Vodafone consolidates call centre operation

Outsourcing deal for Auckland call centres ended, as well as Egypt operation

Vodafone has moved its entire contact centre operation back in-house, abandoning its Egyptian centre, and ending its outsourcing contract with Salmat.

Director of customer service Kelly Moore says that from May 1 the entire contact centre operation – around 650 seats – will be in-house. Previously the telco had an outsourcing deal with Salmat to provide contact centres based in Auckland, but this contract ended on December 1 last year.

Late last month Vodafone announced it would abandon the Egyptian centre, which handles prepay customer calls, and the operation will be brought back to New Zealand. The move will create around 150 new jobs.

Moore says that Vodafone had always intended to bring the prepay call centre back home. However, civil unrest in January, which saw the centre closed for 12 days while people protested on the streets of Cairo, hastened the decision.

The situation in Egypt prompted Vodafone to quickly extend its Penrose contact centre, and hire more staff to cover the prepay service. Although it improved, an ongoing night-time curfew made it difficult for agents to get to work (due to time zones Vodafone’s Egyptian agents work overnight).

Meanwhile the temporary centre was up and running, customer feedback was “really, really good”, so Vodafone pulled the plug on Egypt.

Before deciding to move all contact centres back in-house Vodafone trialled a small team in Manila. “It was only about 30 agents, [we were] doing a trial to see if we could get better results and it was pretty much the same,” she says.

Vodafone first opened the Egyptian operation in 2007 when there was a skills shortage. However, following the recession the local employment market has changed dramatically. When it advertised for contact centre jobs in February Vodafone received 1800 applications.

While the move to offshoring saves around 35 percent in labour costs, Moore says it is only part of the equation. The cost of transferring calls halfway across the world can be expensive, especially if, as Vodafone discovered, prepay callers then want to talk to someone about their fixed line account and they have to be transferred back to New Zealand to a different agent.

“There’s always a good financial case for off shoring, whether its call centres, back office processing. My view is that as long as you’re very clear about your strategy and why you’re doing it, it makes sense but the Vodafone of 2007 is different to the Vodafone of 2011.”

Moore has acted quickly, once the decision to move back in-house was made. Within eight weeks Salmat’s outsourcing contact centres were closed, and the transition back from Egypt to New Zealand will take about three months.

“A lot of people don’t in-source after outsourcing because it is actually really hard,” she says. “But once people know there’s a change afoot the level of engagement changes and you don’t want your customers hearing for six month’s that something’s happening. It’s very important to move fast.”

Giles Potter, director of contact centre industry consulting firm Great Outcomes, says Vodafone’s move to return its Egyptian operation will be popular with customers and contact centre professionals who disagree with offshoring.

However he says there is still a place for outsourcing operations in the New Zealand market as the global outsourcers bring a high level of technical skills that aren’t readily available in a market where most contact centres are less than 100 seats.

He also suggests that as part of the rebuilding of Christchurch a large offshoring operation could be established in the city, which could provide customer service to large companies from markets New Zealand has close relations with such as Australia, USA and the UK.

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Tags kelly mooregiles potterVodafoneSalmatgreat outcomes

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