A Continent of Call Center Opportunity

Africa is quickly becoming a new HUB for the call center industry.  However, through misperception or inexperience, many “call center” people around the world are unaware of what this burgeoning market has to offer.  Well, the African people are working to change that.  Africa is a huge place with diverse cultures, a highly educated workforce, a supportive business climate, and a solid, community-driven desire to do a good job in order to build up the “whole”.  The Call Center Power team is committed to assisting the African people to change the perceptions of their call center market by educating as many people as we can about this amazing place.  

 

In this episode, we had the opportunity to speak with Humphrey Davis, Global Head of Sales and Marketing for CCI Global. Humphrey is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge on doing business in Africa and the Middle East. In this episode, Humphrey and Brian discuss what people around the world get wrong about Africa, how Africa is quickly busting those misperceptions, and how the people of Africa have begun to mobilize to support and grow the call center industry there into a global powerhouse. 


Brian:

Welcome to the Call Center Corner brought to you today by Call Center Power. This is Brian Redden, and I’m here with a very special guest Humphrey Davis, from CCI Global. How are you Humphrey?

Humphrey:

Hey Brian. I’m I’m very well and I’m really pleased to be here. So thanks for inviting me.


Brian:

You bet, I’ve been looking forward to doing this podcast and certainly, spending some time with you here, given our travels and traves over the last month or so it’s been a really good ride. Just for the listeners out there, this particular podcast is podcast number three, episode three in a series on our series on Africa, the new line of the call center industry. So we previously did one with Chris Nillesen from CCI global, and with Lizelle Strydom from CareerBox, those are posted to our website, and this podcast with Mr. Davis will be posted shortly. I’d like for you to take an opportunity to tell our listeners more about you and you have a very interesting and a long career in the contact center space. You’ve worked all over the world, which I found that as we travel together, which we’ll talk more about here in a little bit, one of the more interesting fellows that I’ve ever met, and I want to convey that to listeners. And also if you would, tell us about CCI Global, a lot of good stuff going on over there.


Humphrey:

Great. Thanks. Well, I guess like a lot of people, I took a summer job in a contact center and 25 years later, I’m still in the summer job. So I was an agent for a good three years. They really dragged me off the phones. I loved being an agent. I loved talking to customers, I loved resolving issues, I moved from service into sales, found that I was pretty good at sales. So started off on phones, I think that’s really important, from there, BPO and contact center has been amazing for me and for my family. There’s so many different varied and wide choices of careers that you can follow through contact centers. So my personal journey, I did vendor management, vendor management took me into lots of different geographies. So my home is in the United Kingdom, but I’ve worked in the UK, I’ve worked in Eastern Europe, I’ve lived and worked in India, lived and worked in the Philippines, lived and worked extensively in Africa and Southern Africa. So it’s been great, and the Middle East. So I was lucky enough to launch a company in the Middle East. So yeah, a lot of different experiences, a lot of different cultures and a great opportunity for me to have a career, and also indulge in my love, which is traveling. BPOs have been fantastic for me.

Brian:

Probably like you, I started on the phone on the phone way, way back in the day, long time ago. And when I was in college, I didn’t have a career goal of going into contact centers. It wasn’t something that the guidance counselor in high school said is what you’re going to do when you take the test. But yeah, like you it’s been a great ride over the last 30 years. And like I said, the contact center industry has been real. It’s been great to me and my family as well. And really the travel aspect is something that I didn’t anticipate when I got into this career. But to your point, I mean, just to there’s so many career paths and contact center space and the opportunity to travel and meet people like you and your team that I did a few weeks ago and been all over the world, it’s just it’s been cool. So it’s a great career path. Not something people typically go to college for, but you know what? It’s treated a lot of people very, very well.

Humphrey:

I’m pretty sure the kid on my right who said astronaut and the kid on my left, who said, fireman, I don’t remember saying contact center, but it is great. And I say to people all the time within contact centers, you can do facilities management, human resources, BI, MI, workforce management. There really is the whole portfolio of opportunities. So if you are leaving school or college, and you’re not quite sure what to do, get yourself into a BPO, get yourself into a contact center, do well and opportunities will present themselves.

