"A Swede Sales Opportunity"
"A Swede Sales Opportunity"
WHY YOUR NEXT CALL CENTER SHOULD BE IN SCANDINAVIA
By Erika Rasmusson
Convential wisdom on call centers has changed a lot over the years. A decade ago the thinking was that companies should open centers in every country in which they wanted to do business. But such an approach proved costly, so companies started consolidating their call center operations, trying to serve Europe with just a single location. That approach didn't work either. It saved money, but another problem emerged: finding enough multilingual workers in one area to effectively staff the center. These days, smart businesses interested in global sales are opening call centers organized into language regions, says Mark Smedley, the Stamford, Connecticut-based vice president of business development for the European Call Center Alliance (ECCA). "It allows you to keep costs under control, while being able to actively serve customers in their own language." he says.
Jointly launched in May by five different European investment agencies - in part because the growth rate for the European call center business is increasing between 30 percent and 40 percent annually. The ECCA offers free, one-stop shop assistance for companies interested in this regional approach. It directs companies to government agencies in regions where Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.
"Rather than going to five or ten different agencies a company could come directly to ECCA to uncover market information, labor resources, and government incentives for establishing in a certain region," Smedley says. "We're trying to make the process of expanding into Europe less daunting. American companies tend to go to the UK first because they speak English, then to Germany and France because of market size, and those are not always the right decisions to make."
In fact, in Scandinavia — and Sweden in particular — is becoming the call center location of choice for such leading edge companies as IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft. "If you are a high tech company and want to see next generation technologies the market to watch is Scandinavia."Smedley says.
What makes Sweden so attractive? For one thing, 96 percent of the working population speaks English, and its culture is quite similar to that of the United States. In addition, Scandinavians are tech- savvy, and as a group has one of the highest levels of disposable income in the world. And Sweden is considered a good stepping-stone to the Baltic region, which is in the process of Westernizing. "Those are compelling reasons to take a look at that market," Smedley says.
Sweden's recent call center growth (seats increased 57 percent from September 1998 to September 1999) proves that many companies concur with Smedley's statement. Jeffrey Joerres, president and CEO of Manpower Inc., a staffing services company in Milwaukee, is one of them. Manpower, which has been staffing call centers in Sweden for six years, opened its own 50-seat, trial call center in 1998. It now generates more than $15 million in sales for Manpower.
So in June the company opened a larger, 120-seat call center in Hiimosand, in northern Sweden. Joerres expects it to grow to 300 seats within three years. Already, it has nabbed a key client in Telia, Sweden's largest telecommunications company, as well as four other multinational companies.
"While countries such as Ireland and the Netherlands are good opportunities to open call centers, what we're seeing is that if you're in the market too late, you have trouble with labor sources" Joerres says, noting that Sweden has yet to pose that problem. Manpower's Swedish center is staffed by nationals who understand Swedish culture. Harnosand is outside of Swedens major metropolitan areas (where unemployment is lowest) and is near a college that has a new call center management program