Japanese industry needs US sophistication

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SEATTLE - MCI is about to finalize a partnership agreement with Nihon Unisys to provide "our call center services and consulting capabilities to the Japanese market," William Price III, GM of MCI's Call Center Services division, said.


"That would include everything from facilities, analysis, development, work force, management and technical assessment - that is helping customers figure out what software they need to manage centers more effectively."


Nihon Unisys is a 30-year old joint venture between Mitsui, Japan's largest trading company and biggest corporation in terms of revenue, and US-based Unisys.


"Unisys is a systems integration firm, with call centers one of the systems they manage," Price explained, "and they have asked us to be their partner in providing consulting to the Japanese market."


That market, he added, is "not that sophisticated. The Japanese are relatively new to the call center business and are anywhere from three to five years behind the US market in terms of practice.


"They may have bought all the latest equipment, but they're not really sure about how to use it in the best way. Many Japanese companies don't have what we would consider a call center.


"They have clusters of people making calls but not in a sophisticated call center environment, in terms of operating it as an efficient business.


"They don't assign teams to take calls or distinguish more important prospects from less important callers through call by call routing. Telemarketing is reasonably advanced but mostly in catalog sales, not in other disciplines like insurance and banking."


MCI plans to bring personnel to Japan to train the local workforce "in everything from how to set up call centers in the first place to how to create a more efficient environment."


MCI will send in training teams on a rotating basis but will not help Mitsui and its clients with outsourcing unless they ask for such services, because "outsourcing companies are in place in Japan."


They too need training, however, Price said, because they have not progressed far beyond taking subscriptions for satellite and cable TV. "They haven't done what we would call customer care and technical support."


Price sees Japan as a growing call center market despite the deep recession. "They need call centers and the know how to use them properly, that's why they're turning to us."


He noted that unemployment was high and that call centers were a traditional job growth sector, and that Japan was constantly trying to increase productivity through automation.


"I think all those conspire to increase the size and utility of call centers rather than having suboptimal units in the call business."


The call center industry, he noted is relatively less susceptible to economic cycles than other industries are "and I think that will happen in Japan."


The best markets for call centers in Japan are in financial services, the retail trade, direct marketing, travel and utilities. "They are evolving quickly in the use of call centers. They are vertical industries and are structurally most suited to their use."


Price, incidentally, is not alone in his assessment. Alton Martin, Executive VP of COPC, an international performance standard setting firm, said pretty much the same thing earlier this summer. (See DM News International, August 24, 1998, p. 16).
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