Brian:

Agreed. It’s a great career track. Well, tell us a little bit about CCI Global as well.

Humphrey:

So CCI Global, 15, 16 years old now. Started off as South Africa pioneers. Our sort of spiritual home being Durban in South Africa, that’s where we’ve got the highest concentration of our agent population. We were in three cities in Southern Africa. We were in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town. We, three or four years ago pioneered into Kenya. We’ve got a really successful flourishing business in Kenya, and we’re progressing into Ghana and Rwanda. We think that those are really interesting markets and we’re in the process of setting up operations there. And in the future, we see further opportunities as you move more North into Africa. Africa is an amazing place. It’s got an abundance of opportunities, amazing people. And we kind of 15, 16 years ago for various reasons, different members of the exec team had history or experience of Africa. And we felt that it was a differentiator in the people. So for me, my parents and my grandparents moved to South Africa in the 1960s, I first visited in the 1980s.  I was aware as I was starting my career in account management, vendor management and BPOs internationally that I had something to compare it to. And we’re an entrepreneurial company, and so pioneering and being first doesn’t scare us. I guess you could now say that people with some frequency are telling us that we’re an overnight success, and I like to remind them it took 15 years, but yeah, it’s a huge amount of fun, fantastic people and we are loving it.

Brian:

That’s awesome. Yeah, and like I said, when we were out there and had the opportunity to see CCS sites in Nairobi and Durban, I was just really impressed with the operations teams there and certainly the agents for top-notch in addition to the quality of the markets there. So it was just a really, really good experience. So let me ask you this, and I’ve said this in my other videos that I posted on LinkedIn, and we’ve talked a little bit about it and the other podcast that we’ve done on Africa, before I went over to Africa, I had, and again, I’ve been pretty honest about this, I had perceptions expectations of what Africa would be like when I went over there, even though I’d never been over there, so shame on me, I guess. But after spending time in Kenya, in South Africa, I came back and if I had a checklist of all my expectations and perceptions, pretty much you can basically uncheck every single one that I had because I had this perception that it was 120 degrees every day and just totally wrong on every front about Africa. And one of the reasons why we committed to wanting to do more than just a trip we wanted to actually get the message out there and start to evangelize Africa and the African market based on what we saw in those two locations. Africa’s a big place, it’s a huge continent. It’s got a lot of countries that are very different. So when you say looking at opening up sites in Rwanda, and I thing we talked about Ethiopia, when we were in together and Ghana and some of the other places. So again, that may conjure up certain perceptions and expectations from folks around the world, when “You’re going to try to open up a call center and Rwanda?” Because all you hear on TV is the different strife and so or forth. Talk a little bit about that. What do people around the world get wrong about Africa?

Humphrey:

That’s a great question. If you look at Rwanda in particular, a lot of people’s thoughts are swayed by some Hollywood movies that were made a few years back. Rwanda has the most incredible recycling program running. When you drive through Rwanda and through the capital city in Kigali, there is literally no rubbish by the side of the road. There is no litter. There is a really effective, well functioning, recycling green economy. A lot of people’s images of Africa go from the Lion king on one hand because that’s so well known, and then to the other hand, a much more decal or grim maybe image. The reality is, I’m always struck by the big sky in Africa. When I’m in Europe and in the UK, it always feels like the sky is only about two meters above my head because it’s always raining and there’s always gray clouds and yeah, you got the big sky and it definitely makes you feel much more human, much more humble. The people in Africa always makes me think of dancing and music. It’s a very happy place, and that’s not suggest that other places in the world aren’t happy, but I’m always struck by the energy. I’m always struck by the energy in Africa, and I literally feel that energy in our contact centers. I think people don’t have that perception of Africa being the positive place that I certainly feel it is. 

