Merchants, a Dimension Data company with over 30 years of experience in contact centres, set up the new customer care centre to complement the growth of Asda’s home shopping service. The story of Asda’s Cape Town contact centre does, however, provide a unique insight into the reasons for South Africa’s success in the BPO market.

The first point of interest is cultural affinity and accent. When Asda – now South Africa’s longest operating BPO client, having been in the country since 2004 – replaced its highly successful Milton Keynes operation with a Cape Town office in a phased project, it was clear to Asda management that the success of their entire Home Shopping service would be made or broken by the warmth and professionalism of the welcome that callers received on the line. An accent that took effort to understand would mean the repetition of orders, a high margin of error for the taking down of customer details, and general frustration. This would have been fatal from a customer care point of view, and yet it has been a far from rare experience for BPO operators in India, where the ‘English’ that almost any prestigious or international-oriented job requires usually means Indian English in practice. Indian English is a vibrant and powerful means of expression, but it is far from instantly intelligible to a harried mother of three calling from the Yorkshire Dales about an Asda home delivery of groceries. When that same customer calls a Cape Town BPO operation, she and her Asda contact centre employee are in the same time zone, in a broadly comparable cultural context, and understanding each other – first time.

Asda have been particularly cautious about outsourcing and BPO in the wake of a long list of scandals involving the misuse of confidential financial information at BPO operations in India. Only the latest of these was a complicated $45million ATM heist featuring banks in the US and UAE.

For this reason, a stable and friendly regulatory environment – such as South Africa’s – was paramount in the minds of Asda management. The move to Cape Town was accomplished in stages. The first phase of the migration was completed, with 65 agents in place in Cape Town, while a base of 10 colleagues remained in Milton Keynes. The second phase of the migration increased the size of the colleague base in Cape Town to 100, with Cape Town taking full responsibility for service delivery. Within two years, the Cape Town operation had expanded to include a number of additional services with the addition of an entirely new contact centre operation delivering customer services for ASDA Direct . The staff complement is now close to 400 colleagues, with an aim of 680 by end-2013.

The contact centre played a critical role in ensuring ASDA‟s brand qualities were reflected across all the customer service channels. ASDA were very much involved in the entire recruitment process of the customer service agents and their induction included a mixture of one-on-one training in a classroom environment as well as online support and practical training on the operational floor.

The launch of the centre was attended by various dignitaries including the Premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille. “The BPO industry provides a great career path with job opportunities at various levels, especially for the youth of our province,” said Zille. “Through this and other investments, Cape Town has firmly established itself as the international BPO destination of choice,” she added.

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