Opening a Call Centre in Canada…Eh?

If all I need is English speaking reps, why get a warm parka and go north? I could hear English in Florida.

Someone from New York once told me that people in New York City and Canada were almost the same. He continued that the only difference was that people in Canada talked backwards. For example, in New York it is customary to greet someone by saying “Hey, how you doin?” (heavy New York accent included). Whereas in Canada, the greeting goes like this, “How are you doing, Eh?”

There are a few other strange things that are slightly backwards, like how they spell center (centre) and checks (cheques). When considering need versus desire in opening an international call center in Canada, one must look past the regional idiosyncrasies and find a location based on good business sense.

We recently needed to open a new call center for monitoring, and considered several locations within the United States, but finally settled in New Brunswick, Canada. In our particular situation location across the border was by choice rather than need. The need for multilingual labor or a need to service clients within geographic proximity usually determines choice versus need, which was not an issue for our business. The natural first step in the process is to assess the big three components which apply to any location in the world: availability, quality and cost of labor; real estate; and telephony/technology.

The next major components to consider and research for an international call center are: language availability; government support; cross-border commerce issues such as banking, exchange rates and taxes; and accessibility from the home office.

In assessing your overall strategy and need for a call center, look at your business and identify the most important components you are looking to satisfy.

When faced with the thought of dealing with the laws, finance and mentality of another country, Kansas and Wyoming start to look pretty appealing. However, if you look at the business model that the New Brunswick local telco, NBTel, and the government present, it solves many of the problems you may face in finding a suitable location in the United States.

NBTel has developed one of the highest quality telecommunications infrastructures in the world. They did digital before digital was cool. They formed a unique partnership with the government of New Brunswick to attract high quality call centers to the region. In the process, NBTel designed a turnkey process to assist in the location and opening of call centers in New Brunswick and provide solutions to keep initial investment in technology to a minimum. The telephony solutions that have been created will help your business technology stay “evergreen.” You won't have to constantly upgrade software and equipment, since the phone company will do that at a very reasonable cost.

The government role in the equation is typical of any government in the United States, except in Canada resources are dedicated to the call center industry specifically. This helps to put together the best economic package possible in a minimal amount of time. The economic assistance equation and process is comparable to any other government program: if a business creates jobs, there is economic assistance available. If a business creates jobs in an area that desperately needs jobs, there is usually more assistance available.

Choosing a location that maximizes access to economic assistance usually adds one more challenge – these locations are often more remote. Compromises can be found in areas near the U.S. border. The advantage to this type of location is you can fly into a U.S. airport and drive across the border to Canada, in just under an hour. Crossing the border takes less time than trying to get out of the parking deck at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

After choosing a location, the next step is to find appropriate real estate. NBTel provides assistance in identifying the space to meet a company's needs. Plenty of choices are available at very affordable rates, and that includes space that requires minimal build out to reduce start up time.

The next obstacles unique to locating across the border are the issues of international commerce, exchange rates and taxes. These issues can give you night sweats if all of your clients' are in the United States and therefore all your revenue is in U.S. dollars. However, it can turn out to be the biggest advantage, because the present exchange rates are extremely favorable for American businesses. Our dollar goes a lot farther because of the exchange rate, enabling us to pay top dollar for Canadian labor.

Duplication of business services can also be a challenge as companies cross the border. It's hard enough keeping up with one law firm, accounting firm, payroll service and bank. Nonetheless, you'll find you have to create it all again. You will also have to create a new corporation in Canada, although that takes as little effort as in the United States. Overall, the commerce issues are relatively easy to deal with can be truly worthwhile.

In the final analysis, the call center business is a pure service business and therefore a move across the border comes down to the economics of hiring the best quality labor and the availability of the infrastructure unique to call centers. In hindsight, we were fortunate to have access to great resources throughout the process. In considering your move, be sure that similar resources are available when planning and executing the opening of your center, eh?

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