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Home > Business > Business Headline > Report

Customer First balances BPO business mix

Subir Roy in Bangalore | September 02, 2003 10:30 IST

The new airline, Air Deccan, cuts costs in several ways. An intending flier can call its customer service number which is manned by Customer First Services.

The call centre is part of a triad which includes the global reservation network Galileo and the Citibank payment gateway. The caller can book a ticket, pay for it through Citibank and arrive at the airport armed with an e-ticket which is no more than the PNR number. This helps the airline cut both ticketing and call center costs.

The country is ga-ga over Indian BPO companies responding to calls from all over the world, but what about the domestic scene?

It is a market that has been informally estimated to grow to over Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) by 2005 but there are till now mostly regional players.

Customer First Services, is the largest domestic company and perhaps the only one with a national reach, run by a group of professionals formally with Hutchison and promoted by a few domestic and international telecom technocrats.

Its 600 agents work out of centres in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi, Pune Coimbatore and Kolkata and offer multi-lingual services, says Sandip Sen, chief executive.

Customer First is just over two years old and clocked a turnover of Rs 7.2 crore (Rs 72 million) last year. This is projected to reach Rs 19 crore (Rs 190 million) in the current year (2003-04).

It is already a profit making company, having earned a net post tax profit of Rs 45 lakh (Rs 4.5 million) and a cash profit of Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) in 2002-03.

"The next two years will be a growth phase and Customer First will look at all possible sources of funding, both private and public," says Sen.

Like China, India's domestic call centre business is driven by the new private telecom companies. "Nearly 30 per cent of mobile users in the country end up speaking to a Customer First agent when they dial the customer service number of their operator," reveals Sen.

The company handles over 50,000 calls a day on behalf of the telecom sector. With MTNL and BSNL now opening call centres, the growth prospects are enormous.

Customer First also has international business which accounts for 30 per cent of turnover. This domestic-international mix gives it a degree of flexibility in tackling the most important problem facing BPO operations, staff attrition.

A person seeking to earn more is usually offered a position in the international call handling operations whereas a person who wants an end to night duty finds the company's domestic operations and normal working hours convenient.

Domestic call centers have a critical cost advantage over international service providers. Personnel and communication costs which account for 65 per cent of international call center costs and either lower or non-existent.

Staff costs are 20-25 per cent lower, and telecom costs are usually borne by the customer who pays for the toll free numbers which customers call.

Among the company's major clients are Bharti Mobile, Standard Chartered Bank, Coca-Cola (Kinley), BPL Cellular and Asian Paints. It has gained a token foothold in the public sector at home base Bangalore with a small center manned for the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation at its terminus in the Majestic Circle area. It has also started a call center for Karnataka Tourism.

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