Gateway Pulls Call Center Out of Dublin

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- Gateway moved its Scandinavian call center from Dublin to the Swedish capital last month because it has changed its means of distribution and because the Irish economy is overheating.


"The major reason was the dramatic shift in our distribution routes not only in Scandinavia but across all European markets, from phone/fax to local direct sales forces and store-based outlets," said Goeran Mannerstrale, president of Gateway Scandinavia.


"The fact that Dublin has become a little bit overheated was also a factor. Year by year it has become more difficult to recruit agents from Scandinavia and Central Europe to work in Ireland.


"A lot of the people we hired looked on a stay in Dublin as an adventure, a place where they could spend a year or two after college and then go back home to their real careers.


"That increased our personnel turnover and our costs, and while expenses for staff in Ireland are slightly lower than in other European countries, that advantage is almost gone when you factor in turnover costs.


"What we did in planning the move was rehire Swedes who had served the Swedish market from Dublin and moved back home to run the Stockholm call center. We also transferred a few from Ireland."


The Swedish facility has 30 agents but is already proving too small. Mannerstrale plans to move to a new center with room for some 60 agents before the year is out.


The Internet is an important Gateway sales tool, he added, but one that does not need much "manual intervention," since all customers need to do is enter the configuration they want, which is then processed in the company's manufacturing facility still located in Dublin.


Unlike many European countries, Sweden has no regulations restricting outbound telemarketing. Gateway plans to use all four Scandinavian languages, including Finnish, one of the most difficult in the world.


Gateway will continue to serve the rest of Europe from the Dublin call center, although it is considering a move of the technical support center into three different European regions. No decision has been made yet, however.


Mannerstrale said he did not think leaving Ireland was a trend for the many multinational companies that sited call centers there in the 1990s. "But it is a fact that Ireland has the highest inflation rate in the EU, close to double the average for other members," he said. "There is a shortage of labor, and the infrastructure is not designed and built for the economy they have today."


Economic success came so quickly over the last six or seven years that "they have some issues they must still deal with," Mannerstrale said. "Foreign investment in Ireland is still huge, but if inflation weren't so high, labor so tight and problems of infrastructure still unresolved, they would have gotten a lot of business that is now going to other European areas."


But the problems of multilingual call centers are not limited to Ireland, Mannerstrale stressed. Finding agents was probably easier when times were tougher in Europe and unemployment was a much bigger issue than it is today.


Much depends on the kind of call center a company operates, he said. "We need fairly qualified people able to meet high demands to man a sales call center," he said.
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