Saturday, September 11, 2010

The economy & mixed news for the UK Contact Centre Industry

It's a very strange contact centre & customer service industry in the UK at the moment.

On the one hand, there is real fear of a double dip recession and the impact of government cuts. You might not spot this immediately, as according to CCF magazine, HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs - the UK tax collection agency), is able to hire a massive number of new agents - despite the downturn and the state of the public finances. CCF reports that HMRC will be able to recruit up to 20% more agents to cope with the latest tax blunder. Now by my calculations, the HMRC agent numbers are in the region of 6,000 (or so), so this means perhaps 1,000+ temporary jobs. It also highlights the cost of poor CRM and contact centre technology. CCF cites a source as saying,

"A computer system, which the source said ‘still doesn’t work’ despite being on the fourth release, is also making it difficult for call centre workers to identify callers. “The initial identifier is in fact the employee number and not the National Insurance number, which causes all kinds of problems.”"

The caller identification problems are on top of being unable to answer calls, to the extent of not answering 40 million of them a year according to the BBC. This is partly from HMRC still being a user of TDM telephony in the call centres and so not having the call routing flexibility that IP and VoIP would bring.

Still despite HMRC being able to hire, the long term trend in government spending is clear. C&WW (Cable & Wireless Worldwide), one of the largest government telecoms suppliers issued a profit warning in July (reported by the Register here) based on the proposed cuts in public expenditure. The cuts are sufficient for the C&WW share price to have dropped by 20% as the market assessed how little government work there would be in the years ahead. Even if individual government agencies are temporarily allowed to increase their workforce, the long term direction of government spending seems clear.

Less clear, though, is the direction of consumer spending. Much better news than HMRC (though sadly on a smaller scale) is the news from the Aussie news site that the Australian company Flight Centre is to open two new UK contact centres and recruit 16 agents. New jobs are always good news and this is particularly good news as it suggest that the private sector is seeing signs of growth and for a sector like travel that has a large element of discretionary spending, this suggests increased consumer confidence.

It may be grim in the public sector, but it is not all doom & gloom outside....

1 comment:

reena said...

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