A few months ago, Michael Brannin delivered pizza for a living; before that, he manned the counter at a video store. Today, Brannin—a twentysomething lifelong resident of Missoula whose post-secondary education “has been kind of on hold”—fields 40 to 60 customer service phone calls a day at Missoula’s new DirecTV call center, the ceremonial grand opening of which was Monday.
Brannin and other employees, says Site Director Mark Caple, are a “huge investment.” Caple, who manned a call center phone 15 years ago and now manages Missoula’s, juxtaposes the large windows ringing the call floor with his own windowless office as evidence that DirecTV understands that employees—handling customers who are “very, very passionate” about television—“have a very difficult job. We want to make sure we’re honoring that.”
The call floor where agents work, capable of accommodating 400 “agents” at a time, is divided into pods, or subdivisions of stations identical to Brannin’s, each ensconced behind a 3-foot-high L-shaped barrier. Sprinkled throughout the pods are muted televisions sporting the same DirecTV technology customers have at home, all tuned to Fox News. (DirecTV, Caple explains, is partially owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, “so we try to have that on.”) In the ductwork above, white-noise generators hum, deadening the sound of scores of voices speaking simultaneously.
Brannin is one of those voices 40 hours per week, and he voices appreciation for the advantages of working at DirecTV: starting pay of $9.50 per hour and “plenty of room for advancement,” along with generous benefits and bosses who are interested in him, not just in him doing his job. When fully staffed, the call center will supply jobs for up to 1,000 agents like Brannin, which is why DirecTV was able to attract more than $10 million in public money and a grand opening flush with politicians.
The first such to speak was Sen. Max Baucus, who was instrumental in DirecTV’s Missoula expansion. For Baucus, the project is just the start of something bigger. “Move over Bangalore,” Baucus said, invoking the South Asian city famous for reeling in outsourced call centers. “Missoula’s going to be the next call center of the world.”