Revenues, Jobs Up Sharply in German Call Center Boom

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WIESBADEN, Germany -- Driven by telecom demand for more support hotlines, the German call center industry expects to add another 40,000 jobs this year for a total of 225,000 individuals employed in 2,500 call centers, 250 of which are private companies.

These findings are part of a comprehensive survey of the industry carried out by DDV, the German DMA. More than two-thirds of those surveyed expect revenues this year to grow at least 10 percent, and 70 percent plan to hire new personnel.

The Internet is fueling German call center growth, said Bettina Hoefner, manager of new media at DDV.

"Most new Internet subscribers use call centers to register and look to them for help with installation and billing problems," she said. "The same is true of cellular phones. Here, nothing works without a hotline."

She noted that call centers in Germany go back to the '70s when the country's global mail-order houses like Otto Versand and Qelle began accepting telephone orders.

The second-generation call center came along in the mid-'90s through direct banking and increased call center use by businesses trying to optimize their operations. Then came telecoms and utilities.

Liberalization of the German energy market early last year made call center management a CEO problem.

"Once customers can change their power provider as easily as they do their baker, the quality of telephone customer service becomes crucial," Hoefner said.

Call center convergence is making some progress in Germany, she said. More than 60 percent of call center managers surveyed reported that they could handle e-mails. The number of e-mail queries that call centers receive doubles each month, she said.

But not all German companies have grasped the importance of e-mail communications. A test carried out by Markt & Daten Modalis, a management consulting firm, showed that 46 percent of 500 companies did not reply to e-mails.

"Consumers won't stand for that in the future, and that problem no longer exists among independent German call centers," she said. "They answer e-mails as readily as phone calls."

The industry's major problem is a lack of trained management and agent personnel. The survey found that the industry needs 4,000 call center managers right up to managing directors.

Germans do not have any unified educational standards for training call center personnel.

"A lot of managers grow into their jobs via learning by doing," Hoefner said.

She emphasized that management did not require business school or economics graduates, but that psychologists and educators are finding an important role.

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