NZ missing out on call centre opportunities

The New Zealand government needs to do more to attract call centre business, say industry chiefs in both Australia and New Zealand.

The New Zealand government needs to do more to attract call centre business, say industry chiefs in both Australia and New Zealand.

The comments come as Indian firms make bids for work in the Australasian market.

Callcentres.net news reported last month that US-headquartered Cincom was touting for trade for its Indian subsidiary Flex Contact Centres at a recent call centre exhibition in Sydney. Consulting firm McKinsey & Co says that within two years India will have a million call centre operators. Cincom says India offers a cheap and educated workforce and it hopes to sign up its first customer within months.

Infowavz in Mumbai (Bombay) claims wage rates a fifth to a tenth of Australian levels and savings of 50% to 80% if work is outsourced from Australia to India.

Major bandwith improvements in India are underway, particularly around Mumbai. A $US650 million joint venture between Singapore telecomms firm SingTel and Bharti Enterprises of India will also see a fibre-optic link between the subcontinent and Singapore, bringing faster and chaper connections for call centres between India and the Asia-Pacific.

In the case of Indian operators having difficult-to-understand accents, operators sometimes "neutralise" this through special classes and often insist call centre staff have at least degree-level qualifications before taking calls, say reports.

To date, no major Australian firms have outsourced to India, but UK and US firms, such as Citibank, GE Capital, Harrods, 3Com and American Express, have.

Bill Lyons, general manager of call centres.net, a Sydney-based research and marketing company, confirms Indian firms are targeting larger international firms for call centre work. However the economics of the industry means it is likely they will go for Australian enterprises before considering smaller operations in New Zealand.

Lyons told Computerworld the issue is what New Zealand is doing along the same lines, which is “not much”.

“New Zealand has favourable fundamentals [time zone relativity to the US, low cost versus US dollars, educated and skilled labour force, advanced telecommunications] and should be capable of competing for particularly US contracts and business,” he says. “The government and the industry should be challenged to get on with it and take a leaf out of the Indian’s copybook.”

TUANZ contact centre spokesman Chris Costley says "Australia has the jump in getting there before us" but New Zealand is catching up.

Trade New Zealand is working to promote the country to overseas call centre operators and 18 months ago, it launched a www.callnz.com website. Mobil chose Wellington in preference to Australia for an Asia-Pacific centre and other deals were in the pipeline, he says.

Call centre operator SalesForce managing director Michael Masterton says “the government here does not offer any incentives” for incomers, but says Hanna Frederick at Trade New Zealand is doing “a good job” in trying to attract call centre businesses here.

Sitel chief executive Russell Just says his firm is working with US clients but the call centre had not yet signed any deals to bring work here.

No call centre operator contacted last week had heard of Indians touting for trade in this country, but major opportunities appear to be passing the country by.

Last week Callcentres.net reported Ford is setting up a $US30 million call centre and software development unit in India employing 2400 as it turns India into its IT hub for its global operations. And a Filipino firm plans a $US3 million facility to service an undisclosed Canadian company.

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