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South Africa: Global Call Centre to Service Shell’s Customers, Improve Growth

 

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allAfrica.com: South Africa: Global Call Centre to Service Shell’s Customers, Improve Growth

Shaun Benton
Cape Town

Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on Tuesday opened a global call centre that will service customers for the oil multinational, Royal Dutch Shell, and improve economic growth in the country.

The call centre’s establishment – in part a result of government’s efforts to boost business process outsourcing (BPO) operations – is designed to service Shell’s customers in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

It will harness the Afrikaans language medium largely spoken in the Western Cape – with Shell training speakers to converse in Flemish and Dutch over several weeks – to allow Cape Town-based staffers to converse with customers in these countries in their own language.

By establishing the call centre in Cape Town, said Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka, Shell is demonstrating its confidence in South Africa’s ability to offer a balance between high-quality and low costs in the BPO sector.

With its “world-class” service levels and strong infrastructure support, South Africa is expecting to attract more such centres as it moves to boost its bandwidth capacity with measures such as the operation to lay another undersea fibreoptic cable between South Africa and London.

Through the state-owned broadband company Infraco, government, she said, has made a commitment to ensure cheaper and more widely available bandwidth capacity, which provides capacity for cheaper international phone calls.

The language capacities – particularly with the international language medium of English – and the “cosmopolitan nature” of South Africa’s cities placed the country in a good position to attract further investment in this sector, she said.

Other elements that place South Africa favourably in comparison with other call centre destinations like India and the Philippines is the time zone, which is more or less the same as that of Europe, she added. A Shell executive pointed out that this time zone synergy allows staffers to work day shifts, which would lead to cheaper costs as employees are not needed to be compensated for working night shifts in order to cope with time zone differentials. The centre has so far created 145 jobs in the city, with 300 new jobs envisaged by the end of 2010, a Shell executive said at the centre’s official opening. Sally Cranshaw, Shell’s vice-president for global customer services, pointed to the “critical mass” and “economies of scale” that allowed Shell to make successful operations of its call centres, the first of which was opened in Manila, capital of the Philippines, two years ago.

Speaking on the benefits of the “high-priority industry” of call centres to South Africa, Ms Mlambo-Ngcuka said that BPO was identified within the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (Asgi-SA) for its ability to bring people with only a basic education into the industry at entry level. While South Africa’s economic growth is “not dismal” at this point, she said, the challenge is for government to make interventions that will ensure that this economic growth is “shared with the poor”.

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“When we initiated Asgi-SA it was about finding ways in which we could continuously intervene in the economy – in a healthy way – in order to make sure that we place emphasis in the growth sectors that also respond to creating jobs for average people with relatively lower education,” she said. As such, the BPO industry allows semi-skilled people to enter the industry and with potential to learn more, with experience in such industries acting to boost the skills of these employees.

Another focus of Asgi-SA, she said, has been biofuels. However, she added that while government had been ploughing effort into this area, the challenge that a rise in biofuels was presenting to food costs had not gone unnoticed.

Fortunately, she added, because South Africa had not yet fully entered the production phase of biofuels, there was still time for government “to turn it around into food security”.

 

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