Glas­gow makes a good call

The city is a hub that pro­vides cru­cial in­for­ma­tion to cus­tomers of ma­jor or­gan­i­sa­tions, says Mag­gie Stan­field

The Herald Business - - Commercial Brief -

FROM univer­si­ties to banks, mo­bile phone com­pa­nies to pet food providers, cus­tomer care ser­vices op­er­a­tions have be­come vi­tal. In­deed, vir­tu­ally ev­ery en­ter­prise has an as­so­ci­ated group of peo­ple an­swer­ing calls about their prod­ucts and ser­vices.

The global body for pro­fes­sional ac­coun­tants, ACCA, (the As­so­ciat i on of Char­tered Cer­ti­fied Ac­coun­tants) pro­vides con­tact ser­vices for its en­tire global op­er­a­tion in 170 coun­tries from its Glas­gow cen­tre.

Ray­mond Jack is Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor for Fi­nance and Op­er­a­tions at ACCA.

“Our team of be­tween four and five hun­dred peo­ple work with both our mem­bers and our stu­dents,” he says. “Say a stu­dent in Shang­hai wants to sit the next round of ex­ams in June but isn’t sure if he is el­i­gi­ble or wants more in­for­ma­tion about the exam cen­tre and dates. Our staff will be able to ex­plain the cri­te­ria ap­pli­ca­ble in the stu­dent’s home coun­try and to help him reg­is­ter cor­rectly.

“Our staff need de­tailed knowl­edge of the ACCA Qual­i­fi­ca­tion and the ex­emp­tions avail­able to prospec­tive stu­dents hold­ing a vast num­ber of qual­i­fi­ca­tions from around the world. This en­ables those an­swer­ing calls and emails to pro­vide first-hand in­for­ma­tion or be able to re­fer to a col­league for a rapid fol­low up.”

Be­hind the front­line ser­vice lies a com­plex IT in­fra­struc­ture that ACCA has devel­oped with its part- ners. The tech­nol­ogy has to take into ac­count the lo­gis­tics of dif­fer­ent exam lo­ca­tions and dif­fer­ent nomen­cla­ture around the world. For com­puter-based ex­am­i­na­tions pro­vi­sion has to be made to make sure stu­dents can’t tap into an­swers or see what oth­ers are writ­ing. The in­tegrity of the process can­not be com­pro­mised.

“Be­cause we are con­stantly in close con­tact with the em­ploy­ers of fi­nance pro­fes­sion­als, we can help them to find the peo­ple they want in the right lo­ca­tion,” adds Jack. “Ide­ally, we want to be the pre­ferred provider for em­ploy­ers seek­ing to re­cruit ac­coun­tancy stu­dents. We can pro­vide a be­spoke of­fer­ing to that in­di­vid­ual em­ployer on the one hand and we make sure that the mech­a­nisms for re­cruit­ing those stu­dents is through a global ACCA qual­i­fi­ca­tion that is recog­nised ev­ery­where.

“With a global mem­ber­ship of 154,000 and 432,000 stu­dents, ACCA is uniquely placed to re­cruit and train new stu­dents around the world. We have strong lead­er­ship around dif­fer­ent sub­ject ar­eas, a wide range of re­sources at our dis­posal and we can draw on so­lu­tions for par­tic­u­lar mar­kets who may not have that global ex­per­tise.”

Whether s ome­one makes con­tact by email, text, on the phone, a tablet or we­bchat on a desk­top com­puter doesn’t mat­ter. An ef­fi­cient call ser­vices provider such as ACCA op­er­ates right across the avail­able plat­forms.

“We need to be in the van­guard of tech­nol­ogy,” says Jack. “We are spear­head­ing that from here in Scot­land, work­ing with a range of part­ners. We are as­pir­ing to of­fer ex­ams and to mark dig­i­tally in lo­ca­tions around the globe, main­tain­ing the exam in­tegrity and se­cu­rity.

“We al­ready use Bri­tish Coun­cil fa­cil­i­ties in a lot of lo­ca­tions, work­ing with part­ners in dig­i­tal mo­bile ex­per­tise who can pro­vide the tech­nol­ogy in the exam room. It’s a big chal­lenge to de­liver ex­am­i­na­tions across all those dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions and the dif­fer­ent nomen­cla­ture while mak­ing sure that all of the qual­ity con­trol checks are ap­plied.”

