Province touts telemarketing

New Brunswick, a province often ignored by visitors seeking the red earth of Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia's sea salt and mountains, rates a second look, if not by tourists then by direct marketers.TelecommunicationsThe province's ministry of Economic Development and...

New Brunswick, a province often ignored by visitors seeking the red earth of Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia’s sea salt and mountains, rates a second look, if not by tourists then by direct marketers.

Telecommunications

The province’s ministry of Economic Development and Tourism is meshing such assets as a well-educated, lower-cost workforce and a ready supply of bilingual employees to the cutting-edge telecommunications technology of the New Brunswick Telephone Company (NB Tel.)

Brian Freeman, project executive, investment, at Economic Development and Tourism in Fredericton, sums up by saying the province – one of the country’s poorest – does not offer tax incentives or other giveaways, but sells telecommunications users on moving to New Brunswick on cost advantage and NB Tel’s ability to provide ‘all the bells and whistles.’

What Freeman wants to do, rather than concentrate on telemarketing firms, is communicate how attractive New Brunswick can be to companies that use telemarketing – customer service, order processing, information support, etc. – as part of their general business operations; and the evidence suggests he has been successful.

The number of blue-chip companies that have established parts of their operations in New Brunswick is burgeoning.

In the two years or so his project team has been in business, Freeman estimates 1,200 jobs have been created in the capital of Fredericton, in Moncton, Saint John, and smaller places such as St. Stephen, which perches right on the border across from Calais, Me.

Helena Cain, marketing manager, telemarketing, at NB Tel in Saint John, says the phone company committed itself to the rapid advancement and deployment of its technology in the early 1980s.

Now, Cain says 85% of NB Tel’s telecommunications network is digital rather than analog, and the entire system is linked by fibre optic cable.

She says there are two fibre optic links to Nova Scotia and Quebec, and another fibre optic cable to the u.s. is slated for installation this year.

According to Cain, fibre optic cable provides higher quality transmission that is faster and clearer than copper cable, and she says because it permits two-way transmission, a cut cable means the transmission is rerouted rather than interrupted.

(Fibre optics are transparent strands of glass or plastic which transmit light throughout their length by internal reflections. Fibre optic cable is much smaller than the copper cable of yesteryear. A strand the thickness of a human hair can carry multiple transmissions.)

NB Tel also offers a range of other telecommunications technology including dedicated, private line and packet data services, and centralized voice messaging, cellular phone service and digital paging.

The phone company was the first in Canada to extend an integrated services digital network to a commercial site.

ISDN

In 1989, isdn, which combines voice and data transmission, was installed in a number of applications at Saint John Shipbuilding, the prime contractor for the Canadian Patrol Frigate Program.

As an example of NB Tel’s commitment to technological advance, Cain cites the joint venture between IBM Canada and the phone company for Northern Telecom that began this summer and runs to 1993.

Cain says a customer’s call into Northern Telecom’s Northern Call Centre is identified during transmission so his or her file is called up on the representative’s computer screen while the phone is ringing, thus saving time and increasing productivity.

‘Look, it’s phenomenal,’ Cain says.

What has also pushed NB Tel ahead is how the company uses its staff, she says.

A customer tells NB Tel what its telecommunications application is and the phone company tailors its service to fit.

Cain says other service-oriented elements of NB Tel’s approach are account teams for each telecommunications customer, and having one technician assigned to one company so service is seamless, not a patchwork of help from whoever is available next.

Sue Sherrard, manager of customer service for Northern Telecom, describes NB Tel as ‘the leader in telecommunications’ and ‘futuristic.’

Sherrard, who joined the company from NB Tel about a year ago, also notes the phone company’s low costs.

She says NB Tel has one of the lowest rate structures going for 1-800 numbers, and points approvingly to the New Brunswick government’s recent decision to eliminate the 11% provincial sales tax levied on incoming service calls.

Sherrard says Northern Telecom moved to New Brunswick, the only official bilingual province in the country, to be more cost-effective, and to take advantage of finding suitable English- and French-speaking employees.

She says 30% of calls into Northern Telecom are from Quebec.

Toronto-based Maurice Levy, senior vice-president of sales and customer service at Purolator Courier, is bullish on NB Tel, its forward technological position and its digital and fibre optic network.

‘Super centre’

Levy says Purolator conducted a national search before settling on Moncton to build its ‘super centre,’ which opens this month.

The courier firm also has smaller centres in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Purolator asked itself, he says, ‘Can this telecommunications company support us?’ no slight consideration when Purolator gets more than 50,000 phone calls a day requesting pick-up, parcel tracing and information.

Levy also notes the good level of education in New Brunswick and its favorable cost of labor.

He says Purolator is committed to creating 400 jobs in New Brunswick over four years. The company will spend $20 million a year in the province, he estimates.

Freeman puts New Brunswick’s wage advantage in the 20% range.

The minimum wage in the province is $5. The most recent information from Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate in New Brunswick is 12.7%. The unemployment rate in Ontario in August, the most recent figure available, was 11.3%.

Gardner Munn, is president of St. Stephen-based Connect North America, a research and telemarketing firm handling consumer product calls for publishers and computer companies, among others.

‘Second to none’

Munn, who is a former member of the project team from the New Brunswick government that sought companies such as his to come to the province, is also high on NB Tel’s technology, calling it ‘second to none’ and its rates ‘very competitive.’

He says for inbound calls from 1-800 numbers in the u.s., New Brunswick has the lowest rates in Canada.

Munn says a small company – alluding to NB Tel – can sometimes respond a lot more quickly to a customer’s request and can stay closer to clients.

‘A lot of it is a mind-set,’ says Munn, who also notes the ‘neutral’ accents of English-speaking New Brunswickers is a plus when customer service representatives field calls from all over the continent.