The Netherlands: Prime Choice for Pan-European Center

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For companies looking to locate a call center in Europe, The Netherlands lists the linguistic abilities of its population as one of its prime advantages.

According to figures provided by the Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency, 73 percent of the population speaks at least one foreign language, 44 percent speak two foreign languages and 12 percent speak three or more. An October, 1997, article in The Economist put multilingualism even higher, reporting that almost 80 percent of the population speak fluent English, 66 percent speak German and 25 percent speak French.

While exact wage comparisons were not available, basic labor costs for unspecialized agents are approximately 5 percent higher than other European countries such as Ireland and England, said Onno Ponfoort, New York regional director for the NFIA. However, salaries for managers and technical support personnel are comparable to other countries and bilingual skills are cheaper.

For companies looking for a location for a pan-European call center, the agency calculates that the multilingual background of the population would offset the price of higher wages. An average sampling of 100 agents in The Netherlands would potentially be able to field 129 foreign calls, whereas it would take 160 agents to field that many calls in any other country, according to the NFIA. One hundred percent of the call centers established in the Netherlands have a pan-European focus.

Sixty percent of call center agents have degrees from universities or higher level vocational schools, and the Dutch government has developed special training units to train agents and supervisors and provide information to job seekers.

Other than a ban on cold calling using only a computer voice, there are few restrictions on outbound business-to-business or business-to-consumer telemarketing calls. Cold calling by agents is permitted, except in cases where customers have indicated via subscription to the Telephone Preference Service list maintained by the Dutch direct marketing association or through a written request that they would not like to be contacted. The penalty for not honoring requests is a ban from membership in the Dutch direct marketing association. Also, transactions agreed to over the phone must be followed by a written confirmation and can be canceled within seven days.

In the way of incentives, call centers that only provide a service, and do not sell products, may be eligible for an "advanced tax ruling." This ruling allows companies to be taxed at the rate that they would pay a third-party outsourcer to handle their customer service. The ruling usually results in taxes that are cheaper and less complicated than a company's tax would be were the company assessed based on all the products and business it handles. In addition, because it is an advanced tax rate that is often applicable for a few years, the company can know and plan for its tax costs ahead of time. For call centers that have product development as part of their business, incentives on labor costs can sometimes be arranged.

For telecom services, the country boasts networks as advanced as anywhere in Europe. KPN NV (Royal Dutch Telecom) offers European communications services such as pan-European voice and data networks, international toll-free and universal international 800 numbers, equipment and software to complement a range of network services, and Internet and e-commerce solutions. KPN has competition from several other companies including GlobalOne and Telefort.

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