Why has ACCA se­lected to site its shared ser­vices cen­tre in Glas­gow? “His­tor­i­cally, ACCA has al­ways had a strong plat­form in Glas­gow, es­pe­cially when we saw rapid growth to­wards the end of the 1990s and into 2000,” says Jack. “We had the of­fice space, a reg­u­larly avail­able tal­ent pool and this was the nat­u­ral place to ex­tend.

“We have po­ten­tial growth room here in or­der to ful­fil our strat­egy. We don’t see ei­ther get­ting the right peo­ple or hav­ing the space as a prob­lem in Glas­gow. The strat­egy is, as an or­gan­i­sa­tion, to go into mar­kets that re­late very closely to de­vel­op­ing economies where there is a re­quire­ment – key-growth ar­eas like Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, Rus­sia and China where mar­kets are at dif­fer­ent stages of devel­op­ment.”

The mar­ket is grow­ing all the time. Last month saw 6000 em­ploy­ees at HEROtsc learn­ing they were now work­ing for French group, Web­help. In a deal worth £77 mil­lion, the ac­qui­si­tion brings clear ad­van­tages to both part­ners.

David Turner, who has been Chief Ex­ec­u­tive at HEROtsc for five years, con­tin­ues in post.

“The ac­qui­si­tion brings us a whole new in­put,” he says. “There are a lot of syn­er­gies and po­ten­tial for growth. Web­help set out work­ing on­line and added call cen­tres later. We have a grow­ing shared ser­vices mar­ket in the UK and we want a more global foot­print while Web­help has an ex­clu­sively French mar­ket that it would like to ex­pand.”

When Turner joined HEROtsc, he took a care­ful look at the of­fer­ing. Con­vinced that it was time to move away from a com­modi­tised of­fer­ing to some­thing far more ex­ten­sive, he be­gan to change the na­ture of the busi­ness. While clients like T-mo­bile moved their cus­tomer ser­vices to the Philip­pines to save on costs, Turner thought dif­fer­ently.

“I was look­ing at how we could pro­vide out­stand­ing cus­tomer care and I found the clue in our Vo­da­phone ac­count,” he says. “I put in time really look­ing at the an­a­lyt­ics, find­ing out where the calls were coming from, what peo­ple were look­ing for, and bring­ing that in­for­ma­tion back to Vo­da­phone. The Cus­tomer Ser­vice Di­rec­tor said be­cause we were deal­ing face-to-face with cus­tomers, our staff bet­ter un­der­stood their needs than the com­pany did.

“Scot­land has al­ways had a great rep­u­ta­tion for call cen­tre peo­ple. Our peo­ple have moved on and be­come ex­pe­ri­enced ad­vo­cates but the rep­u­ta­tion hasn’t changed be­cause the Scot­tish psy­che has al­ways been to have an hon­est, up­front con­ver­sa­tion with the cus­tomer. All the re­search shows a high ma­jor­ity of cus­tomers re­gard the con­ver­sa­tions they’ve had as be­ing trust­wor­thy and feel the peo­ple they talk to are pre­pared to go the ex­tra mile to find a so­lu­tion.”

At the Cus­tomer Con­tact As­so­ci­a­tion (CCA) in Glas­gow, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Anne Marie Forsyth, is well aware of the shift in call cen­tre cul­ture. She said: “There has been a lot go­ing on and our out­sourc­ing group is look­ing at growth and op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially in the pub­lic sec­tor.

“Our lat­est re­search shows there are around 90,000 peo­ple in Scot­land em­ployed in cus­tomer ser­vices cen­tres, about 31,000 of them in the Glas­gow area. A lot are out­sourced while oth­ers, like Esure and Scot­tish Power, op­er­ate in-house. The cul­ture has changed and providers are get­ting big­ger so as to pro­vide more.

“Big op­er­a­tors like US-based Teleper­for­mance, a world­wide lead­ing provider of call cen­tre op­er­a­tions, with 135,000 em­ploy­ees across 260 con­tact cen­tres in 49 coun­tries, are well aware that the busi­ness model has changed.”

Glas­gow has devel­oped as a sig­nif­i­cant shared ser­vices cen­tre for large com­pa­nies that in­clude BT, right

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