The South African Call Centre Industry in the 21st Century.

The South African Call Centre Industry in the 21st Century.


 Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen  //////  Allow me to correct that!

 A few weeks ago /// shortly before addressing a recent conference being held in Cape Town /// The conference organiser drew me aside and quietly pointed out that certain changes had taken place in that part of the world /// and as a consequence /// I was requested to alter my normal opening salutation. //// It was pointed to me out that Cape Town is /// in fact ///  the birthplace of our new South African Constitution //// the one that we are so very proud of …  You know /// the one with all the embedded Rights ////  but precious few corresponding Responsibilities /////   

Secondly //// I was reminded that the fair city of Cape Town has ////  how shall I put it ? 

///  Adopted certain more progressive and liberal ways! So //// with any further ado.. ////    Good Evening  Ladies, Gentlemen ///  And all those undecided on the issue of gender !


 It is my great privilege to be able to share with you this evening ///  and hopefully /// to win your support /// on essentially six critically important key issues regarding the South African call centre industry.

 Firstly //// We will take a brief look at our industry metrics – For example: just how big is the South African industry? /// How many call centres are there ? /// How many workstations ?? /// How many people are employed?

 Secondly ////  Let’s take a look at how the South African call centre industry compares with other countries’ and regions.

 Thirdly /// We have some really exciting industry growth projections.

 The fourth  dimension  poses the question : Can South Africa attract large-scale call centre business from Europe and North American operators?

 And /// can South Africa realistically achieve the much talked-about target of 100,000 new call centre jobs within the next 3 to 5 years ?

 And finally I will close with what I consider to be the key dependencies that will be  required for the South African call centre industry to achieve its potential greatness.


Size //// as any avid reader of Cosmopolitan , Fair Lady and even You or Huisgenoot will tell you ////  IS important. But //// the other old adage is  equally true /////  What really counts is what you do with it.   ////  I am /// of course /// referring to call centres and contact centres.

Well //// just how big is the South African call centre industry? 

A recently completed formal study sponsored by Trade & Investment South Africa /// TISA /// confirms that there are at least 410 formal, ACD-based call centres in South Africa having at least 20 agent positions. //// In addition, there are /// we believe /// literally several thousand micro call centres ///  small telebusiness operations and helpdesks.

But it is these 410 call centres that account for marginally short of 48,000 agent positions or workstations //// and  /// taking shifts and multiple agents into account /// the study concludes that we already employ in the region of eighty thousand call centre agents.   

Based on responsible assumptions concerning management // administrative // back office and support staff /// We can be immensely proud /// Ladies and Gentlemen  /// of the fact that today /// The South African call centre industry provides secure and sustainable employment to well  over 100,000 individuals. /// And, to all intents and purposes, this has been achieved in less than a decade.


Based on size alone /// Just how does the South African call centre industry compare with other major European call centre hubs ?

Here’s an astounding fact // According to the credible TISA-sponsored research ////  the South African call centre industry is  more than two and a half times the size of the call centre industry in The Republic of Ireland.

And there’s more /////   We have nearly twice as many call centres as both Northern Ireland and The Republic of Ireland combined /////  And Ireland has long been cited as THE  call centre capital of the world.  /// Our industry is also comparable in size with that of The Netherlands.

And here’s yet another startling  fact /// ladies and gentlemen ///  Were South Africa a member of the European Union /// we would have the FIFTH largest installed base of call centres of the fifteen member states.  

Bottom line //// In terms of both size and capability /// the South African call centre industry can justifiably stand proudl /// shoulder to shoulder /// with virtually any European call centre nation or region.//// The South African  industry has truly arrived in the international arena. /// And we are ready /// willing ///  eminently able //  and poised // to take on the best of the best. 

And what about growth ?

From our existing base of roughly 50,000 agent positions, formal research indicates that the SA call centre industry can be expected to achieve at least a 14% per annum compound ORGANIC growth over the next few years.  

This extrapolates to marginally short of 100,000 new agent positions or workstations within five years. ////  Taking the average of one point six agents per workstation /// we can conservatively look forward to employing  roughly 150,000 agents and a further 50,000 management, back office and support personnel by 2007. ////

 That’s 200,000 jobs /// ladies and gentlemen /// 200,000 jobs.

 But what if South African successfully attracts major call centre operations from European and other international markets? ////  Can we create AN ADDITIONAL 100,000 jobs ?

 Ladies and Gentlemen /// there is compelling evidence to support  the premise that today , the South African call centre industry is ready and able to take itself to the burgeoning world marketplace //// to bring back vast foreign investment and in so doing /// stimulate the creation of potentially a further 100,000 jobs.   ///

YES  …. I do believe that it can be done!

