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Welsh accent secures funeral call centre at Newport

By Brian Meechan
BBC Wales business correspondent

media captionChief executive Mike Minahan explains how the Welsh accent is a benefit

A sympathetic ear - and voice - is behind a contact centre firm's decision to open its new funeral planning business in south Wales.

Carpeo is hoping to create 300 jobs within five years in Newport, which beat off competition from Teesside.

One major factor was the "consoling" and "empathetic" Welsh accent which, the company said, was important for its market.

It hopes to recruit the first 24 staff to start work next month.

The company, which already employs 250 people in Swindon, is expanding and aims to have 60 people working at its new Carpeo Estates Planning offices in Cleppa Park by the end of the year.

It has been supported by a £500,000 Welsh Government grant based on the number of jobs created.

Account managers will be on £22,000 basic starting salaries.

The business has also teamed up with a legal firm to arrange affordable wills.

Carpeo Estate Planning's chief executive Mike Minahan said: "The quality of people available and their experience of working in a regulated services market is a huge pull.

"On the softer side, the Welsh accent is sympathetic and consoling, particularly important in our market."

Dr Mercedes Durham, a senior lecturer of sociolinguistics at Cardiff University, has studied the Welsh accent and found it was perceived as "funny". But she said: "It's also a friendly accent so that is possibly what people would hope to listen to at a time like that."

Q&A: Sandra Busby, managing director of the Welsh Call Centre Forum

How strong is the sector in Wales at the moment?

It's very strong. We just represent people in the contact centre side, not the total business - so Admiral have 5,500 people in Wales and 4,700 are in the contact centre.

"We call them contact centres not call centres now because there are multi-channels - people will host web chats, answer phones, emails and, increasingly, look after social media. It's about customer contact.

The sector has changed considerably since 1999. That's due to technology - an example of that is the DVLA which pushed people into self-serving online. The same with booking cinema tickets or paying the bank's credit card bills. You might have expected to see a reduction but we've seen a growth in jobs.

image captionSandra Busby said financial incentives helped Wales remain competitive but it was not at the top of the list for employers

What parts of the UK and abroad is Wales competing with for jobs?

Northern Ireland and the North of England; South Africa, eastern Europe and India.

South Wales is pretty established now as a call centre location. What are the particular attributes its workers offer? What do employers like?

Wales is well placed on competitive salaries, building costs and support from Welsh Government. Staff turnover tends to be lower, a more loyal workforce. When you look at the right behaviours to go with the skills - people turn up for work, they want a career and to progress.

There are some who still say call centre jobs are not 'real' jobs.

In 1999, there were team leaders who are now senior managers. People move up the ranks. Working in customer contact can involve sales, marketing, customer service, a whole variety of jobs and working for some great brands - Barclays, Virgin, HSBC, PPI and cold calling damaged the industry.

Prof Martin Rhisiart, a business strategy expert at the University of South Wales, said computerisation was predicted to have an effect - and this could impact on the traditional call centre.

"We may well be at peak levels. Many leading experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning are themselves surprised by the pace of acceleration and we are at that exciting point where things might happen relatively quickly over the next five or 10 years. We might see entire industries change and entire working patterns change."

Economy Secretary Ken Skates said: "Carpeo has ambitious growth plans with the potential for further future investment in Wales and I welcome their plan to open this new business in Newport that will create a range of jobs and training opportunities for local people."

A spokesman for the Welsh Conservatives said: "Any new jobs in Wales are to be welcomed, and it's further evidence that the UK economy is performing positively under a Conservative government that the company is seeking to create new posts.

Plaid Cymru's economy spokesman Adam Price said it was good news to see jobs created in south east Wales but the Welsh Government continued to "fail the rest of the country". He added: "Important parts of Wales like the valleys, rural Wales, the west and the north of Wales are not getting their fair share of investment."

The Wales Green Party said it was hoping that Carpeo would be the company "to buck the trend of zero hours contracts and pressurised conditions which workers have been subjected to in other call centres".

Related Topics

  • Newport
  • Wales economy
  • Wales business

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