A View Of
BY TRACEY SCHELMETIC, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR,
CUSTOMER INTER@CTION SOLUTIONS
Nowadays, when the term 'offshore' is
mentioned, many people automatically think of India or perhaps the
Philippines. In the U.S., we now use the term 'nearshore,' which makes
us think of Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. What we in the call center
industry sometimes forget is that a map of the world is not blank
between Nova Scotia and Bangalore.
As the European Union continues to expand and become a larger economic entity
with a growing population, the worldwide marketplace has recognized the EU's
increasing importance. The worldwide call center industry, too, has been
actively moving to accommodate the expanding EU. Call centers in Southeast Asia
continue to grow, but it's important to remember that although English is
prevalent in countries such as India and the Philippines, mainland European
languages are not (with the exception of Spanish in the Philippines). As the
European Union continues to expand geographically and economically, the
traditional cost-saving contact center locations will likely become insufficient
for its needs.
In the late winter of this year, I had the privilege of visiting greater Belfast
on a snowy day (a rare occurrence, I'm told) for the purpose of gaining
information about the vast number of outsourcing opportunities available there.
When touring Belfast, one can't help thinking of the word 'reconstruction.'
Building in this city's business district is significantly occuring. Because of
more moderate operations and labor costs, compared to the Republic of Ireland or
the rest of the UK, Belfast and its environs have been garnering a lot of
interest as of late. Now quite politically stable, the region is receptive to
foreign direct investment (FDI); to date, investment by multinationals has
increased 45 percent over the past six years.
My visit was coordinated by Invest Northern Ireland (INI), which is Northern
Ireland's main economic development organization, established to promote growth
and enterprise in that region. Currently, Northern Ireland seems to be
positioning itself to attract and retain 'knowledge-based' industries.
The labor pool is well educated and multilingual,
and Northern Ireland has one of the youngest populations in Europe. Are you
weary of high turnover rates in the call center? The region boasts one of the
lowest labor turnover rates in Europe. As a bonus, informal studies over the
years have suggested that Americans, in particular, are exceptionally positively
influenced by the easily understandable Irish accent in spoken English.
Invest Northern Ireland helps companies that wish to locate in the region by
offering direct financial assistance, identifying suitable building and property
locations, putting companies in touch with the proper services providers,
setting up infrastructure and assisting with hiring and training.
Facts About Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland's population stands at about 1.7 million people, representing
about 2.9 percent of the population of the UK as a whole. The landmass, I was
informed, is about the same size as the state of Connecticut. As of spring 2004,
the unemployment rate stood at 5.2 percent.
Northern Ireland, with the rest of the UK, is a part of the European Union (EU).
As a result, companies locating in the region are able to take advantage of
opportunities arising from the deregulation and integration of the many
economies in the EU market of 370 million people.
Currently, one of the most commonly voiced concerns about locations such as
India, the Philippines or elsewhere in Asia is the unreliability or lack of
availability of infrastructure. These concerns may or may not be justified, but
there is certainly a feeling of apprehension and some helplessness when core
business is relying on connectivity on the other side of the planet, reachable
only by 24 hours (or more) of traveling time. Northern Ireland is a brief
six-hour flight from New York.
British Telecom Northern Ireland (BT) was kind enough to meet with me and
provide information about the available telecom infrastructure offered to
companies that locate within or outsource services to Northern Ireland. BT
provides a wide range of services in the area, including fixed, mobile, local,
national and international telephone services, plus Internet and Web-based
multimedia services, Intranet and information systems integration for business
A deep pool of Class A office space is available, and rents on prime floor space
are exceptionally low compared to the rest of western Europe.
HCL BPO Belfast: India Outsourcing To Northern Ireland
HCL Technologies is a $390 million New Delhi, India-based IT services
corporation. In an interesting twist of circumstances, the Indian parent company
has actually located its customer care operations in Northern Ireland. In 2001,
HCL Technologies acquired 90 percent shareholding in a modern BT call center
located immediately outside Belfast. This 90/10 joint venture launched HCL BPO
Belfast, which states that it is now the largest outsourcing operation in all of
Ireland. The center currently employs more than 900 agents and services new
contracts from British, North American and European companies.
The day of my visit, I spoke with Kevin Houston, vice president and contact
center director of the company's Apollo Contact Centre in Belfast. Mr. Houston
said, 'Since HCL BPO was originally established in September 2001, the company
has grown from a standing start to employ 3,000 people around the world. We have
a network of five service delivery centers in India and offshore operations in
Malaysia and here in Belfast.'
But what he said that stood out most was 'This international expansion is based
on HCL's realization that while outsourcing to India can produce cost savings of
up to 60 percent, this differential by itself is not sufficient to build a
global BPO services company.' From my own observations, the companies that
balance the cost savings of offshoring but take care to never lose sight that
quality of service must remain the most important element are those that
HCL BPO's Belfast operation performs both inbound and outbound teleservices in
addition to back-office functions, Web-based customer support, collections and
technical support services/help desk. The center is multilingual and operates
its own state-of-the-art in-house agent training facility called Apollo
HCL BPO has an interesting and unique story to tell. For more information, visit
Another stop I made on my Northern Ireland call centers tour was the offices and
call center floors of MM Group, the fourth largest operator of outsourced
contact centers in the UK. (Since my visit, the company has announced that it
has sold 92.5 percent of its ordinary equity to SR.Teleperformance. The founders
of MM Group will continue to manage the company, retaining a 7.5 percent
MM Group performs both inbound and outbound teleservices, interactive inbound (IVR),
tech support, billing and Web-based customer service, in addition to list
services, database management, printing, mailing and fulfillment. The company
boasts state-of-the-art hardware and software resources and is notably the first
company in the UK to use Aspect's Customer Relationship Portal, which allows
them to offer high-value Web-based services that include collaborative browsing,
text chat, whiteboarding and form sharing.
MM Group has 440 seats, employs about 500 agents and processes in the area of
400,000 calls per month and 1,000 e-mails per day. Most agents fall into the 18
to 30-year age group. The company has call center locations in Bangor, Northern
Ireland; Bristol, Ashby and Avonmouth in England and Cardiff, Wales.
For more information, visit www.mmgroup.co.uk/index.html.
TeleTech UK Ltd.
TeleTech UK Ltd. is a subsidiary of Denver-based TeleTech Holdings, Inc. Its
European headquarters are situated in London, and it has satellite offices
located in Glasgow, Scotland; Belfast, Northern Ireland and several locations in
The North Belfast-based customer management center I visited was established in
2001 and currently employs approximately 100 agents in vibrantly
employee-friendly call centers. (TeleTech UK, as a whole, employs nearly 800
agents throughout its multiple locations.) The UK-based contact centers offer
inbound and outbound programs for clients in the financial services,
communications, government, travel and leisure, utilities, transportation and
TeleTech UK is exceptionally multilingual and
offers customer support in up to 15 languages. (I was fortunate enough to be
permitted to lurk over the shoulder of one of the German-speaking agents for a
For more information, please visit
More information about Northern Ireland may be found at
Special thanks go to Invest Northern Ireland (www.investni.com),
including my guide Cheryl McKeown, for such valuable assistance.
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