The investment means five of the UK’s top six service providers have established centres in South Africa. The industry now employs about 200 000 people across the country, of which about 20 000 are employed by foreign-owned firms.
Webhelp was lured to South Africa by its skilled workforce – at the very least South Africa has plenty of matriculants with a good command of English and a neutral accent; a time-zone that is similar to the UK; competitive telecommunication costs; and an attractive government incentive scheme. But a state incentive kicks in once an off-shore operator has employed more than 50 people, taking 20% off costs, and making South Africa competitive with countries like India.
English-speakers tend to like the South African accent and diction, while cultural affinity, empathy and product affinity are seen as differentiating South Africa from other locations like India or the Philippines.
A basic operator earns about R7000/month, while a supervisor gets about R15 000. Salaries depend on skills – some outsourcing work requires technical, legal or even actuarial services.
The local off-shore contact centre industry is positioning itself as a destination for the provision of higher value services like actuarial analysis.
Another local operator, Genpact, manages all of SABMiller’s shared services while online retailer Amazon has a centre in Cape Town.
South Africa is about 45% to 50% cheaper than source mar-kets like the UK, but more expensive than India without the 20% incentive.