And the quality of the spoken language and the apprehension of English, Kenya being a Commonwealth country, Rwanda having very strong French skills, which is a bit interest to us as we look towards the Canadian markets, the comprehension, I think I probably misrepresented or confuse people for a while, trying to be very clever and telling people about rich textual conversations. The reality is our agents get sarcasm, they get it. They speak English as a first language at home, they watch Netflix. And so we don’t do westernization programs or anything like that. What we do do is we talk to our agents about how a Tri-state customer is different from a California customer. We do talk to our agents about how someone from Manchester is different from someone in London. So we have those types of conversations and we talk about how say a high end customer from a big boutique brand white glove brand might be different from a MVNO customer or budget airline customer. But I think if you are in Africa, what you would experience, whether you are talking to one of our agents on the phone, or if you’re in a restaurant, ordering food is a real two-way conversation that doesn’t feel scripted.

Brian: 

You know and it was interesting observation kind of go along with that when I was in Nairobi and also in Durban, you guys unlike what I’ve seen a lot in Latin America and the Philippines, for example you weren’t having to teach English skills or how to pick up on nuance or basically what you weren’t doing is you weren’t having to train on communication. More so what y’all were training on was regional differences, state differences, you would take if you knew where a what a client A and agent would be working with, and you knew that client was their customer base primarily and X, Y, Z part of the United States. I walked into one of the CareerBox training rooms and they were training on Texas and they had Dallas Cowboys up there, and a bunch of other stuff. I thought was that was pretty interesting. So you all were training a little bit different level than what I’ve seen in other places. And it is because the proficiency, the English proficiency in both places that I saw was really, really, really, really great, but their ability to pick up on not only the sarcasm, but the nuance they can tell if a customer’s being a little sarcastic because they’re getting upset or they’re getting impatient, they pick up on that pretty quick. Whereas maybe in some other areas of the world, parts of the world, that’s not so much. So that was one of the things that stood out at me as well.

Humphrey:

One of the tragedies of Africa is the really high unemployment rates. The resting unemployment rate being in the mid 30 is sort of mid 30% that is. And the younger you are, they actually, the higher that unemployment rate gets, and the more educated you are and young you are the higher that unemployment rate gets. So that’s a strategy and an opportunity. What we see within our business is highly educated, highly motivated youth who are disadvantaged by an economy that isn’t functioning as efficiently and as mightily as it could. And so that’s an opportunity internationally for people to have highly trained, highly educated, well spoken individuals and what they’re missing and what CCI and CareerBox offer is the ability to gain experience and to join the formal economy. And one of the things that we think is so important above language skills, which we naturally have is giving confidence, giving confidence to people that may have never been in an office, let alone worked in an office. It’s a place where they have the right to work, because these are nearly 70% of our staff are young females. And they don’t have very many role models that have worked in a formal economy. Their mothers or aunts might have been domestic workers or street vendors. They didn’t work in an office. And so they’re pioneers, and to be pioneers you need confidence. And so we spend a lot of time at the beginning, giving people confidence in CareerBox that the formal economy is the right place for them, and a contact center is the right place for them. Some people deselect during that process. And as before product training would begin with one of our clients, but once they join product training, because they’ve got confidence. Their speed to competency and their ability to onboard knowledge is so much quicker and so much more dramatic. And that we see pull through that when product training finishes and you go into nesting, we see lower attrition rates, we see higher engagement scores because agents feel that they’re in a place that they belong and they should be in, and they’ve got the skills and competencies to be able to deal with customers and customer queries because you and I are both agents. And what we know is if you put people on the phone who don’t have competencies, they go to lunch and then they don’t come back, and that’s a universal problem. It’s really, really important for us that as we select our staff, who’ve got that core language skills of being able to understand the nuances of language that we really, the missing ingredient is confidence. And you’ve got to see that first hand in CareerBox and we use music and dance often with our airlines they often make a storm and they’ll have the airport codes in it JFK and so and so forth. But that camaraderie that’s built through CareerBox means that yeah, those folks are really ready for product training when it comes.

