Outsourcing can promote employment opportunities for Nigerians,
Demola Elesho is the Chairman of Contact Solution (ConSol), the first indigenous call centre operator in Nigeria. His experiences traverse the Nigerian economy, but majorly in the telecommunications sector. He spoke with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, on the opportunities inherent for both government and private sectors if Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) can be significantly encouraged and developed for economic growth and development. Excerpts.
How do you define Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO), looking at the Nigerian context?
Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) is still in its infancy in Nigeria. However, those that take the time to understand it will see that it help their businesses. They equally see that it creates a discipline of looking at every single tiny step your business makes in ultimately delivering goods or services to your customers. The discipline of engaging in a BPO business is such that you can outsource the service to another company helps even the business company outsourcing because it allows the company outsourcing to have a clearer understanding of every step that is involved in the process. What we have been able to find out is that sometimes people who just go through the exercise of a business audit and end up outsourcing actually have an improved process because they remove redundancy and waste from their system.
What are the implications of BPO on employment generation?
BPO or outsourcing has got a bad name because everybody listens to Barrack Obama talked about America outsourcing its jobs and through that process losing majority of the jobs to outsiders. In that regard, it has a bad name because when America outsources its jobs to India, or China, it loses jobs, but to China they gain jobs. So, in this case, ConSol is an indigenous Nigerian owned and operated business concern, so we are not loosing jobs, but gaining more jobs.
We are creating more jobs and gaining more efficiencies and the thing I am continually proud of every hour I spent at ConSol is that these facilities are testimonies of productivities. You can feel the people, technology and processes living in harmony, we are absolutely a testimony to that and that creates more jobs because most people wants to do things faster, cheaper and better.
An Oxford Business Group’s report last year claimed that with a very good English accent Nigerians are blessed with and the fantastic youth population, the country should not be losing BPO opportunities and markets to countries including the Philippines; India and America. What can you say about this issue?
Nigeria unfortunately because of some of our poor or bad public relations in many areas, such things as the scourge of insecurity, Boko Haram, flagrant report of corruption and 419 type of activities, the Nigerian address to a lots of offshore companies is simply a bad one, so a lot of those countries and companies will consider countries like Ghana, Kenya or South Africa ahead of Nigeria before contracting call centre jobs to an indigenous call centre company in Nigeria.
But, again, testimony to our tenacity, we keep at it and keep on flying the flag as ambassadors and we do win foreign business and it does come to Nigeria and we do create jobs and we make sure we don’t disappoint those foreigners so that they can also continue to sing the positive testimonies so that more offshoring businesses and jobs can come to Nigeria. So, in that regards, we are coming from a bad position but we can and we should advance. To advance better and faster the very Nigerian jobs that are in the country and that Nigerian operating companies do and should not, if possible not outsourced to Kenya, Ghana, India and others unless they have perfect reasons for doing that.
So, we should encourage the Nigerian companies, ConSol and its competitors so that more jobs outsourcing can stay in Nigeria. This is an advocacy am making on behalf of the entire industry. Through BPO, all Nigerian young people can get jobs and have a means of livelihood.
Operating a business as a BPO requires large investment outlay. Can you take us through this in your last 10 years of operations, looking at so many indigenous companies that have shut down?
The poor state of Nigeria’s infrastructure makes the race or our competitiveness compared to countries likes of the Philippines, Indians, Ghana, South Africa, among others, which also offer call centre operations to large and corporate organisations globally. The infrastructure challenge makes our mountain more difficult to climb. We do need the powers that be as a citizen to resolve our power challenges; security; connectivity issues and also resolve our projection of ourselves as a nation of corrupt people. We should just simply stop it, because I believe that a small number of Nigerians are corrupt. The remainder of Nigerians is bad named and we must learn to control our sensationalism of corruption. We should simply implement the rule of law, enforce it and let the criminal justice system deal with corruption and let the rest of Nigerians do its regular business because by scaremongering everybody, we are scaremongering away jobs.
Recently, a competitor in your line of business opened a call centre somewhere in the South West with the target of creating 20, 000 jobs soonest. How do you manage competition?
We manage competition by respecting the competitor and we look forward to other tournaments as it were. This is because I see it as an athletics meet or a football tournament. We embrace it and rise to the challenge. Every time we have been giving an opportunity to compete against foreign giants of BPO, so far we have defended ourselves and we have won gold because we have the utmost respect for them.
How have the different government policies been impacting on your business line?
