Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Virtual Call Centers
I was just going through my favorite tech blog Tech Crunch, for those of you who wondering what techcrunch is about basically it's a tech blog written Michael Arrington it features all things web 2.0 so it's a major "have to visit" on my list of sites to look at, anyway I decided to look at an earlier entry just to see if I'd missed any major events in the Web 2.0 realm and boy was I surprised when I saw a post for a new company in the block called SKY-click which has been described as a "A 100% web based call center" and at the end of the post he describes it as a "Virtual Call Center", its developed by a company based in Switzerland. I won't go into describing/profiling this company instead I'l talk about how it can affect the call center business springing up in this region.
I think the question that comes to the mind of every Call Center enthusiast is "What does this mean for the upcoming offshore call center businesses in Africa and other regions?", I think it could present two outcomes, Potential Business or Potential Competition.
"When a customer surfs a company’s website he has the possibility to press a “Click to Call” button that initiates a call or video call with the company’s call centre or the relevant expert."
The keywords here are "company’s call centre", an external call center could handle the queries that come from the website without needing any special integration.More and more companies will be finding it easier to plugin the application onto their websites and all the call handling could be done by established companies such as my employer :-) Whichever way you look at it, the cost of paying people to sit down and wait for web inquiries is still cheaper in Africa then in most other continents so our call center services will still be required. I foresee a scenario where a company whose website has lots of traffic would like to have a call center application like SKY-click but doesn't want to invest in training and staffing a whole department to handle the requests, that's where we come in.
"SKY-click enables free PC to PC and cheap PC-to-Phone communication between a company and its customers."
The Skype integration (VOIP at work) means that the cost of the call is almost non-existent. Currently most call centers in Africa handle their calls through VOIP in order to minimise on the cost and because internet connection is slightly more reliable then the telephone infrastructure. Our company for example uses a VSAT link of about 3Mbps, the biggest drawback to this is the high cost of bandwidth (about USD20,000$ per month) and the latency associated with the VSAT setup, but with the advent of the underwater fiber optic cable which should be completed within the next 2 years these costs are bound to go down significantly, some say as much as 85%. This obviously presents numerous business opportunities for the existing companies as well as the upcoming ones who would obviously see the need for a "Virtual Call Center" as an integral part of their business.
I think if its too easy then why would you pay an external company to handle your requests? Ignorance isalways been good for business :-) I've always said that if consumers knew the truth about the cost of the services/products they were purchasing they'd probably think twice.
SKY-Click pulls the curtain behind and reveals that it's not so hard to setup a small call center to handle the requests your customers have. If your in a continent such as Africa where the cost of labour is significantly low compared to Europe/America (a call center agent in Kenya gets paid roughly USD 200 per month exclusing commissions) a large multinational with a wide array of products wouldn't hesitate to setup one of this virtual call centers. Our company spent about USD100 million to setup the infrastructure for the call center, most of the money was spent in power backups and setup of the internet infrastructure.
At the end of the day businesses must re-engineer themselves to face off all forms of competition whether from local companies or foreign based. The internet is proving to be a major force to reckon with, so many companies leveraging the technology to achieve their objectives. Diversification into services/products that will give on a competitive advantage is key to survival.