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Calling home: Rogers brings remaining customer service jobs back to Canada

Eric Agius was told he had to relocate prior to Canada Day, and not by choice. The move, from the family cottage about two-and-a-half hours northeast of Toronto, back to his home in the Toronto suburbs, was dictated to him and his wife by one of his adult children intent on enjoying a parent-free July 1 cottage getaway with his girlfriend.

“We were asked to not show up (this) week,” Agius said, with a laugh, in advance of his eviction. “There is a calendar on the fridge at home and it is blocked out: ‘Go to the cottage. Mom and Dad — please stay home.’”

Discussions around moving, and home, have been central to Agius’ professional life for the past year. As chief customer officer at Rogers Communications, he is the architect of a plan, now fully realized, to shift 150 front-line customer-service jobs from the Philippines to its call centre hubs in Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec.

With the move, all of Rogers’ call centre staff, some 7,000 workers, will be at a desk somewhere in Canada when Joe Customer calls to complain about a wonky internet connection.

For years, the trend for businesses looking to slash costs involved shifting customer care positions offshore, chiefly to the Philippines or India. Having someone in Manila instead of, for example, Moncton, typically represents a 50 per cent cost savings, according to the industry standard.

Cheaper options, mind you, aren’t necessarily better, especially with the pandemic shuttering everything, presenting companies and individual customers with a host of new hurdles. Rogers was no exception. Customer care — when everyone was pivoting to working from home and children were learning at home — was paramount, as was the need to shift employees to their own homes to do the job. Having many of them already in Canada eased logistics.

What has happened in the months since has been a call centre rethink; Rogers recently launched a pilot project in Ottawa that will see 350 call centre employees work from home permanently.

The company’s job repatriation plan emerged well before COVID-19. It is much easier, Agius said, to train employees when they are not on the other side of the globe. Better-trained employees are better for customers; happier customers are better for bottom lines.

“It’s better business,” Agius says.

If Rogers is creating Canadian jobs, by hiring more local people, I must say I like this idea

Ming Hu, Rotman School of Management

But there is something else at play, too, said Ming Hu, a distinguished professor of business operations at Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Hu has his gripes about Rogers, which probably sound familiar to Big Three customers everywhere, over the higher costs Canadians have often had to pay for wireless/internet service compared with other countries.

Be that as it may, an emerging industry trend is having hired guns do the work. That is, independent contractors, who log into Company X’s system from home and keep flexible hours, while Company X keeps counting how much they are saving by not paying the freelancers benefits.

“A lot of issues we see today stem from the unequal distribution of the benefits of globalization,” Hu said. “So, if Rogers is actually creating Canadian jobs, by hiring more local people, I must say I like this idea.”

As for the job itself, it turns out it is not a bad gig, and that’s not according to Agius, the boss, but Daniel Mazerolle, one of the people actually doing the work.

Before joining Rogers in Moncton, Mazerolle was a dive instructor. He was 33, with a young family, and wanted stability, and so he applied to Rogers. Twelve years later, he is still with the company. Several of his colleagues, in a division of 70 people, have been there longer than he has.

“I’d recommend this place to a lot of people,” Mazerolle said, interrupting his vacation to take a reporter’s call. “You can move up, laterally — anywhere you want.”

Well, not anywhere. Not if you are Agius, and it is almost Canada Day, and Toronto is sweltering hot and your adult son has dibs on the cottage.

“I will be at home July 1,” Agius said, chuckling. “I have got nowhere else to go.”

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