Locating a call center in the north of England

Locating a call center in the north of England

Mulligan, Katrina

What are the key criteria when selecting a site for a new call center?

There are several issues to be addressed when evaluating the location of a new call center. Often at the top of the agenda are operating costs, the adeptness and loyalty of the local workforce, and the telecommunications infrastructure.

The North of England has a working population of 1.1 million people. The workforce is renowned across the globe for its flexibility, diligence and loyalty.

During the last few years, $166 million have been invested in the North of England’s telecommunications infrastructure. As a result, the Region now has one of the most advanced telecommunications networks in Europe. Mercury, BT and TeleWest are the three main state-of-the-art technology providers in the Region with highly competitive pricing. One of the most advanced telecommunications networks in Europe is currently installed throughout the North of England, offering reliable systems for voice and data communications. This network gives customers rapid and high-quality speech paths and allows for document transfer and the use of Electronic Data Interchange.

The U.K., and the North of England in particular, offers operating costs that are substantially lower than the average in the European Union and the USA.

MATRIXX Marketing International Inc., part of the U.S.-owned Cincinnati Bell, is a world leader in telephone marketing. It established a base in the North of England in 1993 and expanded its operation three years later. Paul Williams, marketing director of MATRIXX, said: “Newcastle has proved an ideal location for our operation and we have found no problems in recruiting a highly skilled and flexible workforce. Our expansion signifies our commitment to Newcastle and its conducive business environment.”

What labor force issues should be considered when selecting a site for a call center?

As call center operators become more demanding in their search for competent staff, training becomes an increasingly important topic. Many call centers now recruit staff with the capability to speak fluently in foreign languages. Northern Development Company, the regional development agency tasked with delivering continuous regional investment to the North of England and adding value to it, recently established a database of foreign language speakers in the Region. The aim of the initiative is to prove to call center operators considering relocating to the Region that the area has the required level of skills. The database already boasts in excess of 1,500 people, and a program of fluency testing has begun to provide a true measure of the Region’s language ability on a workplace scenario. Of the people tested so far, 70 percent expressed a desire to work in a multilingual call center. The Region’s five universities also provide a steady stream of foreign language graduates to complement an already highly skilled workforce. Recently, one of the Region’s universities – the University of Northumbria emerged in the top position in a survey on foreign languages teaching. Assessors working for the Higher Education Funding Council judged that 70 percent of the teaching at the University of Northumbria was of the highest quality, compared with just 43 percent at Oxford.

In addition, training for employees working in call centers is currently being coordinated in the North of England. A course has been developed by the City of Sunderland’s European and Economic Development Teams with the objective of providing people with general telephone customer care skills. The training is aimed at improving competitiveness of call centers already established in the Region and helping them to improve levels of customer service, lower operating costs and increase revenues. The training also means that future investors in the Region can be assured of a steady flow of trained staff for the foreseeable future.

Are there other qualities the workforce can bring?

The accent of the North of England recently emerged as one of the most popular accents with British people, according to research carried out for the mobile telephone network Cellnet. In the search for the nation’s favorite accent, “Geordie” – spoken by people in the North East of England – came in joint second.

What about real estate considerations?

Within Europe, the North of England can justifiably claim to have the most comprehensive availability of uncontaminated, serviced or serviceable large-scale development sites for companies seeking to invest in the Region.

A total of seven call centers have established a base at Doxford International Business Park at Sunderland, an area that enjoys teleport status. Teleports draw in electronic information, modify it and then redirect it to organizations throughout the U.K. and worldwide. These electronic ports have four main components – a communications hub, a global training center, an international teledemocracy center and a business start-up center. A developer is also being sought to construct an Earth Station which will enable companies based at Doxford to develop satellite links, making communications faster and providing the necessary hardware to develop an international service.

Sunderland’s Teleport, one of only two in the U.K. recognized by the World Teleport Association, is located at Doxford International.

Companies such as One 2 One, London Electricity and The Insurance Service are already benefiting from the telematics offered at Doxford.

Elsewhere, at Bracken Hill Business Park in East Durham, call center operators are being offered “glove fit” tailor-made packages. Operators can be involved in the design of their own call center to suit individual requirements. The area also benefits from Enterprise Zone status, which provides companies locating there with 100 percent tax allowances for capital expenditure on industrial and commercial buildings and exemption from business rates for the life of the zone.

What other business climate issues are of particular importance in choosing a call center site?

The growth of the North of England’s customer services sector has prompted London Electricity to establish the Region’s first Recovery Center to help local businesses ensure continuity of operations in the event of an emergency.

The 47,000-square-foot state-ofthe-art facility, the largest in the U.K., will provide cover for London Electricity’s customer operations center at Doxford International Business Park in Sunderland and will also be available for use by other local organizations whose business could be vulnerable in the event of flood, fire, terrorist bombings or other crises.

The office suites provided in the center are fully equipped to allow the rapid installation of PCs and other IT equipment. Operator desks, internal cabling systems, telephone lines, independent power supplies and other services are all in place, allowing the center to remain on permanent standby.

The heart of the new building is the Communications Room, which includes a patch racking system giving total flexibility in the supply of up to four voice or data lines to each individual desk. Among the services installed into the site are four ISDN30 circuits, providing 120 incoming lines, and six ISDN2 circuits for data recovery. The facility also possesses its own 900 extension telephone exchange.

Currently the facility permits the set up of more than 270 workstations within the first two to four hours of a crisis, with 500 workstations operational within 24 hours. The site is capable of further expansion, and at full capacity the Center could eventually provide more than 900 workstations if required.

The building has been designed to provide six independent office suites, each separately accessible by swipe-card entry and allowing a number of different companies to operate at the same time.

How do you effectively evaluate quality of life issues and how important are they in the final site decision?

The North of England offers a range of executive housing at prices substantially below the national average, short commuter times and a diverse range of cultural and leisure activities.

Equally important is the related issue of transport. The North of England is served by two international airports and a direct rapid rail link to London, facilitating visits to the company’s headquarters location.

Is the industry growing in the North of England?

There are some 32 call centers in the North of England employing more than 8,000 people. Companies already established include MATRIXX Marketing, One 2 One – a joint venture between Cable and Wireless and US WEST, Hutchison Telecom and British Airways.

Recently, the industry established a Call Center Forum to provide a representative voice for the industry in the North of England. The Forum will meet on a quarterly basis to discuss issues pertinent to the industry, such as training and employment. It will also set out to establish best practice across the sector.

Can an economic development organization help in a site search?

Northern Development Company can assist with finding the right site. NDC acts as a single point of contact for potential investors, ensuring confidentiality and coordination of a project.

Katrina Mulligan is a press officer for Northern Development Company, an agency committed to delivering continuous regional investment to the North of England and adding value to it.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Aug 1997

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