Etisalat's new call centre

Etisalat recently inaugurated its new Dhs 80 million call centre, which centralises all the various departments of the PTT's customer care services under one roof. CommsMEA paid a visit to the Ajman-based facility to find out more about one of the key elements of Etisalat's customer service drive.

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By  Philip Fenton Published  March 3, 2002

Introduction|~||~||~|Etisalat's new Dhs80 million call centre is another example of the company's renewed focus on customer service. The 480 position call centre, based in Ajman, has an important role to play as the PTT looks to take its services to the customer, operating in a proactive rather than reactive manner.

The official inauguration of the centre in November 2001 marked the end of four years of planning. Before then customer contact was carried out through a network of small, isolated call centres throughout the emirates. The advantages of conducting all customer contact from one centralised office are clear, argued Mohamed Bamakhrama, general manager of the Contact Centre. "We can have better efficiency and improve on our services," he said.

"We can have one plan. Earlier customers experienced different standards in different departments, so now we can offer them one standard. Another big advantage is that now we are reaching the customer. Earlier we were only reacting to the customer, now for the first time Etisalat has, from a central point, an outbound campaign to go to the customer, explain the services, ask them if they are satisfied."

The centralised operation allows Etisalat to be proactive. In the past the company merely responded to customer needs as they arose, but the new centre allows Etisalat to anticipate a customer's requirements. Whilst customer service in the past was not as good as it could have been, Bamakhrama was keen to emphasise that it was still not that bad.

"The service before was good but not very good. We were not having a clear focus on the customer. We were only trying to cope with whatever comes to us and handle it. Right now we have a totally different strategy that we have to listen to the customer, go after the customer and see what they want and give them total solutions - provide them with a one stop shop."

As well as providing customer service Etisalat is also looking to turn the Ajman facility into a profit centre by providing consultancy services to regional businesses. "We have gained a lot of experience with this project over the last four years," said Bamakhrama. "We are also going to provide consulting services to [companies] that want to set up their own call centres."

The Call Centre will also provide local businesses with the opportunity to outsource their customer care needs to Etisalat, either for a one off, short term period, such as a customer survey, or on a full time basis. "The contact centre has been built not only to service Etisalat's needs but for outsourcing business, so we're now ready to take business from other companies," said Bamakhrama.

"Some of the outsourcing will be temporary: somebody wants to do some marketing etc, so it doesn't take a long time so we can have many customers on our list and they give us jobs now and again."
For the outsourcing arm to be a success will require a partial change in the mindset of UAE companies that may not have come across the idea before, he said. "The idea of outsourcing customer care to a third party is premature in this part of the world. The Contact Centre can act to emphasise the importance and the advantage of having companies concentrate on their core business and leave the support, enquiries and other information to other people to worry about, so we will be that third party in support of these companies.

"With the growing business in the UAE we feel that companies will need this service. Etisalat, as part of its obligation to our customers, we give a total solution. We are now offering not only technology but also supporting the needs of their own clients."

So far Etisalat has seen a large amount of interest in this service, with around twenty companies currently in the negotiation phase. The PTT gained some experience of handling outsourced business last year, explained Bamakhrama. "We signed the General Postal Authority during last Dubai Shopping Festival for one month. They needed the support at that time and we were able to give it to them. It was good for us to test how we can do it: it was a good experiment."

If the outsourcing venture proves to be successful then Etisalat will be ready: the centre was only inaugurated a few months ago, but an expansion is already on the cards. "An expansion of this building, or of the project of the contact centre, is always a possibility: on this building we can go another two stories up. Management have already given the green light for any time we need to expand and I think that will happen in the near future."

One of the advantages of the Ajman location is its relatively central position in the UAE, allowing Etisalat to attract a large number of nationals. Increased efficiency is often associated with a reduction in the workforce, but the launch of the Contact Centre has required Etisalat to recruit and train a significant number of new staff. "Centralising them [contact centres] here gives better efficiency, but they were understaffed, so we had to go and train additional staff. We insisted that all new staff have to have some college education: they have to be a graduate of the higher college of technologies or equivalent," said Bamakhrama.

In fact a large amount of the money spent by Etisalat on the Contact Centre went towards staff training, explained Qasim Burney, marketing executive. "The [bulk of the] expenditure is on staff and training," he said.

"The idea is to spend money on the best possible staff we could find: they bring a certain level of skill, knowledge and ability. Last year we spent about Dhs40m, this year we're going to spend about Dhs85-90m."

To deliver an enhanced level of customer care the Contact Centre has developed a universal graphical user interface (GUI). Behind the universal GUI lies extensive integration work around BEA's WebLogic middleware platform, which has been used to glue together the PTT's diverse database structure and provide the necessary information to the centre agents. The GUI has been internally developed by Etisalat's own team to "match" its own requirements. "Once the agent logs in, they look into a screen," said Bamakhrama. "Depending on the type of call, [the agent] selects certain programmes that will enable them to find the relevant information. E-vision has its own database and many other customers will have their own database. But the front-end will remain the same and we will present it to the agent in a particular fashion."

Etisalat has used state of the art technology to streamline the process and maximise efficiency, explained Bamakhrama. "When we compiled our specification we looked at the best equipment available for our contact centre," he said.

"We produced a package featuring IVR: Interactive Voice Response. This is the system where a customer calls and they speak with a machine to get connected. There's a VRU system: Voice Response Unit, that passes information after the agent does his work with the customer, for example in directory enquiries instead of the agent reading the number, to save the agent time he just presses a button and the machine reads the number."||**||

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