Call centres possible with net | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 31, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 31, 2010

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Call centres possible with net

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India, the Philippines and Egypt are now established destinations for outsourcing. China is also rising.

A Daily Star article on call centres (“Hanging Up”, August 12) caught my eye. The article was on how Bangladesh is still lagging as an outsourcing destination. If we look back, the picture is depressing. Over the recent years, 400 licences were given out, half of which are soon to be closed [for inactivity]. Tk 250 crore has been invested, while only Tk 25 crore of contracts were signed and 1,000 people employed. This is alarming and sad, since it is a huge opportunity in the outsourcing market for Bangladesh. The global business-process outsourcing market is worth $122-$154 billion, and about 8 percent of our capacity was used as of 2006. Countries such as India, Philippines and Egypt have established themselves as strong destinations with high exports in this area. China is also a strong contender in outsourcing business; its call centre seats grew past 350,000 in 2009.
In the article, Reazuddin Mosharaf, secretary general of Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing (BACCO), gives several explanations:
* Middlemen disputes
* English speakers' unwillingness to work at night
* International communications bottleneck (the lone submarine cable)
These issues can be dealt with! Middlemen and workforce issues will be solved as soon as the business has a reasonable size and strength. Then, the industry will be able to handle things abroad itself and the success will attract new labour. The connectivity issue is the most serious one, as this will keep larger and serious customers away, due to the high risk of service failure.
There are other issues to be considered. A large customer of a call-centre would have the following expectations from a Bangladeshi outsourcing supplier:
* Credibility: If you leave your customer front end to a company far away, you certainly need to trust that the supplier can give you a sustainable high-class service.
* Capacity: Connectivity with backup lines and ability to easily expand the service.
* Quality: The quality should be shown through key performance indicators, and the supplier should outperform competitors in other countries.
* Efficiency: The supplier should have world-class IT to be able to deliver a high standard of responses to the callers at a competitive price.
* Experience: The supplier should have prior experience of ensuring both quality and time. Customers will want to see references before entering into a long-term agreement.
With the numbers stated in the beginning of this article, it is natural that foreign companies are sceptical of entering a new market like Bangladesh. It is a “chicken and egg” situation. We need to show an established capacity of operations to attract new customers. And new customers are needed to establish such a capacity.
In Grameenphone (GP), we have seen the potential out-sourcing market -- and we are able to crack the chicken and egg situation. Let's look at the expectations listed above:
* Credibility: GP is a highly respected brand, not only in Bangladesh, but also internationally. If GP offers call centre services abroad, companies will have a credible supplier.
* Capacity: GP has 1,200 employees in its call centre, more than all the smaller outsourcing companies as a whole. Potential customer can visit the operation and see that is in full swing.
* Quality: We are measuring our service constantly and have a high service level compared with international standards.
* Efficiency and Systems: GP has upgraded its IT portfolio and has a state-of-the-art support system for call centres. Every day, 80,000 calls are handled in GP's call centre. The efficiency indicators show good competitiveness.
* Experience: GP has the experience of serving its large subscriber base (27 million) and has been always set to match/accommodate growing customers' expectations.
The Bangladesh telecom industry today is very different from what it was back in '90s. The growth is visible. The advance is evident. The operators were keen to succeed and worked wholeheartedly with its competence to reach the people. The outsourcing industry of Bangladesh has every potential to grow alike, but to do so we have to plan our actions and exhibit our competence.
GP's experience can demonstrate the capacity to fulfil most of the demands from potential international customers by showing them a world-class service for the national market. GP can leverage its international reputation in mobile to kick-start Bangladesh as an outsourcing destination.
Cooperation is needed on two levels: within the industry and between the industry and the government. Within the industry, GP can engage smaller call centres, educate other call centres to come to an international level of quality, and strengthen BACCO.
We should brand and present Bangladesh internationally under one umbrella, building credibility with the customers. The latter will be tried at Manchester in September this year. The authorities can nurture the development by ensuring stable and predictable regulations of the outsourcing area and define incentives in line with what exists in competitive countries like India, China, Philippines and Egypt. Two of our close neighbours are also moving fast -- Sri Lanka ranked 16th and Pakistan 20th among 2009's top 50 destinations. To realise our outsourcing potential, a special task force should be established to create a workable action plan for the next two years. “Bangladesh -- an outsourcing destination” is a private public partnership for building a new, sustainable export industry in the country. We should identify the short-term goals for outsourcing industry, say by the end of 2012.
Given that the connectivity issue is solved quickly (as can be done by establishing land line connections with India), it should be possible to:
* Increase the number of jobs from 1,000 to 10,000 by 2012. (The industry in the Philippines created as many as 70,000 new jobs during 2009, and 442,000 were employed by the broader outsourcing sector in 2009; for a rank of seventh worldwide.)
* Increase the value of contracts from Tk 25 crore to Tk 250 crore.
In four to six years it should be possible to establish Bangladesh among the world's outsourcing countries, with a 4-5 percent market share. (Egypt ranked 6th in 2009 with 5 percent market share after seven years in this business.) This would mean yearly revenue of $1.1 billion by this year.
Oddvar Hesjedal is CEO of Grameenphone.

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