Holland Consolidate Call Centers to Master Industry Growth

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AMSTERDAM - The call center industry in the Netherlands is undergoing a major consolidation process that will leave 3-4 giants covering the market followed by a flock of small, specialized agencies focused on specific businesses.

SNT, the largest call center operation, recently completed a deal with Dutch PTT to integrate the utility's telephone operator service, giving SNT access to network voice and text services.

The joint venture has also allowed SNT to open up five regional call centers. One fruit of the collaboration: an $80 million contract with Sprint to do telebusiness services worldwide.

In a second merger-cooperation, Ruud Van Oostven, who chairs the call center section of DMSA, the Dutch direct marketing association, said, half a dozen agencies have gotten together under an umbrella name - Gigacall - to handle large campaigns members could not do individually.

Third, a group called Point Call Management has set up in the Hague, Van Oostven said. The new firm was established with funds supplied by GE Capital and is American-owned.

The fourth major Dutch player is Tesselaar, a firm that over the last year merged with Holland's largest market research firm Nipo and opened subsidiaries in Germany.

That lead to the opening of a call center with 400 seats in Luxembourg to handle sales and services for Mercedes Benz, and to conduct market research. The center reaches into Germany, France and the Benelux countries.

"Tesselaar is adding more value to its calling by integrating all kinds of fulfillment. This isn't just telemarketing any more but what we in Holland have begun to call telecommerce, an adaptation from e-commerce.

"What I see happening is that call centers are becoming so technology and capital intensive that you need a certain size and call volume to be profitable."

The alternative to consolidation, Van Ooostven said, was to stay small and specialized with "specialization becoming your competitive edge, something you can charge more for."

These agencies generally have 20 to 50 seats and specialize in financial services, debt collection, telecoms - in the wake of liberalization - and utilities which are due to be liberalized later this year.

The Netherlands has long been a leader in both domestic and international call centers with the Dutch government actively supporting the industry's growth, which currently employs 60,000 people.

One problem with continued growth is a growing shortage of trained call center personnel. "We have a shortage of supervisors and managers and we are working hard at training more people and improving our image.

"This is a profession drifting away from the old image of a low cost industry that employs housewives. It is already much more the domain of knowledge workers communicating through the telephone."

DMSA has sponsored telecommerce courses at ten leading Dutch universities that lead to certification, usually as an adjunct to a business administration degree.

The association has also forged an alliance with Purdue University in the US and the universities of Rotterdam and Hamburg for development of a European call center benchmark equal to the US model.

Cooperation with Purdue is close, Van Oostven said. Together with a number of Dutch DM firms DMSA created a foundation which awards four call center scholarship to the Indiana-based university - "the highest value scholarship in the Dutch educational system."

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