CAIRO: Xceed, a call center owned by Telecom Egypt, celebrated the achievement of a performance certification from the leading authority on call center operations this week, while a company official tells The Daily Star Egypt that the government will subsidize similar certification for other call centers.
The Customer Operations Performance Center (COPC) is based in New York and has granted its COPC-2000 certification to hundreds of call centers in 30 countries. Xceed, however, is the first call center in the Middle East, Africa and Southern Europe to receive this certification.
COPC was formed in 1995 by a group of companies that use third-party call center services, including American Express, Compaq, Dell, Intel, L.L. Bean, Microsoft, Motorola and Novell, to address the need for standards and performance measures specific to the industry. The center used the criteria of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which is conferred by the United States government, as a basis for its own quality and performance standards.
As a result, the COPC-2000 standards differ in two respects from the popular ISO 9000, an accreditation from the International Standards Organization that is based on a generic quality framework. First, COPC s standards are tailored extensively for the customer contact center industry. The standards are comprised of 34 items in the areas of leadership, planning, processes and people.
Specialists from COPC begin by carrying out an audit of the call center s functions and determining a score for each of the 34 items. From this, shortcomings in the call center s operations are identified and the specialists recommend remedial actions. Upon completion of these actions, a second audit is performed on which basis for the certification is granted. The second distinctive feature of the certification is therefore its requirement of certain minimum operating results.
The first audit occurred in May last year and the final audit was competed last December. It was amongst the fastest in the world, COPC Chairman and Co-Founder Cliff Moore tells The Daily Star Egypt. Typically, this process takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 to 18 months, and Xceed was actually able to accomplish it in eight months.
The biggest challenge for them was to accept COPC s evaluation as supporting input for the business rather than as a critique, according to Xceed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Adel Danish. This difficulty is common for projects which involve external consultants, where staff is anxious of changes imposed by outsiders.
The most substantial change that was implemented after the initial audit was related to the company s hiring process. Xceed currently has some 1,000 employees and is growing at a rate of 50 percent per year. Furthermore, its annual attrition rate is 12 percent and Danish cites a study by the Call Center Association of India, which found that the cost of attrition is 80 percent of each lost employee s salary for one year. The cost of attrition, explains Danish, is felt by Xceed because each new agent requires three to six weeks of training followed by another six months of work to reach full efficiency.
As a result of its growth and employee turnover, they will need to hire some 600 people this year, making effective hiring procedures even more critical for a business that relies on responsive and friendly agents who frequently deal with frustrated and hostile callers.
To improve its hiring process, COPC worked with them to design an objective method for screening potential employees. This was done by analyzing the background of agents who perform well and remain with the company for a long time. A number of characteristics, such as education and geographic location, are then determined and preference is given to individuals with matching characteristics in the screening process.
Moore explains that the COPC certification is an independent recognition of high levels of performance, and benefits Xceed because an increasing number of call center users require the qualification. Danish, however, adds that Xceed has not been excluded from any deal in the past due to the absence of certification, but hopes its accomplishment will help improve Egypt s standing in the global call center market.
Consulting firm A.T. Kearney currently ranks Egypt at 14 in its list of top offshore outsourcing destinations, with the number of certified call centers as one of its criteria in determining the ranking. To encourage others, Danish says that Xceed has proposed becoming COPC s representative in the region, although COPC is in the early stages of formulating its regional strategy and has not taken any decision on this. Minister of Communications and Information Technology Tarek Kamel has also agreed to subsidize 85 percent of the direct cost of COPC certification for other call centers, according to Danish.