Northern Ireland has a world-wide reputation as a premier location for customer contact centres, and this week at Call Centre Expo UK 2002 Invest NI was aiming to market that reputation to attract further investment in this sector.

Six local companies were on the Invest NI group stand at the call and contact centre event, which took place in Birmingham. Among them was Belfast company gem, winners of the Best European Multi-Media Contact Centre Award at the European Call Centre of the Year awards, which formed part of the two-day event. Alongside gem on the stand were Apollo Contact Centre, Answercall Direct, MM Group, Sales Xcellence, and the Data Warehousing Practice (NI) Ltd.

Northern Ireland has been three times voted the most efficient location for contact centres by independent research company Mitial, while Corporate Location, the industry's leading publication last year ranked Belfast as the top European location and among the best in the world for customer contact centres.

Contact centre operating costs per head in Belfast are up to 16% lower than Dublin and 31% lower than London. This together with factors such as the high level of educated and available staff, low staff turnover and a world-class telecommunications network has led to more than 30 contact centres setting up in Northern Ireland in recent years . These companies include Halifax, Abbey National, Regus, IAS (Fortris), Bank of Ireland, Stream International, British Airways, BT, National Australia Bank, TeleTech Holdings, and Acer Inc.

Altogether contact centres in Northern Ireland employ some 7000 staff but there are wider benefits to the Northern Ireland economy as Leslie Ross, Managing Director of Business International in Invest Northern Ireland explains:

“Northern Ireland has attracted many prestigious companies in this sector all of which cite the availability of first class staff, with both technical and people skills, and the advanced telecommunications network as among the main attractions. In addition, these companies have created opportunities for a large number of people to enter the labour market, opportunities that were previously not available in the traditional sectors.

“While these companies are benefiting from what we have to offer, Northern Ireland in turn has benefited from the large levels of wages and salaries being pumped into the local economy, investment in training, the development of leading edge customer relationship management skills, and the transformation of disused urban sites into epicentres of employment.

“One of Invest NI’s key objectives is to increase the capability of our local workforce and businesses and the emerging market of multi-media contact centres is contributing to that through investment in staff training and telecommunications infrastructure. The enhancement of such capabilities will be to the long term benefit of Northern Ireland.”

“Telebusiness is growing at 40% per year yet currently just under 1.5% of the Northern Ireland workforce is employed in the industry compared to 2.5% in the rest of the UK. So with the pool of available talent here there is room for further growth in the sector. Call Centre Expo is the only event of its kind in the UK and gives us an ideal platform from which to sell Northern Ireland’s capability in this sector, and attract more world-class companies to set up here.”