15 May 2008
Oil multinational Royal Dutch Shell has opened a global call centre in Cape Town, which will be used to service the company’s customers in Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, with centre operators conversing with their clients in Flemish and Dutch.
Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was present at the call centre establishment, which is in part a result of the government’s efforts to boost business process outsourcing (BPO) – seen as on of the way in which the country can increase employment and economic growth.
The call centre will harness the Afrikaans language medium largely spoken in the Western Cape province, with Shell training speakers to converse in Flemish and Dutch over several weeks, allowing the Cape Town-based staffers to converse with customers in these countries in their own language.
By establishing the call centre in Cape Town, Mlambo-Ngcuka said that Shell demonstrated its confidence in South Africa’s ability to offer a balance between high-quality and low costs in the BPO sector.
In addition, she said that state-owned Broadband Infraco would lay a new fibre optic cable along Africa’s west coast from Cape Town to the UK, ensuring cheaper and more widely available bandwidth and cheaper international phone calls.
Favourable language, time zone
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 the sector, Mlambo-Ngcuka explained.
Other factors that placed South Africa favourably in comparison with other call centre destinations like India and the Philippines was the time zone, which was more or less the same as that of Europe, she added.
Shell pointed out that this time zone synergy allowed staffers to work day shifts, which would lead to cheaper costs, as employees did not have to be compensated for working night shifts in order to cope with time zone differentials.
Shared growth and job creation
The centre has so far created 145 jobs in the city, with 300 new jobs envisaged by the end of 2010, Shell said at the centre’s official opening.
Shell global customer services vice president Sally Cranshaw said that critical mass and economies of scale allowed the company to make successful operations of its global call centres, the first of which was opened in the Philippine capital Manila two years ago.
Speaking on the benefits of call centres to South Africa, 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.
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.
“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.