Answering the call

Pete Hardie and Toby Diggens are co-vice presidents of U.S. operations for Moneypenny.

While it would seem technology is on its way to replacing traditional call centers, one Wales-based company that’s setting up shop in the Charleston area says demand is soaring for its answering service that’s run by actual human beings rather than automated computers.

Moneypenny, which has been credited as a top place to work in the U.K., is expanding to the United States to keep up with that demand. And the company announced last week that its first office across the pond recently opened at 4055 Faber Place Drive in North Charleston.

“When we spoke to everybody in the U.S. about Charleston, everybody had a very positive viewpoint of that region,” managing director Glenn Jackson said last week. “And we could have opened anywhere, so why not have it in a great place?”

Moneypenny already has hired an eight-person staff to launch the North Charleston operation. Jackson said more employees will be added on an as-needed basis as customer demand increases.

The $760,000 investment is expected to create about 40 new jobs by the end of 2016. Moneypenny’s long-term plan is to have about 400 employees within five years, according to the Charleston Regional Development Alliance.

With the same name of the British Secret Service receptionist in the James Bond films, the specialty staffing firm said it handles incoming phone calls for businesses “of all shapes and sizes.” It offers dedicated personal receptionists for entrepreneurs and small businesses on either an as-needed or full-time basis.

It also provides outsourced switchboard employees for multinational companies.

“When Moneypenny opened in the U.K., the face of telephone answering was similar to how it has traditionally been in the U.S. — dominated by more impersonal messenger services,” company co-founder Ed Reeves said in a written statement. “We wanted to offer businesses the same high-standard of service they would receive if they had their own receptionist, based in their office.”

Reeves started the company with sister Rachel Clacher about 15 years ago. Based in Wrexham, in northern Wales, it has five United Kingdom offices and an outpost in Auckland, New Zealand,

“We both ran small businesses – I a marketing consultancy and Ed a graphics firm,” Clacher told the online British publication Real Business in 2013. “Ed needed someone to look after his telephone calls while he had to be out of the office. We found a company that would respond to calls while he was on the road. Ed would just divert his call to a number where people would answer in his company’s name, take a message and email it to him.”

Moneypenny has had success abroad with law firms, which represent nearly 10 percent of its client base. Jackson said the company trusts the legal sector in the U.S. will also begin embracing the around-the-clock phone answering service.

“We believe a similar sort of change in attitudes toward outsourcing this type of service will and has started to happen in the U.S.,” Jackson said. “We know that because a decent-sized law firm in D.C. uses us, and they think it’s definitely the way to go. It’s the next level of customer service.”

Moneypenny said it employs over 400 workers worldwide, and answers 9 million phone calls a year for more than 7,000 businesses. It is tight-lipped about its clients.

The company joins a stable of call-center operators in the Charleston region, a list that includes Verizon Wireless, Intercontinental Hotels, Dial America and iQor US Inc. Through at least 2010, the industry had its own trade group, the Greater Charleston Call Center Alliance, which now appears to be inactive.

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Moneypenny eyed the East Coast for its U.S. expansion because it made the most sense from a time-zone perspective, which Jackson said was critical since the company offers an after-hours answering service.

But a number of reasons went into the decision to settle in South Carolina. For one thing, the company didn’t want harsh weather to affect how people got to work, so the snow-prone Northeast was out.

“You look in the Northeast in the last few weeks where the weather has played a part in running a business, and we don’t have those challenges in Charleston,” Jackson said. “That’s important because we have to make sure our staff is able to be in our office no matter what the conditions are for the calls we’re taking around the U.S.”

Then, they wanted to make sure the people they would hire were nice, and would want to stay with Moneypenny for the long haul.

“Quickly we established that the Southern states were generally where people … were very friendly and polite,” he said. “We finally settled on Charleston because we found a workforce that was good and committed. ... It’s a great place to live and work, and therefore retaining staff should be fairly easy.”

John McDermott of The Post and Courier contributed to this report. Contact Abigail Darlington at 937-5906.