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Glasgow makes a good call

The city is a hub that provides crucial information to customers of major organisations, says the Herald’s Maggie Stanfield

This article by Maggie Stanfield was published in The Business Herald on 12th March, 2013.

FROM universities to banks, mobile phone companies to pet food providers, customer care services operations have become vital. Indeed, virtually every enterprise has an associated group of people answering calls about their products and services.

The global body for professional accountants, ACCA, (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) provides contact services for its entire global operation in 170 countries from its Glasgow centre. Raymond Jack is Executive Director for Finance and Operations at ACCA. “Our team of between four and five hundred people work with both our members and our students,” he says. “Say a student in Shanghai wants to sit the next round of exams in June but isn’t sure if he is eligible or wants more information about the exam centre and dates. Our staff will be able to explain the criteria applicable in the student’s home country and to help him register correctly.

“Our staff need detailed knowledge of the ACCA Qualification and the exemptions available to prospective students holding a vast number of qualifications from around the world. This enables those answering calls and emails to provide first-hand information or be able to refer to a colleague for a rapid follow up.” Behind the frontline service lies a complex IT infrastructure that ACCA has developed with its partners.

The technology has to take into account the logistics of different exam locations and different nomenclature around the world. For computer-based examinations provision has to be made to make sure students can’t tap into answers or see what others are writing. The integrity of the process cannot be compromised. “Because we are constantly in close contact with the employers of finance professionals, we can help them to find the people they want in the right location,” adds Jack. “Ideally, we want to be the preferred provider for employers seeking to recruit accountancy students. 

We can provide a bespoke offering to that individual employer on the one hand and we make sure that the mechanisms for recruiting those students is through a global ACCA qualification that is recognised everywhere. “With a global membership of 154,000 and 432,000 students, ACCA is uniquely placed to recruit and train new students around the world. We have strong leadership around different subject areas, a wide range of resources at our disposal and we can draw on solutions for particular markets who may not have that global expertise.” Whether someone makes contact by email, text , on the desktop computer doesn’t matter.

An efficient call services provider such as ACCA operates right across the available platforms. “We need to be in the vanguard of technology,” says Jack. “We are spearheading that from here in Scotland, working with a range of partners. We are aspiring to offer exams and to mark digitally in locations around the globe, maintaining the exam integrity and security. “We already use British Council facilities a lot of locations, working with partners in digital mobile expertise who can provide the technology in the exam room. It’s a big challenge to deliver examinations across all those different locations and the different nomenclature while making sure that all of the quality control checks are applied.”

Why has ACCA selected to site its shared services centre in Glasgow? Historically, ACCA has always had a strong platform in Glasgow, especially when we saw rapid growth towards the end of the 1990s and into 2000,” says Jack. “We had the office space, a regularly available talent pool and this was the natural place to extend. “We have potential growth room here in order to fulfil our strategy. We don’t see either getting the right people or having the space as a problem in Glasgow. The strategy is, as an organisation, to go into markets that relate very closely to developing economies where there is a requirement – key growth

Africa, Russia and China where markets are at different stages of development.” The market is growing all the time. Last month saw 6000 employees at Webhelp UK learning they were now working for French group, Webhelp. In a deal worth £77 million, the acquisition brings clear advantages to both partners.

David Turner, who has been Chief Executive at Webhelp UK for five years, continues in post. “The acquisition brings us a whole new input,” he says. “There are a lot of synergies and potential for growth. Webhelp set out working online and added call centres later. We have a growing shared services market in the UK and we want a more global footprint while Webhelp has an exclusively French market that it would like to expand.”

 

When Turner joined Webhelp UK, he took a careful look at the offering. Convinced that it was time to move away from a commoditised offering to something far more extensive, he began to change the nature of the business. While clients like T-Mobile moved their customer services to the Philippines to save on costs, Turner thought differently.

“I was looking at how we could provide outstanding customer care and I found the clue in our Vodaphone account,” he says. “I put in time really looking at the analytics, finding out where the calls were coming from, what people were looking for, and bringing that information back to Vodafone.

The Customer Service Director said because we were engaging directly with customers, our people better understood their needs than the company did. “Scotland has always had a great reputation for call centre skills. Our people have moved on and become experienced advocates but the reputation hasn’t changed because the Scottish psyche has always been to have an honest, upfront conversation with the customer. All the research shows a high majority of customers regard the conversations they’ve had as being trustworthy and feel the people they talk to are prepared to go the extra mile to find a solution.” At the Customer Contact Association (CCA) in Glasgow, Chief Executive Anne Marie Forsyth, is well aware of the shift in call centre culture. 

She said: “There has been a lot going on and our outsourcing group is looking at growth and opportunities, especially in the public sector. “Our latest research shows there are around 90,000 people in Scotland employed in customer services centres, about 31,000 of them in the Glasgow area. A lot are outsourced while others, like Esure and Scottish Power, operate in-house. The culture has changed and providers are getting bigger so as to provide more. “Big operators like US-based Teleperformance, a worldwide leading provider of call centre operations, with 135,000 employees across 260 contact centres in 49 countries, are well aware that the business model has changed.”

This article by Maggie Stanfield was published in The Business Herald on 12th March, 2013.


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