By Andre Schoeman
ICASA-South Africa’s telecoms regulator might have saved thousands of jobs in the local call-centre industry.
A few weeks ago, ICASA announced it had reached an agreement with South Africa’s mobile service providers to cut data costs by as much as 30%.
In many developing countries, particularly in South Africa, call-centres provide much-needed entry-level opportunities absorbing thousands of relatively under-skilled job seekers.
Utilising this opportunity, many call-centre agents, after receiving training in computer literacy amongst others, are able to move on to other employment opportunities with better pay.
In my view, call-centres are equivalent to a privately funded training environment creating a better-skilled workforce for the rest of the country, even though they may not be recognised as such.
Covid-19 has created a dilemma for many of these vulnerable employees.
Because they work relatively close to one another in the call-centre environment, as part of the Covid-19 containment strategy they are probably going to spend less time at their place of work for fear they may contract or spread the virus. On the other hand, Covid-19 has elevated their significance in the economy as they have suddenly become the critical link between businesses and their customers.
In order to keep the link between businesses, such as banks and insurance companies, with their customers, call-centres have become the essential umbilical cord that many businesses need to remain viable as the country continues to advocate for self-isolation and working remotely.
The technology exists which enables call-centre agents to work remotely with minimal infrastructure — a mobile phone and a laptop.
But companies will have to purchase enormous amounts of data to keep their call-centre agents plugged-in to the main infrastructure that connects businesses with their customers.
Without affordable data, call-centre operators would in all likelihood consider retrenchments on a mass scale. However, the recently announced data cost reduction may just avert this.
Furthermore, software providers such as Avaya have offered at no cost the use of their technology to enable call-centre agents to integrate with the rest of the call-centre community enabling better interaction and seamless service to customers.
With unemployment at record highs in South Africa, mass retrenchments are a possibility the economy can least afford.
- Andre Schoeman is executive responsible for enterprise business at JSE-listed technology company Jasco