LEWISTON — Downstairs, there’s free, unlimited bowling and a bright new game room with what may be the only lime and purple pool table in Maine.

Upstairs, there’s a door marked “Jedi Readiness Council” and a beer cart that makes an appearance once or twice a month, when there’s reason to celebrate and everyone in the room yells, “Beer cart!”

Have a cold one — just one — then back to work.

Carbonite has been in Lewiston since 2011, when the Boston-based IT-backup company made a grand entrance by moving its tech support call center from India back to the states.

It’s kept growing in the space above and beside Spare Time Recreation on Mollison Way with officials planning to hire 30 more soon to bring local employment close to 300 by the end of 2014.

It has racked up some other impressive numbers: In the past year, annual employee turnover has dropped from 133 percent — that’s a lot of people leaving and people hired to replace them leaving, too, in short order — down to 50 percent.


There’s been a huge effort to make employees happier, said Robert Frost, Carbonite’s vice president of customer care: Better schedules. Better in-house communication. A second monitor at every desk so workers don’t have to toggle between their own screens and customers’.

And, enter the beer cart.

It’s paying off.

In the past five months, average call wait times have dropped from 15 minutes to 30 seconds.

Renewals are up. Free trials to paying customers are up.

“You have smiling employees, that goes right over the phone to the customer,” said Brett Siedman, director of customer care.


Like Frost, he was hired last September. Siedman previously worked at Microsoft. Frost had a recent three-year stretch at a Russian call center.

Happy employees have meant less money training new hires as well as happier clients, Frost said.

Every customer gets a questionnaire after calling in for help; 20 percent actually fill them out. The rate of people satisfied with the call experience recently rose 14 points, he said.

Frost also added a new measure: How happy would they be to talk to the same agent again, on a scale from Delighted to Very Not Delighted?

“We have an extremely high ‘Delighted’ score; it’s in the mid-80s,” he said.

‘It’s not rocket science’


The sprawling main floor above the bowling alley has slowly filled in over three years. Walls have come down, more gray half-cubes have gone up, with room now for 189 desks. Employees get their own work stations and most are decked out with action figures, Legos, pictures, posters and toys.

There’s a new pod of workers spread out more casually to one side — live chatters and people who answer email. A new, tall platform in the middle of the room dubbed “mission control” was added in April.

From there, Laurie Danforth can see the whole floor.

A Lewiston native, she started as an entry-level agent in 2011. After several promotions, she’s now workforce management manager in charge of scheduling. There’s no more working Friday night and Saturday night, or both weekend days, unless that’s what the employee wants. There’s also less saying no.

Siedman said employees ended 2013 having only used half of their earned time off, which is 21 days to start. They’d often ask to take a day and get denied via email.

“We paid agents their vacation time,” then made it a priority to fix that, he said.


Feedback has been good. Ditto on an expanded break room: This year, Carbonite replaced a traditional vending machine with coolers of prepared sandwiches, healthy frozen dinners, V8 and fruit in addition to chips, candy and soda. Employees pay with a swipe of a card or a thumbprint.

Siedman said he and Frost also did away with an in-house e-chat tool, “one of the worst things ever,” that agents used to send a quick S.O.S. whenever they were on the phone with a customer and ran into a question.

The e-chat was ditched in favor of floor support, employees including Allegra Johnson, 28, of Farmingdale, who watches for agents to wave a lime-green flag when they need a hand.

Johnson also started with the company in 2011. She had a tech background but had been working as a cook. 

“It’s nice to work at a long-term career. I haven’t regretted it,” said Johnson, who wore a tan blazer and, at least last week, pale orange-pink hair. “It’s fun having a boss (who says), ‘What color’s next?’ As opposed to, ‘Maybe you should think about fitting in.’ I work with a great group of people.”

Siedman wants to add more employees in floor support; it’s something used at Microsoft.


All told, the changes, he said, have taken the facility from “a standard contact center to world class.”

He anticipates Carbonite will try for a special industry certification known as COPC in the next year or two; it’s expensive and time-consuming but offers a demonstration of performance and standards, Siedman said.

Another less-expensive, slightly time-consuming tweak under his tenure: bathrooms cleaned twice a day instead of just once.

“It was getting yucky,” he said. “It’s basic things; it’s not rocket science.”

‘Our core focus’

Beefing up morale and employment is linked to Carbonite’s next phase: beefing up business.


“We’re going through a major transformation,” Frost said. “We are rapidly expanding into the SMB (small and mid-size business) market … The percent that business is growing is astronomical.”

SMB includes companies with up to 500 employees with data protection needs.

“We really need to be the premiere technology employer in the area,” Frost said. “What that means for us in Lewiston is that our jobs are getting more technical. We’re looking for people who have much more IT experience. The scope of who we’re employing is evolving.”

Carbonite has 560 employees; by the end of the year, more than half of the company will be in Lewiston. Ninety-five percent of calls for support are already answered here, from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.

Average pay at the company is about $14 an hour, Frost said. Reward posters on the walls offer $1,000 to employees who recommend friends for the new jobs. They have.

That amounted to $36,000 in the first quarter, Siedman said. “We were a little over-budget there.”


Earlier this month, for the first time, Carbonite made the list of the “Best Places to Work” in Maine.

“Our core focus is on employees,” Frost said. “They’re having a material impact on the success of this organization. When you look at something like (the rate of people converting from free trials to paying customers), every needlepoint that it moves is an enormous amount of dollars to our bottom line. 

“We’re the crown jewel of the empire,” he said. “When you talk to our executive team and the results those guys have accomplished, tickled pink doesn’t describe it.”


Call center employment has fluctuated between 8,000 and 9,000 jobs in Maine in the past decade and was most recently on the way up, according to an informal survey by the state’s Center for Workforce Research and Information.

Ruth E. Pease, an economic research analyst, said the list isn’t exhaustive. Some jobs may be reported as contact center jobs, some classified under another industry, some may change classifications from year to year, but it gives a sense of the trends.

The state has tracked that rough number for the third quarter of every year.

In 2001, it was 9,451. By 2007, it was 8,690 and reached a recent high of 9,664 in 2009 before dipping and coming back up to 9,328 last summer.

The most recent look by the Maine Department of Labor counted 86 telemarketing and contact centers in the state paying an average of $621 a week. The average pay for all jobs in Maine was $746.

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