Cape Town is cementing its position as a viable global destination of choice for customer service contact centres, with Australian ISP iiNet labelling its partnership with local service provider Merchants “an unmitigated success”.


“South Africa is really in a position to deliver on its promise now,” says iiNet founder and MD Michael Malone during a recent visit to Cape Town. “The mixture of skills, government incentives and infrastructure we have found is globally competitive, especially with the bandwidth improvements due from the Seacom cable. It’s a really functional system that has delivered everything we needed.”
iiNet’s Cape Town call centre works with other centres in Perth, Sydney and Auckland to offer “follow the sun” customer service 24/7, while enabling its staff to work reasonable hours.
Lisa Roos, business development manager at Merchants, and the company which designed, built, set-up and now operates the contact centre for iiNet, says the experience confirms that Cape Town’s skills are capable of delivering world class customer service. The evidence of iiNet’s experience positions Cape Town as a region that is clearly able to attract and win international contact centre investment.
“iiNet would never have come here if we couldn’t offer customer service at least as good as they can find in Australia,” says Roos. “We recruit people with strong people skills and give them all the training they need to offer complex technical support to iiNet’s customers.”
Bradley Boonzaier, customer services manager at iiNet, adds: “We try to make sure that even when the technical problem is one we can’t solve, the customer has a good experience. Even though we’re so far away, we all feel a family bond with our clients. Some of them still remember Michael (iiNet’s MD) as the person who installed their first ADSL line.”
With a typical iiNet customer service call potentially lasting up to 30 minutes, Roos says iiNet provides a lot of support to its staff. “Our primary goal is to ensure that the customer always has a good experience, and the service representative is never put in a position where they can’t meet the customer’s need.”
Merchants and iiNet provide new staff with six weeks of training before they move into a coaching environment. “There is one coach to every four trainees, to ensure they get the support they need,” says Roos. “Once they are ready to move out of the coached environment, they typically spend around three months on the floor handling basic sales support and billing calls.  Only after they have again proved their knowledge and skills on the more basic call types are they able to move onto first level technical support.”
In the early days of the iiNet contract, up to 30 Australian and New Zealand staff members were on site in Cape Town to assist with skills transfer and provide high-level technical support in specialist areas. All of these positions are now filled by local staff, says Roos.
“This means we are able to offer our staff rewarding career paths, from basic sales support all the way through to senior technical support,” she says.
Staff are recruited through Adcorp and remain as contract workers until their training is complete. Those who achieve the required customer service scores for three consecutive months are then eligible to be taken on as permanent employees, with a range of additional benefits.