Call centres hanging up | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 12, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 12, 2010

Call centres hanging up

Middlemen disputes in spotlight

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Call centre managers are warning that their investments, totalling Tk 250 crore, are at risk due to disputes with middlemen, a shortage of affordable English-speakers willing to work at night, and a national internet bottleneck.
Bangladesh's call centres share a lone submarine internet cable, and require costly power generators to cover frequent load-shedding outages.
"When the buyers come to know about the backward linkage of the industry, they get lukewarm," said Reazuddin Mosharaf, secretary general of Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing. “We need to strengthen our backward linkage soon.”
But newer problems have prompted many in the business to fold, seek new contracts or try to limit domestic competition. Accusations of middlemen cheating local entrepreneurs are the latest hot-button issue.
Nahidul Hasan, assistant director of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, said the BTRC was aware of accusations of cheating by agents and even held a mid-July meeting on the issue.
"The call centres should follow standard rules and procedures while entering into agreements with foreign companies," Hasan advised. The commission issued more than 400 of the Tk 5,000 licences since 2008, but two weeks ago it cancelled 100 of these, he said. It will spike another 100 this month if the licensees have not started up, he added.
All the top 10 operating call centres contacted by The Daily Star complained of such cheating. The agents contract mainly with US companies that want to reduce costs, and they subcontract to actual call centres.
Call centre entrepreneurs were lured by the prospect of even a sliver of an industry worth up to Tk 2,000,000 crore ($300 billion) worldwide. But many report cool receptions from international clients. Haste led some to accept subcontracts from unscrupulous agents.
A call centre is an office used to receive and/or transmit a large volume of requests by telephone. It is operated by a company to give mostly inbound-call for product support or mostly outbound calls sales to consumers, and frequently uses an internet connection to reduce the cost of international voice calls. Some do outsourced back-office work.
"The industry is at a nascent stage, and some operators have reported that they were cheated by their agents abroad,” Mosharaf said. “We have asked our members to be careful."
Mohammad Hanif, director of the call centre MCL Call Centre Management, said most Bangladeshi companies depend on a middleman: "As the Bangladeshi call centres do not have their own offices in the UK or USA, they have to depend on other companies.”
Mosharaf said direct contact with outsourcers and better marketing is needed. "We are going to participate in some international trade fairs soon to show our strength to the international buyers."
Some call centres said they could compete profitably if only they could deal directly with the overseas client. "I signed agreement with the Indian partner of a US company," said a director of a call centre in the city.
The companies operating now recently requested the regulator to cancel all inoperative licences. A condition for each licence is that the call centre starts up within six months, though extensions are possible.
Mosharaf estimates that 40 call centres pumped in 80 percent of the industry's total investment. A call centre with 25 seats requires at least Tk 1 crore to set up.
Many nations are now competing for call centre business based on price. But few have, at most, light local accents. The Philippine capital, Manila, ranks second to Bangalore, India in call centre size, according to a report by a subsidiary of IDG, a leading company in research and analysis of global technology trends.
An August 9 article in the Chennai, India-based daily Business Line that compared Indian call centres with those in the Philippines said India's have higher staff turnover, lower productivity and less staff affinity with Americans, even after language and accent training.
Despite lower wage rates here, the same critique applies to Bangladesh call centres, only more so.

jasim@thedailystar.net

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