US A company turns millions in profits bringing call-center jobs to Black communities

05:20  21 october  2020
05:20  21 october  2020 Source:   nbcnews.com

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Outsourcing customer service to overseas call centers was seen as a cost-savings to companies . Now, driven by higher customer expectations and the customers' means to express dissatisfaction, companies are realizing the wisdom of great customer service and bringing call centers home.

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Taylor Pride considered a viable job opportunity in her distressed Dallas neighborhood “too good to be true.”

Mark Wilson standing in a room © Provided by NBC News

It did not make sense to her that a company would set up a call center in the nearly desolate former Red Bird Mall (now Southwest Center Mall), and employ 500 residents from the community.

Pride, 26 and a mother of four, said she was skeptical of a company coming to an area that had been written off and labeled as having “no future.” But, she said, Chime Solutions paid a respectable wage and “took off the gloves, dug down in the dirt and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to pull y’all out of this.’”

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“They could have gone anywhere with their business,” she said. “But they came here because these are the people who need the most help.”

Pride, who was hired by the company, is one of several that crystalize the ideals of Chime Solutions, a Black-owned company that provides outsourcing services for small businesses as well as some Fortune 500 companies.

Valerie June posing for the camera: Taylor Pride said her life has changed since joining Chime Solutions in Dallas. (Courtesy Chime Solutions, Inc.) © Courtesy Chime Solutions, Inc. Taylor Pride said her life has changed since joining Chime Solutions in Dallas. (Courtesy Chime Solutions, Inc.)

It is the brainchild of president and CEO Mark Wilson, who has more than 25 years of success in business information and call center services. He also led and eventually acquired eVerifile, an online contractor screening company.

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“Our primary focus is to address the issue of economic mobility, creating opportunities in underresourced communities,” Wilson said.

To achieve that, Wilson set a goal of creating 10,000 jobs across 10 cities — all in communities with a significant Black population. Based in metro Atlanta, he started his mission by using the former J.C. Penney space at Southlake Mall, just outside the city, to open a 115,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art call center.

Chime employs 1,500 people there, an overwhelming number of them Black and most from Clayton County, where the company had been expected to generate about $87 million in sales per year in 2016. The site also creates another 300 indirect jobs and benefits neighboring businesses, too, according to a University of Georgia economist who analyzed Chime’s economic impact for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“Southlake Mall was going to fail,” Omar Hawk, Chime’s vice president of operations in Georgia, said. “Now, the mall is thriving. Chime’s presence has revitalized that area.”

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Shelly Wilson is a microbiologist-turned Chime COO as well as Mark Wilson’s wife. The couple started a customer service and outsourcing business, RYLA Teleservices, out of the basement of their home and eventually sold the business in 2010 for a reported $70 million. With Chime, their goal is to bring jobs to Black communities.

Wilson said his strategy is a contrast with business leaders like Wells Fargo Chief Executive Charles Scharf, who on a Zoom call this summer with employees said the company had low diversity numbers because “there was not enough qualified minority talent.” Wilson called Scharf’s assertion — which he later apologized for — “ignorance.”

“There is so much talent that gets left behind,” Wilson added. “In Clayton County, for instance, there’s no public transportation to speak of, no industry. So our thought was to bring the jobs to the people.”

The economic hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has also had an outsize effect on Black Americans, particularly women. He said a predominant number of Chime workers are single mothers who have been devastated by job losses during the COVID-19 economic crush.

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The model is the same in Dallas and Charlotte, North Carolina, where Wilson recently employed 250 workers in an underserved community, with plans for more hires. Next up are Baltimore and Detroit, he said. Five other cities will be added over time, with the goal of 1,000 jobs created per city for those living in underserved communities.

“There is a lot to what we are trying to accomplish,” Wilson said. “We’re doing business as a Black-owned company, creating jobs for Blacks. Using the multiplier effect, meaning for every job you create, another is created. And it is money spent in the community.”

He added that one of the company’s goals is to help “eat away” at systemic income and wealth gaps. According to the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank, the median Black family, with slightly over $3,500, owns just 2 percent of the wealth of the median white family, with $147,000.

Hawk began working with Wilson as a customer service representative with RYLA after graduating from Morehouse College in 2001. He worked his way up to an executive level, a fact that Hawk said makes their model special for employees.

“The passion of helping people is attractive,” Hawk said. “With Chime, as time grows, you have a chance to grow. They want you to have a career here, not just a job at a call center.”

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The plan has worked for Jennifer Blackmon. She was employed at Zaxby’s, the fast-foot chain, when she spotted a Chime employee wearing the company lanyard at the drive-thru.

Blackmon, now a quality manager at the Atlanta-area location, said she has been impressed with an office culture that encourages a family feel, even as they have been working remotely through the pandemic.

“I knocked on Mr. Wilson’s door one day and brought my credit report to him,” she said. “I asked, ‘You think I could buy a house?’ He told me I could, but there were some things I needed to work on.”

From that conversation, Wilson created home-buying and credit repair seminars for his employees.

“I took those classes, worked on those things and here I am, one-and-a half years later, a homeowner,” Blackmon said.

Mason Parker of Charlotte had been out of work six months and searching for a job that would allow him an opportunity to advance. He learned of a job fair that was so “nondescript,” he said, that he almost passed on attending.

“It was in a back room of Dave and Buster’s in Concord Mills Mall,” Parker, 35, said, laughing.

Chime Solutions recruiters piqued his interest though, with its focus on bringing jobs to those in need, he said. “When I learned of their mission of doing for the community, I was sold,” Parker said. “And the fact that it was a Black company resonated with me.”

Parker started out as a call center representative and in 11 months was promoted to service delivery manager. “My job search had been unrewarding,” he said. “But Chime has allowed me upward mobility, which I wanted. And I don’t have to manage who I am on the job the way you have to do, as Blacks, on other jobs. One day I ended a phone conservation saying, ‘That’s dope.’ And no one said anything. That was so refreshing.

“I am allowed to let my personality shine and it’s embraced and appreciated. You don’t get that everywhere and almost nowhere.”

Looking to the future, Wilson, a graduate of Wilberforce University in Ohio, the nation’s oldest private historically Black college, set up a co-op program at his alma mater, the Emerging Leaders Chime Solutions Co-Op Experience. Selected students will work with a leading health care provider in an innovative learning environment.

“The one thing I can say is that everyone is learning,” Michael Beasley, a Wilberforce student who is in the co-op program, said. “Learning how to be more professional, more serious. It’s pretty special that someone who walked on this same campus has committed to helping others who are walking in his footsteps.”

The 16 students in the program this semester earn a salary, and receive a scholarship, academic credits and housing near the campus’ Center for Entrepreneurship. The participants who complete the semester-long co-op are eligible for employment at Chime Solutions after graduation.

“It’s the kind of initiative we’ve been waiting on, but no one had done,” Beasley said. “He (Wilson) is acting. You can tell people what to do and you can show them. This program is showing us, which makes it special.”

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