Buddy Gulliford said he doesn't mind a few phone calls. This is a good thing since he is in charge of Verizon Wireless' 700-employee customer service center in Tampa, a facility that logs in 250,000 to 300,000 calls a month.
Since April 15, Gulliford has been learning names, faces and geographic particulars for the center, transferring from a similar role with Verizon Wireless in Rochester, N.Y.
The Tampa center is responsible for fielding a variety of calls from wireless customers, including billing inquiries, technical inquiries, equipment repair requests "and technical support above and beyond what you normally get from a customer representative for complex data products," Gulliford said.
One challenge for Gulliford and his staff is that consumers are increasingly more educated and sophisticated about the complex telecommunications technology, creating even more challenges for those handling the incoming calls.
"When you get a customer who is educated out there, you need an educated representative on the line who can walk you through the problem-solving, answering questions," Gulliford said. "You do have some savvy consumers. Customers are becoming more savvy (by) looking for the best deal in products and services."
Gulliford said he has been overseeing service centers for Verizon Wireless since 1995, but this is his first venture in Florida. And he said it's a welcome change. He said the Florida heat "is better than the 14 degrees below zero that we were having over the winter" in Rochester. He has vacationed in Florida, with thoughts of someday moving here. "We were testing out the state," he said.
A native of New Jersey, Gulliford bypassed college. Before going into telecommunications, he worked for a small leasing company. Then he sought a career with less pressure to increase sales, taking a position as a temporary employee with Bell Atlantic Mobile in Bedminster, N.J. Through mergers, acquisitions and strong growth in the telecommunications industry, Gulliford said, "I've had the chance to move along and move around. I took advantage of those opportunities."
He has headed customer call centers in Columbia, S.C., and Morristown, N.J., as well as Rochester. He also operated his own business for 15 years in Somerville, N.J., which provided nail care, massage, tanning and similar services. "I got my feet wet early on about how to network and about financing," he said.
"When I came to Bell Atlantic and then Verizon, the wireless industry was just gaining momentum," he said. "When you are on the front line, it's really a tough job. I like the fast pace, the high energy of it. It's got highs. It's got lows."
Gulliford said the calls coming into his center are from customers throughout Florida. Yet, he said he sees a pattern of fewer calls from the more informed customers. "There's really a decrease of calls coming into customer service," he said. "With the complexity comes the era of computers and the Internet and Web-based training and self-service."
Many customers use the Internet to "manipulate their own bills, change price plans, change address, monitor balances," he said, all services that once required a phone call.
"Anything like that five years ago and we had to talk to a representative," he said.
Gulliford said he is grateful for such technology. Without consumers able to access the Internet, "You'd have massive customer service centers. We've been effective in finding better ways for customers to service themselves. This gives us the ability to work with the representatives and fully train them instead of having . . . huge megacenters."
Gulliford, 42, lives in Tampa. He and his partner, Jim Green, have a 10-year-old son.