Brian:

Definitely. And one thing for our listeners that I really want to stress in my videos on LinkedIn and our conversations with Chris, and Lizelle, and now Humphrey, we talk a lot about the infrastructure and how the infrastructure is very good. We talk about the language skills are very good, education level of the employees are very good, and that’s all great, but one of the things that really impacted me when I was in Africa, in both places in Kenya and in South Africa, and for the executive for call center executives and decision makers out there that are listening to this podcast, I want everybody to know I’ve never been at a place where the desire to work is so strong. I saw it, I saw that in Honduras and Guatemala when we worked down there and to this day, we do still see that quite a bit when we’re down there. But I had never seen that desire, not only as strong as it is in Africa, but as communicated and talked about. In our focus groups, the agents in both places and Nairobi and Durban, the agents openly, once I told them why I was there and so forth, we’re openly asking and excited that the opportunity to get more business and have more growth come in, not only for CCI and their opportunities, but they openly expressed the opportunities that new business would present for their communities, which that’s something I hadn’t seen. Usually it’s focused on the individual that attitude, or that thought is focused on the company, because ultimately if the company does well, I think everybody pretty much knows that there’ll be opportunities for folks. But in Nairobi and in Durban, there was a significant community vibe in both places and a care for the community. And so I thought that was interest. Usually what you, don’t, at least in my experience that you don’t have individual agents talking about making their community better and so forth. And so I thought that was interesting.

Humphrey:

What’s really interesting is we are absolute pioneers in impact sourcing. So Africa Southern Africa are underdeveloped BPO markets. There isn’t a plethora of BPOs. And that means that there’s no joining bonuses, there’s none of that competition. You can’t go from the second floor of shopping center, BPOs and third floor join another BPO. There isn’t that ubiquitous of volume of jobs. We truly believe that when a client brings a job to Africa, they’re not just impacting one life, they’re impacting five, maybe six, depending on whose research you listen to. So a hundred jobs is impacting six or 700 lives. That’s the magnitude of what’s happening. And many of our staff are the sole breadwinners in their households or a secondary breadwinner. And they’ll be supporting siblings, they’ll be supporting grandma, grandfather. And so the opportunity to work, the opportunity to having put some of their education to good use is some of the most touching moments that I’ve get to experience is that the sheer disbelief when we offer someone a job. “What? I’ve been through a hundred interviews. You mean I’ve been successful?” Now, we have a very rigorous, we have 10,000 staff and we have a very rigorous seven stage recruitment process. We make sure that the needs and the skills and competencies are in place. And we have across our business, we have text campaigns, we have domestic campaigns, we have international campaigns, we have back office job. So we’re through the screening process, try to make sure that we are putting someone who’s maybe more loud or gregarious into a sales role and someone else have a different profile into a service role. So there’s a distillation process that goes on through that. But without a doubt, we are firm, firm believers that there is no problem with running a successful business and contributing to making Africa a better place. We don’t think two things are exclusive of each other at all.

Brian:

Agreed. That’s awesome. Well, let me ask this. So after spending the time that we spent together and I learned a ton from you and Myra and Chris in particular about Africa and the African market. And based on your career track and the amount of time you spent on that side of the globe, I definitely consider you an authority on Africa and Middle East et cetera, as far as the call center industry is concerned for sure. If you will, can you speculate where is the African market going? Are we looking at the new Philippines or are there certain countries that could go become really dense in call centers? I mean, just, I’d love to know your thoughts on the African continent in general, as a call center Mecca.

Humphrey:

