Ireland Moves to Defend pan-European Call Center Lead

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STAMFORD, CT - Challenged on all sides by call center expansion across Europe, Ireland is moving swiftly to shore up its position as a leading pan-European call center hub for major US companies.

"Over the last year I have seen three major trends in the Irish call center market," Margaret Molloy, marketing vice-president for Telecom Ireland in the US, said.

"First, I expect other companies to follow IBM's lead in setting up facilities in Ireland to handle overflow calls from the US."

Last year IBM integrated its Dublin call center operation with those in Raleigh, NC and Toronto with calls flipped to the facility best able to handle the flow.

"Another development I have noticed is the interest in call center incubation sites that Telecom Ireland has established to allow companies to set up their own centers at low risk and low cost.

"If a company wants a predetermined number of seats we will provide links, toll free numbers and whatever else they need to serve their European customers.

"This service is becoming more popular with smaller companies who never thought a European call center was a viable option. But we are competitively priced and allow them to test Ireland as a base and to get started in Europe."

Finally, Molloy said, US firms are beginning to look at Ireland as an overseas Internet center. "We see a good potential for Irish handling of US originated e-mail."

The idea would be to establish "Internet mirror sites" in Ireland, "centers that are European versions of their US Websites." Molloy sees this development as an adjunct to existing Irish call centers.

Ireland has attracted some 60 pan-European stand alone call centers for companies like Gateway 200 and American Airlines, as well as about eight service bureaus, six of them US, that handle pan-European outsourced services.

Molloy expects more to come. Late last year Sitel bought TMS, an indigenous Irish bureau and the Merchants Group, one of the largest UK call centers has announced that it plans to open a large Irish call center.

The Irish claim that they have 30 percent of mobile US call center investment in Europe, although Molloy conceded that the figure may depend on how call centers are defined.

She looks for "good growth" this year as well and claimed that an undisclosed number of "very big players" are thinking about expanding facilities in Ireland or opening up new ones.

Asked about the challenge from other nations that Ireland is running out of multi-lingual personnel and has to advertise for people in countries like Germany, Molloy readily conceded placing "blind ads."

"There is a large body of Irish people in places like Germany who would be happy to come home if they had jobs."

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