Ahmadul Hoq, President of Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing, speaks to The Independent
The Independent: What are the objectives that you set for establishing, Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing, BACCO?
Ahmadul Hoq: Previously I was involved with running and off shoring call centres in countries like India, South America and UK. You may know that some of those countries have turned the call centre business into a mainstream industry and continuously contributing to their economy.
Then I came back to Bangladesh and at first I wanted to get permission for (VoIP) Voice over Internet Protocol from, BTRC, Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. During my first endeavour nobody laid much importance on the subject and laws and regulation were tangled with bureaucratic bottleneck that was against the needed business atmosphere. I found some newly built call centres are facing loss because they didnâ€™t know how to run the business and they were lagging behind due to lack of professionalism. Unfortunately they received very little support from the government and other institutions.
Therefore, I convened the trade body with the aim of brining call centres businessmen under an umbrella. Like other trade bodies we are not providing businesses to the members but we are uniting them to project their needs to the policy makers.
The Independent: What are the possibilities you are looking at regarding outsourcing?
Ahmadul Hoq: America alone has over US 500 billion dollar worth of pent up demand that needs to be outsourced. Already 35 per cent has been off shored to countries like India, Philippine, Sri Lanka, South Africa; the government in those countries and others with partnership with private sector is making it a national priority in bringing these works to their countries to create jobs for the youths.
According to my view, Bangladesh is uniquely positioned to create the same success; our costs are 25 per cent lower than our neighbour India and will continue to have this cost advantage for the next 10 to 15 years. The BPO industry is also a hedge during the recession, since during this time companies are looking to cut costs and hence outsourcing and during boom time they require capacity. To sustain in the business and to win in the global competition the western companies have to outsource. Nothing will stop this trend. There is no cost minimisation mechanism other than outsourcing for companies; it doesnâ€™t matter whether they are local or global.
The Independent: Can we make call centre industry successful like our garment industry?
Ahmadul Hoq: The garment sector spends less than 5 per cent in salary but in call centre our cost are 65 per cent on salary. In the next 10 to 15 years we have the opportunity in creating 2 lakhs jobs. The salary of staffs would be around fifty thousand, and age limit of most of the recruited staffs will be between eighteen to thirty. This particular age group doesnâ€™t save much that means more cash flow to the local economy.
The Independent: What are the benefits we have in Bangladesh to make this industry grow?
Ahmadul Hoq: Our population is our strength to boost the sector and we are able to provide 25 per cent cheap labour than India. The percentage of educated young is on the rise. Our young population is very serious towards their work, they are attentive and always egger to learn. For example, when I was in BRAC garments, we use to pay extra 50 Taka per month for full attendance. 95 per cent of the employee earned that money. That only shows how committed they are. We just have to show them respect, provide the right working environment and guide them towards the right path.
The Independent: Please tell us about our preparation with requisite infrastructures?
Ahmadul Hoq: The required ICT infrastructure is slowly spreading across the country. Bandwidth price has come down much more than before. Hopefully, we will get second submarine cable connection soon, it will be a backup to the existing submarine cable connection to support when it is down due to unavoidable reason.
Unfortunately we are the only county in the subcontinent which has only one submarine cable connection. A decade ago we missed the chance to get submarine cable connection at free of cost. We could be successful like Indian call centre business if we wouldnâ€™t miss the chance that is present now. Only for wrong policies we incurred huge loss. Just after second submarine cable connection BTRC and BACCO will work in favour of creating a more business friendly policy guidelines.
The Independent: Can you tell us the knowledge level of our staffs?
Ahmadul Hoq: In UK one week training is enough to employ call centre staffs but in our country we need at least six month to sharpen the skills of staffs. But it doesnâ€™t mean our younger people donâ€™t know English. I found it is hard for them to understand English accent of some regions. So we are providing effective listening practices and emphasising on overcoming diphthong related problems by arranging training; it can help them to pronounce English word in a standard way. Besides, once they are in a call centre environment where English is spoken around them which will help them to improve continuously.
But you should also know that voice only covers 5 to 7 per cent of a call centre functions, many other channel of communications are incorporated in this industry such as chat, SMS, web, live video support, etc, so a more appropriate name is 'contact centre' instead of calling it â€˜call centreâ€™.
The Independent: What the supports are you expecting from the concern authority?
Ahmadul Hoq: For call centre industry we need an industrial park. Time is money for this business, so getting its employees to work at the shortest possible time is very important. Also, the transportation of staffs of call centres should be address as emergency service workers. Like ambulance they need fast transport systems to avoid traffic jam and security should be provided to the staffs because they have to work and travel at night.
The Independent: Are you getting female staffs easily?
Ahmadul Hoq: Not yet. One of the social prejudices is girl shouldnâ€™t work at night. But I think female staffs will join us when all the security will be ensured and parents will be certain that their girls are working at a safe and proper atmosphere. In my business house I also call parents and husbands of female staffs to show the healthy surrounding of my call centre. It is fact that everywhere female callers are in majority and performing better than male counterparts.
The Independent: Do we need foreign staffs to run the contact centre?
Ahmadul Hoq: Yes, but just for a certain period. In the beginning we need foreign experts who can bring expertise and jazz up the local staffs. So visa processing for the foreigner staffs must be easier, even they should be provided 5 years long visa with 1 year stay permission. 25 per cent tax on their salary sound much high. We have to ensure a comfortable atmosphere for foreign trainers and investors whose investment must be protected.
The Independent: How can we make a stunting offer to the outsourcing countries?
Ahmadul Hoq: Only this year 15 years tax holiday has just expired in India. Our government should extend the tax holiday for another 15 to 20 years for the BPO industry to give an additional cost advantage over other countries. We need it because the upfront cost of getting in this business is very high and the ROI is very long.
As per our analysis such tax holiday will bring huge investment to the sector. Our IT generation will be able to earn much and individually they will be able to pay more tax on their salary. It will boost up the earning of middles class as well as the economy of the country.
2 March 2012
Shahidul K K Shuvra
* IT and Science Editor