U.S. to come calling for call centres

A more favourable exchange rate and the development of advanced telephony equipment will make Canada the ideal location for North America’s call centres, according to a report that forecasts a gain of more than 90,000 jobs here within four years.

According to the report, The Vertical Guide to

Contact Centers in North America, released by New York-based research firm Datamonitor in August, the U.S. will lose about 3,000 call centres and some 133,000 agent positions by 2008. A good portion of the contracts will be oustourced to Canada, the report says, considerably boosting the approximately 4,500 call centres in the country today. Datamonitor says Canada employs some 212,000 call centre agents. Mark Best, who authored the report, said Canada will benefit from the U.S.’s loss in part because of the exchange rate as well as slightly lower wages for agents here. There is also the impact of technologies that allow callers to resolve their call automatically, he said, such as address changes or balance inquiries, which are improving productivity and reducing the need for more labour.

“”It’s going to be more advanced routing technologies, IVR and then speech (recognition) as well,”” he said.

Skills-based routing, in which calls are sent to an agent with particular expertise, and interactive voice-response have been evolving for 15 years, said Elizabeth Winter, founder of Toronto’s Contact Professionals Alliance.

“”It’s nothing new. However, the cost for it has come down,”” she said. “”The same economies of scale that are there (in the U.S.) are here (in Canada). If a call centre there can afford it, a call centre here can afford it.””

Lawrence Byrd, communications applications director at Avaya, said Datamonitor’s report reflects an increased need to improve customer satisfaction and dramatically lower cost through the introduction of IP telephony. This enables call centres to extend their reach to agents working from home or in Canada.

“”There is really becoming a sort of global routing decision that gets made,”” he said. “”That increases the need for routing technology to make decisions, and also self-service technology on the front end, to know who the customer is and maybe help them without having any agent talk to them.””

Winter said there was no guarantee the nearshore trend would lead to increased IT investments.

“”If we had this influx of business from the U.S., would that encourage people to go to skills-based routing? I’m not sure,”” she said.

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