Africa, I think is growth and development. We’ve seen a real uptick in inquiries in the last 12, 18 months. I think that people have been aware of Africa for a while, and we’ve had clients for 15 years, but the news is getting out. I think we benefited a huge amount from the world cup back in 2010, in terms of infrastructure and investment, in terms of ICD, and those markets like the Philippines, and again, lived in the Philippines, love the Philippines. It’s great place. There’s nothing wrong with that as a context center destination, it’s just, in my opinion, oversaturated, there’s too much work there. Some companies have got too bigger percentage of their portfolio in that market. And Africa provides a great opportunity to diversify your geographic footprint. And what we are seeing time and time again, we are now over 70 global logos over 22, U S logos is that when companies or when companies come and try Africa will visit Kenya or South Africa, we sit in the top 10, 20% of the performance lead tables. And we believe that’s a function of two main things, one, low attrition, because jobs are sought after we don’t see job hopping that equals longer tenure, longer tenure equals better knowledge and that equals lower AHT, better SCL and better CSAT, GSAT on so forth, and then that’s underpinned by this better comprehension, this better English language comprehension. So I often talk about this call that I listened to, where there was a customer who had was confused as to why he had two plane tickets and didn’t understand why he was one person and needed two plane tickets and the agent being able to read the nuances of the conversation pointed out that he really wasn’t bad at the process, because he’d done it twice and the customer loved it. So though their ability when a customer’s sarcastically telling you, “Oh, well it was great. I had my house for the weekend that I rented for your company and the fridge didn’t work.” We understand those, we understand actually that conversation and that makes our ability to resolve it so much better. So I think the future for Africa is extremely bright. I think more and more case studies are emerging, more and more stories are coming out around top performance, around lead tables. And that’s generating more confidence for people that haven’t looked at this geography to really take a long, hard look at it. And to question their sourcing and procurement teams to say, “Why aren’t we going there and looking?”  Because to your point earlier on, and I hear this question less these days, but I did used to get asked, “What do you do with the giraffes in the car park?” 

Brian:

Well, you can’t throw a quarter anywhere in Kenya or Africa without, or South Africa without hitting a giraffe. They’re everywhere!

Humphrey:

But I do think that people will be amazed when they come to Durban and they go, “This is like being in California?” I think people will be really surprised because that’s not the image that they have in their head, as we said earlier on, they either think of the Lion King or they think of something which is the absolute opposite of the Lion King. The reality is there are some very, very established, well built, beautiful coastal cities, you could easily mistake for somewhere in capital.


Brian:

Yeah, in my last video I did on LinkedIn, I was trying to characterize, visualize Durban for the folks and I kind of described it as kind of a mini Miami with a splash of Cape Cod and I got the Cape Cod from the lighthouse that really pretty lighthouse out there, but, and then so yeah, Durban, you’re right, you could transplant Durban and put it in right in the middle of the United States really or on the coast, east or west coast of the United States. It’s a very, very beautiful place, very beautiful.

Humphrey:

And Kenya, you go somehow it’s a central U S. Nice wide opens spaces, very green, luscious. I think the future for Africa as more and more people start to come and visit with a view around doing business in Africa, I think they’re going to be really pleasantly surprised and God bless our customers, so many of them are willing to do testimonials and talk about their experiences with CCI and Africa and that you really can’t beat that, someone else telling the story for you, just can’t beat it

Brian:

Again, to our listeners out there, if you are a decision maker or in the vendor management world, et cetera, and you have an opportunity to look at a different market to potentially outsource some or all your business I would definitely advocate to take the time, spend a few dollars and actually go to Africa, spend some time with the folks at CCI or just on your own and just get to know what’s going on there, because it’s a really special place. It’s a great place. Humphrey, I really appreciate the time today. Like I said, I was really looking forward to this. And as far as I’m concerned, you’ve become a very good friend of mine in the short time we’ve worked together over the last three, four months, we’ve met. Definitely impressed with you, your team, and certainly CCI Global, what a great BPO. And we look forward to having you guys as part of our call center partner network. And we’re committed to not only you, but also to the folks in Africa to do what we can to help things along long. So we really appreciate everything and I can’t thank you enough for the trip and your sponsorship of that it was life changing for me and my wife, my wife was able to go, which was I got some good points on that.

Humphrey:

We loved it and I can’t wait to welcome you back hopefully with some perspective customers. Thanks so much for having me on.

Brian:

Thanks again. For all the listeners, this is episode three of a three-episode podcast series on Africa, the new lion of the call center industry. Thank you again Humphrey, and to all, have a great day.

 

Visit callcenterpower.com/call-center-corner-a-podcast-series to listen to the full podcast episode. 

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