Call centres are one of the North East's biggest industries despite the rise in overseas outsourcing. And Sunderland firm 2Touch is one of the region's biggest operators and growing all the time. Christopher Knox caught up with its managing director Stuart Gray.
THE call centre industry is at present marked by the announcement of big job creations, such as last week’s news that Sky is opening a 400-seat centre in Newcastle, as well as big closures such as the collapse of Hartlepool-based Garlands last year with the loss of 1,100 jobs.
It takes nerve to steer through the ups and downs of an industry which employs one in 20 people in the region and one expects Stuart Gray must have some.
He heads one of the region’s biggest contact centre firms, 2Touch, which has increased its turnover from £16m to a record £20m over the last four years, while creating almost 250 jobs.
The firm employs nearly 1,000 people and handles outbound and inbound calls for a number of high profile names, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, and runs its own onsite warehouse, from which it handles packing and fulfillment contracts for a host of major retailers.
Admittedly 2Touch has the backing of its US parent Acxiom Corporation, but that hasn’t stopped Gray being called upon to help it overcome some big challenges.
One of the biggest was the loss of a major contract with Irish broadcaster Setanta in 2009, after the loss of its broadcasting rights with football’s Premier League saw the firm go into administration.
Gray, who lives in Washington, said: “We loved working with Setanta, but unfortunately the company went bust virtually overnight, owing us a substantial amount of money in the process. I had 120 people working on that contract, which, fortunately we were able to find work for in other parts of the business.
“I heard that it might happen about two weeks before, but there was hope that the business would be able to find new backers.
“After I eventually got in touch with somebody at Setanta they told me that they still had a list as long as their arm of people they needed to break the news to.
“That was on the Friday evening and by Saturday morning we were doing absolutely nothing for the company.
“Although I had a feeling it was coming, it was still a shock to not receive a single call or email regarding Setanta.
“We had a huge hole to fill and although the debt was as clean as it could be, it was still a huge chunk. Now we try not to rely too heavily on a few of our bigger customers, but endeavour to have a much safer balance.”