The call centre industry is worth $1.7 billion to the Kiwi economy and is expected to grow by 15% this year.
A survey by ACA Research and callcentres.net shows that the industry employs 40,000 New Zealanders at 500 call centres nationwide.
The 2001 Australia & New Zealand Call Centre Industry Benchmarking Study also confirms that the traditional call centre may be doomed as increasingly firms convert them into web-enabled contact centres. This matches trends in the UK where firms such as easyJet and Direct Line banking try and push customers to use the net rather than the phone for service.
Over the past year, worldwide contact centre company Sitel went live in Auckland with a service to a major US firm, giving support in both English and Asian languages. Sister company Sitel Telebusiness has 22 staff in Auckland performing back office operations to London, Brussels and Detroit.
Sitel managing director Russell Just says call and contact centres are now “essentially the same industry. It embraces all media [now] - internet sites and back-office processes, he says.
SalesForce New Zealand claimed a first last winter when it opened an internet-enabled contact centre in Auckland.
Managing director Michael Masterton confirms call centres are increasingly “fully integrated contact centres”. His firm lets customers do business via telephone, fax, email, co-browsing or online chat. Sales staff can also help people using VOIP if they become stuck while on the net, he says.
The survey also found that more than four-fifths of call centre agents have access to internet email (up from 55% in 1999) and 79% have web access (up from 30% in 1999).
“While the primary use of the internet site is as an electronic brochure to provide customers with an overview of the product, the provision of customer/technical support and staff recruitment opportunities via the web is becoming more common,” says Australasian call centre analyst Tom Vandepeer. And 29% of centre staff essentially operate over the web in preference to the phone.
Elsewhere, the survey says the mean call centre size is 45 seats and the median 16 seats as the industry has few large players and many small ones. The per seat cost of a call centre was $74, 186, down from $75,165 last year, which compared favourably with $A68,395 in Australia.
Base wages averaged $2620 a month in New Zealand and $A2816 a month in Australia.
ACA Research also say half of Kiwi call centres now operate seven days a week, compared with just 28% in 1999, while 28 % now operate around the clock, up from 18% in 1999.