India: The New Hot Destination

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There are many call center-related developments in India these days. That huge nation has one of the most highly educated labor forces, and a number of its tech-savvy companies are building bridges to the call center industries in the United States, Europe and other parts of South Asia.

Lately, FirstRing, an interactive call center and e-commerce customer care provider, implemented the first phase of Interactive Intelligence's communications software solution. The solution automatically routes calls between FirstRing's headquarters in Sterling, VA, and its customer support center in Bangalore, India. FirstRing selected Interactive Intelligence, Indianapolis, a developer of automated multichannel customer interaction software, because it offers a cost-effective, single-vendor contact center solution that simplifies deployment and support.

Interactive Intelligence claims in a release posted on its Web site that FirstRing expects the new solution to reduce costs by 50 percent for its e-commerce customers via optimal capacity utilization, access to up-to-date customer information, redundancy and security features and management information tools. FirstRing focuses on servicing Fortune 100 and 500 companies and supports five customers in the United States. The company will use the new solution to service calls originating in the United States with its professional and semiprofessional Indian call center representatives.

The tool allows calls to be automatically routed to the FirstRing site with the most appropriate resources. The solution also provides screen pops to FirstRing agents, giving them vital customer information simultaneously with the call. Predictive dialing features are expected to increase agent productivity, along with built-in features such as interactive voice response and fax-on-demand service.

Also, one of the major U.S. outsourcers, Sitel Corp., Baltimore, formed a 50/50 joint venture with Tata International, a part of Tata Group (India's largest group of companies), to be called Sitel India.

The new company will provide Web-enabled contact center services from India. The venture will provide technical support and customer care for English-speaking customers throughout the United States, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries. The first contact center will be located in New Mumbai, India.

Initially, Sitel India will provide customer care and technical support services using e-mail and Internet-based chat solutions. The venture will add telephone-based channels of communication by the first quarter of 2001. The services of the joint venture will be offered to clients of both Sitel and Tata.

"Together, Sitel and Tata plan to make the investment required to deliver world-class services from India, using state-of-the-art technology and operating practices," Sitel CEO Phil Clough said in a statement. "Through Sitel India our clients can accelerate their ability to access this wonderful labor market and reduce the risks associated with operating in an offshore environment. India has more than 300 million English-speaking inhabitants, a booming information technology industry, and a vast pool of skilled labor to draw upon. Operating in India also helps us provide these valuable [electronic customer relationship management] technical support services on a 24-hour per day basis. It is a win for everyone."

Also having an impact in India, NHancement Technologies, a provider of unified communications and unified information technologies, has implemented a worldwide intercontinental call center operation - the company's second - with Falah Information Technologies Ltd., an Internet call center business located in Bangalore.

NHancement has developed and will implement a complete communications application, which will enable the Indian call center to be fully operational within six months. Falah is building a 40,000-square-foot center to international standards that will service customers worldwide with technical help- desk support, in the heart of Bangalore, known as the Silicon Valley of India.

The NHancement application simplifies the call center transfers between a point of presence in the United States and that of the call center in India. The center will support 250 agents upon deployment. The solution is being implemented in conjunction with Interactive Intelligence.

The value of the contract to NHancement is $1.7 million and includes the installation of 250 agent terminals, ongoing training for supervisors and call center agents and ongoing outsourcing for business development. With NHancement's software, Falah will realize a rapid return on investment through a cost-efficient and time-saving application and will have the ability to route the call to an agent with the appropriate technical expertise to service the customer. A screen pop containing customer history for easy reference arrives along with the call.

Another example of call center-related development in India is Contact Center University (which is not really a university, but a training unit of Aspect Communications),which is licensing some of its course material and curriculum to a company that will train as many as 18,000 call center representatives, supervisors and managers. Many of those individuals will be in India.

Information Exchange India Ltd., the company doing the licensing, is a provider of e-knowledge services to corporations and institutions worldwide. It has signed on to be a CCU alliance partner and will offer CCU's course curriculum through training academies in Troy, MI, and major Indian cities.

IEIL has licensed the following courses from the standard CCU curriculum for instructor-led training delivery: Contact Center 101; Customer Service 101; The Business of Contact Centers; Understanding Contact Center Technology; Recruiting, Hiring and Training; Inbound Forecasting and Scheduling; and Performance Measurement and Management.

The CCU curriculum includes intensive coaching in staffing, performance management, equipment optimization, communication and customer service skills, problem-solving techniques, stress management, and people management and motivation.

India is developing one of the most robust technical infrastructures for call center operations in the world. Indian technologists and call center managers, Are confident that they are founding their new call center industry on advanced technology - moving swiftly to create Web/voice combo centers, for example. The nation also has the advantage of a highly educated, English-speaking, tech-savvy work force at a lower wage rate than in Europe or the United States.

• Keith Dawson is a technology writer and editor at Call Center News Service, New York.

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