The contact king

While India remains the premier destination for low cost customer contact centres, the Middle East and North Africa region is rapidly emerging as a serious contender in the international outsourcing stakes. Andrew Mernin calls on Adel Danish, CEO and chairman of Xceed, to find out more

  • E-Mail
By  Andrew Mernin Published  September 10, 2006

|~||~||~|People loathe calling call centres, admits Adel Danish, the man behind the largest outsourcing call centre operation in the Middle East. “They hate it when they have a minor problem, wait for three minutes, press one for this and two for that in an endless loop, and then find out they haven’t got anything done,” he adds. While call centres may be the bane of dissatisfied customers the world over, they also provide companies, large or small with the opportunity to harness cheap offshore services from technical assistance to telesales. And although the majority of the world’s outsourcing centres have tended to be manned in the IT corridors of India in recent years, the success of Xceed highlights the huge growth of the sector in the Middle East. Launched in 2002 in Cairo, Xceed began life as the IT arm of Telecom Egypt after the company realised how poor its relationship was with its customers. In the following four years, the Egyptian headquarters grew into a 1200-seat centre with international clients such as Microsoft, Oracle and supermarket giant Carrefour, while the company also launched a consultancy arm in Dubai in May 2006. Danish believes that the many advantages for multinational companies outsourcing to the Middle East far outweigh those in the more traditional location of India. EGYPT VS INDIA “In Egypt, we speak more global languages than in India, we have a more understandable accent in both English and Arabic, we are more cosmopolitan with a history with the English, the Greeks and the French, and the time difference with Europe is much closer.” The obvious draw to India is cheaper labour costs. For example, in 2004 Indian outsourcing staff on average earned 12% of the standard US wage compared to 21% in Egypt. Danish insists however, that this advantage pales into insignificance when attrition costs are considered. “The number of Indian call centre workers leaving companies is 80% a year, probably because they have to work the graveyard shift due to the time difference with Europe and the US, so the workers are extremely volatile. Moving between companies for an extra US $5 an hour and the cost of rehiring and retraining them to the right level is huge.” NEW SILK ROAD As the Egyptian outsourcing industry continues to grow, Danish envisages the “new silk road” as being an integral factor. “Most of the submarine cables that run from East to West go through the Suez Canal, so where we used to be on a trade crossroads between Asia and Europe, we are now sitting on huge bandwidth — a fibre-optic silk road, so the telecoms cost is very cheap.” A survey by Datamonitor estimated that between 2004 and 2009, the number of offshore, outsourced agents in Egypt would jump from 450 to 3775. The global study also found that the most important factor for executives looking for a location for an outsourcing centre was the cost of labour followed by a skilled and multilingual workforce, with the ‘timezone factor’, and the amount of government subsidies available cited as the least important factors. GLOBAL DIFFERENCES Although the offshore outsourcing phenomenon is something that has grown on a global scale, Danish believes there is a distinct difference in the way customers should be approached around the world. “In Europe and the US, because people are used to receiving calls from call centres, if they say no, they mean no. If you are calling rural areas in Europe, sales per hour will be higher because they are not used to receiving calls, and they are generally of a higher age and lower education group and they don’t mind people calling them and offering them things.” While Xceed has a small telesales operation calling Arabs living in the US, Danish insists that cold calling is not an advisable marketing tool for companies trying to raise product awareness in the Middle East. “I don’t think telesales is the right way to sell in the Arab world because there is an issue of privacy that we are very sensitive about. In Egypt, men don’t like people calling their families when they are not at home, even if it is a woman calling.” With 1200 call centre seats in Egypt, including 200 assigned to Microsoft’s services, Danish estimates that Xceed makes between US $20,000 and US $30,000 per seat per year. According to the Egyptian, one of the main drivers behind these impressive results is his company’s partnership with the internationally recognised Customer Operations Performance Centre (COPC) — a global watchdog for the contact centre industry, formed with the aim of bringing excellence to customer service providers. “We were the first Middle Eastern company to get the COPC certificate and they were so impressed with us that they told us they wanted to partner us in setting the COPC standard across the region and consulting companies from point A to B.” And so to the company’s latest venture, Xceed Professional Services in Dubai, which will offer customer contact consulting services to help clients improve their customer relationships. “We decided to create the consulting arm in Dubai because this is the place where we think most of our customers would be and we are quite aware of the outsourcing zone that they are creating here,” Danish says. As the reach of Xceed continues to expand, Danish believes that the future of offshore outsourcing could extend far beyond the realms of IT support or in-bound customer queries. “There is a book called ‘The World is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman where the idea is that everything that can be digitised will move offshore. Take X-rays for example, you could digitise a picture and send it to India to be interpreted by a doctor. Anything that can be digitised can be analysed by an outsource centre.” If the endless possibilities for outsourcing in the digital age are a reality then the future is exceedingly bright for Danish and his offshore kingdom.||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code