premises, following a merger of the two firms in March.
Once the new single-client call centre - Britain’s biggest mobile operator Everything Everywhere (EE) is the main partner - is up and running, 333 local workers will be spending £5m a year in salaries in Londonderry.
Convergys’ Chief Commerical Officer, Mike Wooden, told the Sentinel the firm had been speaking to EE, with whom Convergys has a ten year relationship, about locating here for around eight months.
And now the announcement is official - Arlene Foster was keeping quiet about the rumours last week - Mr Wooden says they’re already recruiting via careers.convergys.com.
He told the Sentinel: “EE would like us to do this as fast as possible. We are going to do it as fast as we can while maintaining good quality as we move through.”
The Sentinel asked if Convergys’ business model differed substantially from the former Stream Global Service operation at USTP.
“Yes and no,” he replied. “So, we acquired Stream, beginning of March. So, the way Convergys does business and the way Stream does business is very, very similar with some nuances and for the most part it’s the same type of services.
“It’s basically the same model with just some tweaks that Convergys thinks are a little bit world class.”
Mr Wooden said Convergys employs 125,000 workers in contact centres around the world.
“You name it, we provide, anything that our clients need that their customers are calling in, or trying to interact with them, via the web, via chat, via texting, we support that, on their behalf,” he said.
The Sentinel asked how long Convergys was prepared to commit to Londonderry.
Mr Wooden said: “I think maybe the difference with us coming here is that we are coming here arms length with EE. We have agreed on a long term commitment and the commitments that EE has made to us, coincide with the commitments we have made in Northern Ireland. So, we plan to be here a long time.
“And it’s not going to be just with EE, it’s the main reason we’re doing this, EE, but our intention is to grow this.”
EE representative Scott McGimpsey said the call centre will be a single client operation and that the development is part of plans to bring 1,000 off-shored, outsourced jobs back to the United Kingdom.
“We obviously have been trying to bring more customer service agents back into the UK, so as part of that drive we’re doing that between now and Quarter 1, 2016, to bring the best part of 1,000 jobs back to the UK.
“And that’s part of this. This is the start of the process. We obviously identified there were 333 jobs that we could bring back into the UK. And we’re working with our partner Convergys.
“They obviously identified Northern Ireland, and the North West here and Londonderry/Derry as the best place to be. So, yeah, it’s good news.”
Invest NI chief Alastair Hamilton, who is supporting the project with an investment of over £1.5m, was equally enthused.
Last Autumn he told the Stormont Investment Committee that the unpredictability of outsourced contracts which fuel call centres led Stream Global Services to slash jobs in Londonderry in 2011.
So, Thursday’s announcement was a great coup in the context of the disappointment felt in Londonderry upon the departure of Stream.
He told the Sentinel: “We’ve been working on it for about 12 months, but in real focus probably from September of last year, and you know, there are a lot of opportunities here, in this space, as the markets start to recover.
“This was a critical one for us. At the stage we started to work on this opportunity, Convergys hadn’t acquired LBM in Belfast and, though we sort of merge all of that into one story, but this was a brand new opportunity with Convergys. So, we’ve been working on it with real focus from September onwards.”
Confusingly, Stream acquired a firm called LBM Intelligent Contact back in February 2013, long after largely flying the Londonderry coop in 2011.
Before that LBM had been working independently on a Belfast project with Invest NI. Yet, there was some discontent expressed in Londonderry when it was announced 1k jobs were being created in East Belfast under the Stream brand two years after it pulled out of Londonderry.
Then, in stepped Convergys earlier this year, who bought Stream and took over its whole Northern Ireland operation.
Mr Hamilton explained: “Whenever we were originally looking at those different projects, we were working with two - one with LBM and one with Convergys - Stream then bought LBM and then Convergys bought Stream, so it’s a bit of a complicated mix.
“But nevertheless, I think there is an important message in here, that some people may have been concerned that whenever that acquisition took place in Belfast that maybe this project would not happen, and the commitment was here to make this project happen.
“So, in addition to all of those other projects and acquisitions, we have today a brand new stand-alone project, whereby Convergys are going to support EE and the customer service programme here in the city.”
Whilst the jobs will be located on a single site at USTP, the Sentinel understands Convergys has acquired the Stream lease on Spencer Road.
Stream effectively shut up shop in Londonderry in 2011, although the Sentinel has seen an internal Invest NI memo that shows how the company privately informed the state investment company that year that it would continue to maintain a business function in Londonderry into the future.
At today’s announcement the Sentinel was incorrectly advised the new call centre would be located at the Spencer Road science park [sic], which leads the paper to believe the project will closely follow Stream’s old operation here, utilising its former preferred facilities.