Luckily for us, most of the government policies are cornered around providing simpler, cheaper and faster services to resident of Nigerians and that is right in line with our core business and process and so far we have been able to cope with almost all administrations and if such administration has good intention for the people, they are good partners to work with and that has been the situation so far.
Can we really say that customer relationship management business in Nigeria is thriving?
Customer Relationship Management business in Nigeria is as large as the population. If we are five times bigger than Ghana, our customer relationship management business should be that bigger than theirs. ConSol leverages on that opportunity by taking advantage of people’s resource, training thousands of people and employ them in the pool so that everybody has first hand experience and that way they keep themselves ready to take up the next challenge and from time to time we have one international offshore business which we deliver from right here in Nigeria through the operations of Consol.
What will you say is the role of good customer management going by the examples you gave earlier for smale scale enterprises?
The biggest role that a good customer relationship management role plays for a small tiny business even a one man business like the example I gave about Lasisi, a vulcaniser is that it frees him up to do more vulcanizing. So, if Lasisi is a one-man riot squad in its business, he should really be fixing more tyres per day as quickly as possible. So if he as is fixing the tyres, get somebody to fill a form and passed the form to somebody else who helps him fulfill the positive customer experience through feed back, Lasisi the one man riot squad looks like a hero because by that singular act, not only that he fixes your tyre but he is also cared about your journey and subsequent ones. So, through that process, Lasisi has killed two birds with a stone by engaging in contact centre relationship.
Is Emergency Command and Control Centre (ECCC) initiated for Lagos State government really functional?
Absolutely! The ECCC, which receives all the 767 and 112 emergency calls, is a thorough success of the Lagos State Government. We started off with a mere six agents, a few hundred calls a month, but today, for instance last month we handled over five million calls. The trend has been in that trajectory. That is for Lagos State alone. We also handle calls for the Nigerian Communications Commission’s ECCC based in Minna. There we handled thousands of calls daily for the northern region.
How would assess the Nigerian telecommunications sector, looking at where you started from and now?
The telecommunications industry is currently going through, what Chines will say ‘Interesting Times’. We are seeing a maturing market, with penetration of phones and lines in Nigeria so huge. The issue now revolves finding the ability to deliver better services to customers and how to handle the emergence of data connectivity. We all know that everybody in the modern world would want to have broadband connectivity and getting it the wireless GSM, GPRS and 3G technologies, which is proving very difficult for the companies to it reliably. So, there is need to go to LTE and this requires new capital investments and costs, which the operators would need to incure. But we rely on the telecommunications industry to thrive so anything that we can do to encourage them and make live easy, ultimately it pays back in customer business that we deliver.
Do you think if the $210 million CAPCOM deal had succeeded, would it have been able to revive the fortunes of the moribund CDMA operations in Nigeria?
What we call the CDMA business in Nigeria is actually a bad tag because they are another operator using CDMA technology. So, I think CDMA technology as a deployment in Nigeria was not successful not because the technology was not good, but it never saw the kind of investment both capital inflows and people investment like other technology in GSM.”
The CDMA technology came from second to third and to fourth before it lost the race completely, which is the consequences of competition, and we must leave with the result and move on.
Can you tell us the choice of ConSol as area of operation?
The reason behind ConSol’s involvement in call centre operation is because effectively 10 years ago, I was embedded in the heart of the telecommunications sector and the success of this industry means that more and more Nigerians have telephone connectivities. It sticked to me that if there are more connectivities, there will be services people will demand on their phones and that there could ones that will executed on their phones. I was lucky enough to have the intrinsic knowledge of technology through telecommunications. I was also lucky and blessed to be an experienced corporate executive, so I had management experience and also lucky to have my two key partners in the person of Damoye Oyeshiku and Abiodun Adeoye to partner with to set up on this adventure creating a massive service oriented business, which today we know as ConSol.
In the earliest part of this journey, what were the challenges faced by your organisation?
The initial challenges I will put in two categories or even three. The first challenge was to getting people to understand the concept of a customer service delivery been executed by a third party than themselves. Most people couldn’t not imagine that anybody will be able to treat them as nicely as customers or even better, so there was a big resistance to let go of this type of function. But luckily through advocacies and tenacity of purpose, we have been able to overcome that battle.
The second challenge was with the middle manager inside of those organisations, which saw his position under threat if he outsourced is power. His power is centered on the people and the control of that function, so most of them never want to let go. But again through advocacy, we have been able to share with most of these managers that there is a bigger benefit because you can demand highest standard from a third party than what you can from your co-internal workers in your own company and you can also demand better pricing.
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