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Call centres in the Cloud
Outsourcing giant Adecco and NTT East are developing a cloud-based call centre application that allows housewives and retirees to work from home as call centre operators. Adecco estimates that using this system they will be able to sign up around 1,000 remote employees over 3 years.
This is just part of the ongoing efforts by call centres in Japan to reduce costs. The business in Japan is significant. According to JETRO, the Japanese call centre and related business sectors were worth ￥312B (about US$250B) in 2004 and considerably more by now so whoever gets it right stands to make significant money.
Realizing you can get telephone assistance in English for 30% of the cost by moving facilities to India, China or the Philippines, companies have tried to find a way to make offshore Japanese language call centres work. The issue however is that Japanese customers want to hear a Japanese on the other end of the line. Added to this, Japan is still a face-to-face culture and phone solicitations are not well regarded, so having someone who is not Japanese just raises a consumerís concerns.
So if off-shoring is going to be successful, it needs to be with Japanese operators. In the last decade a number of companies have tried to get Japanese call centre personnel to move to Dalian, China arguing that the city is Japanese friendly and that Japanese-speaking Chinese employees can assist with paperwork so that the Japanese employees can operate efficiently.
Several companies have said that they are succeeding in this area but then have gone and set up parallel call centres back in Japan indicating that things are not going as planned.
Instead, most of the work in Dalian appears to be data entry and other non-spoken Business Process Outsourcing.
So whatís needed is a location off-shore where Japanese want to live and work for lower salary. If such a place exists, it is likely that Japanese will already be in the location for reasons such as education, family or retirement. An example is that IBM some years ago set up in Brisbane, Australia with the aim of attracting some of the more than 10,000 a year working holiday makers from Japan. This however seems to have proved unsuccessful for travelers were more focused on a good time than diligent work. A similar situation is currently occurring in call centres in Okinawa now where young, mainland Japanese gravitate for the surfing life style.
So if the plan of employing young adults is not succeeding, other groups who can communicate more maturely may be the answer. This is where Adecco and NTT Eastís cloud computing fits in. Their primary target is housewives who are under employed in the current tight economic climate. As there is no physical office overhead, this could generate substantial savings for call centre companies.
Perhaps the biggest barrier to this is if housewives want to work core daily hours while most outbound calling happens after hours. The solution is "cloud-sourcing" after hour operators from the nearly one million Japanese who live abroad. Here the call centre companies can take advantage of time zone differences and offer work to Japanese housewives and retirees in places like London or Los Angeles. In addition, these locations have good infrastructure and could support a cloud-based approach to calling.