My brother called me today to let me know that SITEL – the place where I got my tech start – is closing the Madison office. While SITEL is not what it used to be, it still brought a lot of memories in the late 90’s for me and a lot of other techs in this area.
It wasn’t Sitel when I started there. It was called “Softmart – ETG”. They were looking for a bunch of people to work on a contract supporting an exciting new Operating System called Microsoft Windows 95. I wasn’t one of the original phone staff, but I did get in there on the next round.
This was the most memorable job I had. It was always a community atmosphere – everyone was helping everyone else out. In return, the call stats showed positive results. We hit 100% customer support for our call center. Most important, I learned a lot about computers because of this job.
We got the word that in August of 1996, Microsoft was backing out. They were winding down the initial support and consolidate offices closer to Washington. Although it was a loss, it was also quickly replaced as AT&T was ramping up their Worldnet Dial-up service. The only real issue was during this transition, Softmart was in the middle of building a new call center. We had to split up between a couple buildings as the finishing touches were being completed.
After finalization and move to the new building, we continued on with AT&T Worldnet. I worked on that contract for about 4-5 months when we were shuttled into a room one morning. We were all told that Softmart had been sold overnight to SITEL.
They said that SITEL was a call center that wanted to get into the technology support section. The running joke at the time was that since other SITEL offices took orders for the “Pocket Fisherman”, we would be doing the tech support. They said the plans were to continue on as normal – Softmart had purchased land in a developing area, so they had extra land to build a “Campus”. SITEL was going to continue this process.
The company heads also said we were the first tech office, so we would become the primary tech office. They were going to pump in a lot of training and effort for us to benefit from. It sounded like a great opportunity at the time…
Shortly after the takeover, we started to see some changes. We were all salaried employees, which was great because we could take the extra time to help people. SITEL changed us to hourly. It really took it’s toll on those who work harder just because they were thorough on their jobs.
A month later, I moved onto a new contract. Solomon software was an accounting software contract that has been with Softmart – SITEL for a few years. They went from a Dos based Solomon III to 16-bit version of Solomon IV. It was a tough contract simply because not only did I need to learn the tech side of it, I also had to learn a little bit about accounting. It also introduced me into MySQL and SQLServer, Crystal Reports and a host of other software that later became important to know. It was a tough contract, but very fulfilling.
However, SITEL wasn’t living up to their contract. Shortly after our purchase, the company acquired another tech office in VA. It seemed more and more that this office was getting the tech. Our office did get another contract – AOL was expanding, so they contracted 700 people for tech support. With the AT&T contract also in the same centre, we had rules about crossing from one area to another. The best part of the centre was AOL was technically in one building and AT&T was in another – therefore, crossover was minimal.
SITEL was growing, although we were not doing what was first outlined. I ended up moving on in June of 1998 because of a better opportunity, as well as the growing concerns of the direction to SITEL. Since then, SITEL – Madison switched from tech to regular call center. The plans to turn that building into a full campus dissipated.
In the time I was there, I really enjoyed the opportunity of employment. I learned a lot from the people that worked there. I still talk to some of those people today, a couple of them have passed on (Memories go out to Jeff Westphal). Still, it was a time I won’t forget.
SITEL itself isn’t going away. Last month they were listed on the top 100 call centers. Other offices are showing job growth (Starkville Mississippi, for example). However, the memories here, are