 Is this a pipe-dream ?  ////

Not long ago there were many who thought so ///  But the converse realities are starting to manifest /// Many major European and North American call centre operators are turning their eyes to South Africa ///  they are impressed with what they see. // Not only in respect of what our industry is capable of delivering in terms of world-class, quality services but also /// in terms of the pure and fairly obvious economics  ///

 We do, indeed, have virtually all the prerequisites to take our rightful place as the preferred location for international call centre and CRM support services.

 This is exceptionally good news for our industry. // It’s good news for our technology vendors and for our systems integrators. // It is certainly good news for all those involved in all facets of staff selection, recruitment, training and placement. // It is also good news for all manner of support service and infrastructure providers. ///

 It is unquestionably good news for South African call centre agents, supervisors and managers /// all of whom are at the right time and in the right place to become part of South Africa’s entry into the international call centre arena. ///

 And /// who knows /// to build international careers /// Earning Dollars /// And Pounds // And Euros ….

 And above all /// Ladies and Gentlemen // It is good news for South Africa /// For our economy and for those who will find long-term and well-paid jobs and sustainable careers in our ranks.


 But its NOT all necessarily good news …… There are a number of very real challenges ///  Indeed /// there are some loudly-sounding alarm bells too !

 Like all dreams of any consequence /// The realization of the dream of a mighty South African call centre industry taking on the best of the best in the world /// is totally reliant on at least six  interrelated KEY DEPENDENCIES.

 Number One: Our industry will require National, Provincial and Local Government recognition, commitment and the provision of tangible support. ///

 Particularly in the context of attracting international business,  subsidies and incentives comparable to those offered elsewhere in the world MUST comprise a key element of our offerings.

 Dependency Number Two:  If we are to grow and to sustain the growth of our industry and our people // I believe that it will require the deployment of co-ordinated international and local marketing and communication efforts ///

 On the one hand /// these efforts need to be focussed on attracting large-scale inward investment /// On the other hand /// locally, we need to  enhance the corporate and the public image of the call centre industry /// The later to ensure that we attract sufficient CAREER-orientated staff and management necessary to support growth. /// 

 Let’s never forget //// enthusiastic and well-trained labour is the very life-blood of our industry.

 In this context our industry calls upon the DTI and TISA and other government agencies //// as well as the private sector  - the vendors and the service providers that will directly benefit // to work synergistically to achieve these goals.

 Key Dependency Three: There are many of us who  believe that  it is imperative that the various South African call centre representative bodies and trade and professional associations  create the mechanisms to work together to achieve consensus-driven goals and objectives.

To this end // much has already been achieved. /// A great deal of credit must certainly go to The Services SETA for that organisation’s relentless efforts to catalyse the synergies of the various call centre associations and bodies by facilitating workshops and meetings that have already given rise to the formation of The South African Call Centre Council. ////

 These initiatives will certainly go a long way towards supporting the credibility of our industry in international circles.

 Dependency Four –To be competitive as a global player /// our industry will have to constantly strive to develop and maintain internationally recognised call centre management and operational standards.  ////  To this end, the CCNG must certainly be recognised and congratulated for its on-going efforts /// and for its successes. /// Tonight’s event is just one of those successes.

 In many respects the call centre competencies and standards that have already been developed here in South Africa are on a par with and have been benchmarked against  best practices and UK and European Union call  centre standards. /// But we still have a long, long way to go /// particularly when it comes to the competencies and standards required at senior levels of call centre management.

 We also need to be aware of the demanding standards of many of the international operators looking to South Africa //// In particular // the Americans!

 Dependency Five:  Notwithstanding the impending de-regulation of telecommunications – for South Africa to compete for international call centre and CRM support business // all of our carriers – fixed line – satellite and cellular – will need to co-operate with the industry to ensure that South Africa can be rightly seen to not only be in a position to provide true world class services /// but to do so within the parameters of highly competitive international tariffs.

 Finally – Dependency Number Six:  To grow and sustain a profitable and rewarding industry for all stakeholders /// what will unquestionably be required is a cohesive recruitment, training, placement and on-going skills development programme and the mechanisms and organisational structures to support these vital initiatives /// and concurrently /// to ensure that growth and job creation is in line with our national demographic profile.

 Here again, the Services Seta has started playing a critically important role. //// Already , Seta-funded learnership programmes are creating not only new job opportunities but also, much-needed skills enhancement training opportunities.


 Indeed ////  our South African call centre industry has come a long, long way in the past decade /// It has grown in leaps and bounds /// and // I believe /// with a passion  /// that it will continue to grow ///  and in so doing /// it will create benefits and advantages for our country /// and for the peoples of this truly blessed country of ours.

 We will succeed in our quest to achieve call centre greatness  //// because // we ///are // South Africans !   

 Thank you for your kind attention. /// 

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