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1-800 CALLS OFTEN RING CLOSE TO HOME

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OK, you've smeared the tube of Tawny Blonde Highlights on your head, but your hair is turning green. You've gotten your SkyTel bill, and there's a big mistake. You need special infant formula but can't find it. Or you want to know where to learn a new Microsoft computer program.

What to do?Call the company's 800 number.

What you probably don't know is that you might not be getting company headquarters in New York or Richmond or Kalamazoo.

Instead, you might be calling Taylorsville-Bennion in Salt Lake County and talking to a fellow Utahn who works for MATRIXX Marketing. Staffers at the strategic call center, as the industry terms it, answer customer questions, handle complaints, fax lists of classes and even mail out coupons.

Businesses throughout the United States increasingly are "out-sourcing" certain tasks, and the Cincinnati Bell-owned MATRIXX is the leading out-sourc-ing firm with 9,000 employees in 15 centers in the United States and Europe.

MATRIXX officials say they want employees in its Custom Services Division to be well versed in a client company's culture so they can answer questions easily and professionally.

"We spend a lot of time selecting and profiling the agents properly," said Jack Freker, division president. "We have careful communication with the client, and we jointly work out the character of the person who would be successful. If it's Microsoft, we'd probably want someone with a technical background. If it's infant formula, we'd probably want to have moms on the phone."

The next step is training that includes such things as classroom work and role playing. "Other companies do one- to three-day training. Our lowest training is three to four weeks full time. Our highest is eight to 12 weeks," he said.

MATRIXX can create its own training programs but frequently will use a client's materials, vocabulary and sometimes even their instructors to teach MATRIXX employees how to handle calls.

"That really helps us emulate the client's atmosphere," Freker said. "We become the client."

MATRIXX, which began in 1989, serves Fortune 500 companies including Quaker Oats, U.S. Healthcare and The Solaris Group. MATRIXX also operates other divisions including a small telemarketing department, but it is not a telemarketing company.

The firm, which doubled its Utah work force last year to 4,300 employees, is growing so fast that it has become Utah's fourth-largest private employer.

That is due in part to Utahns, Freker said. "The work force is phenomenal - the work ethic, the values, how plentiful the workers are, the fact that so many people are bilingual, there are no regional accents," he said. "You have almost the ideal work force here."

MATRIXX runs offices in Ogden, Cedar City and four in the Salt Lake area, including its new headquarters at 1065 W. LeVoy Drive. Plans are to occupy yet another building near the new headquarters that will offer an additional 100,000 square feet of space.