Call center market still a few calls away from reaching maturity

Newsroom 12/05/2008 | 15:48

The customer service business is in an incipient stage in many aspects, says Madalina Vilau, managing partner in ExpoMedia, therefore the market expects more growth.
Demand for services offered by Romanian employees will continue to flow from North America and Europe, albeit not as much as before. “The reasons are the higher prices for renting spaces and labor force costs year on year,” says Vilau.
The factors that might shape this evolution are economic development and the movement towards saturation of markets such as telecom where there is a great emphasis on customer treatment. Although she places telecom in the range of industries that are most likely to resort to the services of a call center, together with other domains that score big on the number of customers, such as banking, the car industry and medical care, there are telecom companies which, for strategic reasons like the need for direct contact with the user and for strict control of the quality of services on offer, do not outsource call centers or prefer a combined approach: outsourcing and in-house call center.
But why and when should a company outsource to a call center? “If the core business of a company is not on the customer service side and efforts and energy are dissipated to the disadvantage of the core business that they have to develop, then it is better to appoint a specialised company to take care of relations with customers,” says Vilau.
Bucharest is the hub of call center activities locally but other large cities such as Iasi, Brasov, Constanta and Timisoara are also catching up. “Also, smaller towns, which are at the margins of the important urban conurbations, will become more and more tempting as a result of the cheap labor force,” says Claudia Mitrofan, business development & account manager in Teleperformance Romania. Telecommunications, the banking domain, insurance, FMCG, tele-shopping and e-commerce are just some of the businesses using call centers, she says.
Teleperformance Romania mostly has customers from telecommunications and insurance, and is currently unfolding 50 projects in which it offers services such as customer care, loyalty programs, archiving and new client acquisitions. As a call center is a costly business, some companies avoid doing it in-house and externalize some of their activities. These are usually top companies and when they wish to have their own call- center, “the costs of running the activity would be much higher because of the payment of salaries that is in conformity with the respective brand, for example,” says Mitrofan.
Teleperformance Romania runs its activities from two locations but at least another one is on the cards by the end of the year, which will be situated outside Bucharest. “There are still discussions at the group level as to which of the large cities of Romania will be chosen for the new center,” says Mitrofan.
The company plans to reach 1,000 employees by the end of the year, from 650 now. Employees were recruited from online recruiting sites, job fairs and also recommendations of new candidates from existing employees. While the group as a whole specializes in a broader range of services on external markets, only some of them are available in Romania “due to the specifics of the market and the fact that a level of maturity has not been reached yet.”
Thus, in Romania Teleperformance offers services and solutions such as increasing the portfolio of customers, customer relations services, technical support, market studies, debt collections, site shoring strategies, strategies of management of locations, buy-out, management and support in contact center, etc.
“The Romanian market has huge potential compared to other markets in the region,” says Carita Vallinkoski, who works on expansion management in Competence Call Center (CCC). “The main reason is the level of education of the people, foreign language skills, the quality of the work force in general (…) Romania is a very interesting location for internationally operating call center companies (nearshoring).”
There needs to be more development on the local market “which is a lot of work to do,” says Vallinkoski. “We estimate the current development phase at two to three years – Romania is not a ‘quick win' country for call center service providers, which have specialized in national and regional services. The initial investment in the telephone system, workstations, security etc. amounts to EUR 1.5 to 2 million.
CCC was founded in 1998 by communications expert Thomas Kloibhofer. The company has expertise in service hotlines, outbound campaigns, written customer communication by e-mail, fax and letter, the training of call center employees and managers, through to the provision of consulting services for the development and restructuring of call center units. Globally, CCC has more than 2,000 employees in seven locations – Berlin, Bratislava, Bucharest, Leipzig, Linz, Vienna and Zurich – in five countries.
The local branch of the company has at this stage 50 service professionals but within the next few months the company will be in accelerated growth in terms of both office space and personnel so that by year-end it should employ 200 to 250. “We already provide our call center services for four ongoing projects,” says Vallinkoski.
After selection and employment, the rookies undergo training and coaching, going from basic communication training to advanced communication training that consists of specific communication tools individually orientated to the requirements of the particular projects. In the induction training various seminars are offered to provide the newcomer with the necessary knowledge and training, says Vallinkoski.
Between May 20-22, the 4th call center and customer care conference and exhibition is due to take place at the JW Marriott Hotel. The event is dedicated to managers and directors of customer relations departments, team leaders, project managers and generally those in the call center industry. During the event, over 70 companies will be represented, 40 call centers will attend and there will be 20 speakers.
Prior to this event, CCC, which is co-organizer, conducted a survey regarding the current evaluation of the regional call center market in which 150 top professionals in this industry expressed their views on the subject.
Only 7 percent evaluated the quality of Romanian call centers as being very good. Forty percent considered it good, 46 percent considered it mediocre and the remaining 7 percent said the industry had a great deal to catch up.
Bucharest was unanimously chosen by the participants in the evaluation as top among the cities which are the best call center locations. This is because it is one of the most significant economic centers in Romania. Plus, almost all the large companies that are suppliers of services, especially banks and companies in the financial sector, have their headquarters in Bucharest. Multinational holdings and mobile telephony companies started to set up in Bucharest from the 1990s.
Among experts in customer care, 45 percent think that the telecommunication industry will invest more in call center services in the future. Twenty percent believe that banks and suppliers of financial services will appeal more and more to these activities while ten percent believe that the public administration will use call center activities more. Another 10 percent think that the mass media will invest more, 10 percent are for air transportation and tourism and 5 percent believe that the utilities' industry will appeal more to call center services.
Experts in the industry unanimously agreed that investments in training employees in customer service will increase in the future and will gain more and more in importance. Regarding who should foot the bill for the professional development of the employees, the opinions of the experts in customer service differed: 60 percent of them voted for standardized training for call center employees while 40 percent said that companies should continue to bear the expenses for such training.

By Otilia Haraga

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