Belfast Telegraph

A chequered history of call centres in Belfast but hopes high for US firm

By Claire Weir

Call centre, contact centre, customer service centre – call them what you will, but Londonderry has seen its fair share of such establishments over the years.

Critics say that such employers depend on government funding and the whims of large multinational companies who will scythe a major contract if they can find a cheaper provider elsewhere.

There are also complaints that call centres flood the labour market with low-paying jobs – the average salary of entry-level EE workers will be around £15,000 per annum, although management positions will pay up to £30,000.

Stream – which serviced clients like Dell, BT, JVC and Vodafone – was a huge employer in the north west, employing more than 1,000 people in Derry before scaling down its operations in the city in 2011 after around 15 years.

However, there was anger in the city when it was announced that 1,000 jobs were created in east Belfast by the same firm last October.

The US-based company received government funding of £3.3m for the new venture.

And just last month Waterford-based Rigney Dolphin announced it was closing a call centre in Patrick Street in Derry which opened in 2010, having only recruited a maximum of 90 out of a promised 300.

Among its clients are Meteor, BMW, Carphone Warehouse and Airtricity.

However, there have been success stories too – and it will be hoped that Convergys and EE will also prove to have staying power.

Indian firm Firstsource set up in the city back in 2006 and is now one of the city's biggest employers.

Incentives for staff such as flexible working hours for students, parents and carers and internal training and promotion opportunities have helped scoop the company a number of awards.

Staff provide services to customers of companies in the banking and financial, telecoms and media and healthcare sectors.

The latest jobs are owing to a change in approach from EE, whose customers will be put in touch with the new Convergys centre when they ring customer service.

In February, EE boss Olaf Swantee said UK customer service is better than that of overseas contact centres.

Existing EE call centres in the Philippines and South Africa are to be scaled down as a result of EE's new strategy but will still be used for simple transactions.

Belfast Telegraph