When you think of Egypt, you perhaps think of desert sunrises, pyramids, the Sphinx, the Nile River and museums. But call centers? Yes, with any luck, says the Egyptian government. Egypt believes itself to be ripe to pull call center and BPO business from India, as it’s not news to anyone who follows global call center outsourcing that India is approaching the saturation point for call center jobs.
According to the country’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technology (MCIT), Egypt offers a large pool of educated individuals eager for work (the unemployment rate in Egypt is as high as 10 percent) combined with low wages (though not quite as low as India) and a modern telecom infrastructure — essentially, the same factors that make India and the Philippines so attractive to companies seeking to outsource abroad.
According to the IMF, Egypt ranks 17th worldwide in the annual number of university graduates. And as an advantage over the Philippines, and, to a lesser extent, India, the country points out that its time zone is centrally located between North America, Europe and the Far East. (Egypt's time zone is 7 to 10 hours behind the continental U.S.). Finally…and this could be a good tipping point for Egypt over India…many Egyptian call center operators and their clients report that Egyptians speak English better and with less accent than the average Indian call center worker.
As proof of its commitment, the Egyptian government is currently offering a series of tax incentives to companies willing to offshore business to the country.
It appears to be working. Currently, a company called Xceed (www.xceedcc.com) is Egypt's largest outsource provider. Xceed, which has grown from 300 to 800 agents in less than two years and has a capacity of up to 1,200 seats, boasts customers such as Microsoft (News
), GM, Oracle (News
) and NetOne; additionally, it handles the business of the 8.3 million customers of Telecom Egypt, the largest telecommunications company in the Middle East. (Xceed is, in fact, a spin-off company from Telecom Egypt.)
An interesting anecdote about Xceed is that the company has a partnership with language training company Berlitz to screen potential call center agent applicants and score their language skills and accent. Only applicants with a score of 8 out of 10 or greater are offered a position at Xceed. Additionally, Xceed does not bestow on its agents fake Western names such as “Susan” and “Jim” in a thin attempt to veil the agent’s nationality and location. Informal surveys have indicated that this practice drives Western consumers particularly batty … they much prefer honesty on the topic.
According to industry analyst Datamonitor, the demand for Egyptian outsourced offshore call centers is expected to grow by 50 percent over the next three to four years. The analyst group also reported that Egypt could see its call center industry expand more than fourfold from 1,500 seats in 2005 to 7,000 by 2010, provided the rights buttons are pushed in terms of keeping the flow of university graduates available and keeping the tax incentives attractive for North American and European countries looking to outsource.
There are four other outsourced BPO/call center providers in Egypt: C3 (www.c3.com.eg); Raya (www.rayacontactcenter.com); Egyptian Contact Center Operator, or Ecco (www.call-ecco.com); and Tamima Teleseen (www.tamima.com.eg), a call center company which was born in response to the customer service demands of direct response television.
Datamonitor has stated that Egypt has a few hurdles to get over. First, the country's aspirations to be the next India are not being heard very loudly by the global business community, so it's vital that the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology and the outsourcing companies themselves get busy with some international marketing efforts. Marketing may also help overcome what Datamonitor refers to as the global "negative perception" of the country as a business location.
In any case, Egypt’s progress in the call center arena will be interesting to watch.
(The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)