SA makes a play for the global call-centre business

Posted On Monday, 09 December 2002 10:01 Published by
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South Africa is making a serious play to attract the burgeoning international call-centre industry on the grounds that it is perfectly placed to cater for growing demand in industrialised and developing countries alike.
Telecoms by Andrew Unsworth

South Africa is making a serious play to attract the burgeoning international call-centre industry on the grounds that it is perfectly placed to cater for growing demand in industrialised and developing countries alike.

With millions of new users entering the IT sector every year, it is hoped that South Africa can attract a large slice of the business. If British consumers phoning their banks are already being answered in New Delhi, they could just as well be talking to Durban.

German airline Lufthansa has already established a call centre in Cape Town, and one recently completed by Absa in Auckland Park is regarded as among the world's best.

Angelo Manzoni, senior manager of the IT and electronics division of the Department of Trade and Industry, this week led a high-powered team of government and private-sector experts to the UK to sell the country as an ideal location for the outsourcing of call centres.

The department released an independent report on South Africa' s call-centre industry to the British media, giving a detailed breakdown in terms of labour, service providers, market size and infrastructure.

It has also set up a dedicated facilitating unit to help companies cut through red tape - for example accessing work permits.

South African-based companies already active in the call-centre business are upbeat about the growth potential, despite the fact that India has already set itself up as the leader in this field.

Manzoni says seven international companies are looking at investing in SA during September and another six in October.

'The call-centre industry in South Africa is already 2.5 times larger than that of the Republic of Ireland and equal to that of the Netherlands,' he says.

He says Gauteng ( including Johannesburg, Pretoria and Midrand) the greater Durban area and the Western Cape are prime candidates for international call-centre development.

South Africa had 410 call centres nationwide last year. Most, 238, are in the Johannesburg area, and 115 are in financial services.

South Africa has the facilities and infrastructure to expand the industry, given reliable electricity supplies, a world-class telecom s network, favourable exchange and wage rates, and an educated working class.

SA literacy is reported to be 24% higher than that of India. It also has the advantage of being close to European time zones.

Simon Gledhill of Connectsolutions in Cape Town says South Africa is ideally placed to operate call centres. ' People have a willingness to learn and are used to change. The South African accent is no problem for international callers - it takes only days to teach people to avoid phrases like 'is it?' and 'just now', which confuse foreigners - and the culture is in tune with that of first-world markets.

'South Africa is a slice of Europe, a thick slice of Africa, and a slice of the US on top,' he says. 'South Africans are technologically literate and the culture of added value is well established in business.'

David Steene, of the Oxford Contact Group, says he looked first to India and then to SA to expand his call-centre business.

'South Africa won hands down,' he says. 'It has been the herd mentality that attracted people to India, everyone was doing it so it became the safe option.

'South Africa has not succeeded so far in this sector because of the laager mentality. I saw the best of the world in South Africa, but individual call centres have failed to beat the drum.

'The mindset of the directors is inward-looking, but it's a gold seam waiting to be discovered.'

Business Times


Publisher: Business Times
Source: Business Times

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