Western Cape Business News

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INFOTECH: Outsource Centres Not For the Fearful


Recent Western Cape Business News

The outsource contact centre industry is not for the faint of heart, says one of the sector’s few successful women entrepreneurs – but those who plan carefully, watch their costs and develop their staff are most likely to stay the course.

“We’ve been in business for two years and we’ve paid a lot of school fees,” says Renee Keeble of outsourced contact centre provider SA Commercial Direct. “The biggest lesson we’ve learned is how important it is for entrepreneurs to start small and grow at a very controlled pace, with partners who understand the outsource environment.”

Many small contact centres are closing their doors, a development Keeble puts down to a combination of financial inexperience and pricing structures overly skewed by powerful clients. “Many people came into the industry with strong operational backgrounds, but lacking the financial and marketing perspective needed, especially when you are working on outbound sales projects,” she says. “The fact that some clients have been large and powerful enough effectively to dictate pricing to the market has pushed some businesses into taking on loss-making contracts.”

Keeble notes that the industry is extremely capital-intensive, making it difficult for new companies to enter. “We started at the beginning of 2007 with a carefully planned incubation phase,” she says. “We had just 10 people and basic IT and telephony infrastructure, and we grew only in response to demand that we would be able to sustain.” In the past two years SA Commercial Direct has grown to 75 seats with a fully integrated infrastructure, and plans are in place to grow to 250 seats.

Apart from managing its business carefully, SA Commercial Direct has also concentrated heavily on developing and managing each employee. “A high employee attrition rate can cost any new call centre business dearly,” says Keeble. “We ensured that we had a proper staff management and recruitment plan in place to keep our attrition rate low.  We were determined to do things differently, and I believe we’ve succeeded. Contact centre work can be extremely stressful and we emphasise not just product skills but also personal mastery and self-management.”

“Our true success is achieved through our people, each of whom plays a vital link in our value chain,” adds Keeble. “Our people’s passion, enthusiasm and commitment has created a rock-solid, high-performance culture.”

“SA Commercial Direct was one of five SMMEs that benefitted from our pilot capacity development programme,” says CallingtheCape CEO Sipho Zungu. “They are a good example of a start-up that has built a good business based on sound management and business principles.”

The company’s approach has won recognition in the rest of the industry, and SA Commercial Direct was a finalist in the category for best outsource contact centre in the 2008 CallingtheCape awards.

By early 2009, says Keeble, all her staff will be accredited in terms of the Financial Advisory and Intermediary Services Act, and the company will enter a new growth phase. “We have proved ourselves in the local market,” she says. “Right now we feel very positive about the BPO industry and believe there are still a lot of untapped opportunities. The challenge is finding partners who understand the industry and the value of outsourcing. “

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