I can see a lot of interest in opening and operating a call center by a number of aspirants in Pakistan, especially Karachi, Lahore and in Islamabad. Here is what I have to offer as my 2 cents of advice.
1) If you have previously worked in a call center as a CSR for lets say 6 months or one year; that does not automatically give you enough experience to go launch a call center. There can be brilliant people out there who can do this but I am skeptic about this. Call centers are human resource extensive businesses. And HR management skills are not easily bred. Apart from that HR in a call center is not only CSR’s; it is also tech, middle management, administrative, business development, accounts and sales. Solid experience of ALL of this is required to run a call center. It cannot be a one man show.
2) Start-small vs. Start-Big:
After seeing/interacting and running a call center I would propose the first pilot call center to be between 10-15 seats for Pakistan. Start with a management ream of at least three people besides yourself. Spend money in training and getting YOURSELF trained. Travel/ Talk / Attend Seminars…don’t just jump in to get burned
3) the Broker … the consultant
Both of these are sometimes necessary but I cannot assert more that these two can and have cost a lot of companies a lot of undue money. Watch out … all that glitters is not gold. Especially be very careful with brokers and the middle man. Generally remember the rule of thumb…if some company already has business…why is it not doing it itself. The cost of entry in call centers are not to high and usually the first two payments from a god client can payoff the capex…think, think and think. It happens that there is genuine business …but it just cannot be LOW hanging fruit. People from this very forum have used big names like Thai Airways, Singapore Airlines, BOA, Mettle toys, radio shack, Hitachi corp. etc to con start up companies. Always remember that the whole call center industry in Pakistan is not even 3 years old yet…our prices are cheaper then India but the learning curve is still there. These Tier 1 companies do not outsource work to some rag-tag guy in San Jose and pay them to conduct scope studies in Pakistan. My current “CON-COUNT” for just one guy in Pakistan is around 6 call centers and close to 100K USD in “Business Procurement Fee”. DO NOT PAY PEOPLE UPFRONT for business development period. As far as involving the consultant; try and involve company’s and not individuals to implement your center, or to do your network etc. Curb the “Pakistani-Attitude” (I usually don’t stereotype Pakistan; so sorry in advance) of hiring the consultant off the consulting company to save money. Teams are not build by BUYING/POACHING people … money will keep them there and more money will take them away.
4) What technology?
If you are a small center and are starting with outbound performance based work…start with an ASP…like Five9, Promero, EchoPass , White Pajama etc.
If you have business but only for a few seats…go to another center and lease some seats off them (No capital investment, proof of concept and win-win) Make sure that you hire your own management and sign non-circumvents and NDA’s.
And please also note that if you are in SW development that does not automatically mean that you know call center business.
5) Getting Paid
This is tricky…small companies biggest issue is cash flow, make sure that you get paid. Do quality work, sign agreements but push for getting paid on time. Go weekly, audit everything, extend lesser credits. Use online payment systems like the one UBL has…there are no guarantees…watch out for middle man effect. Remember that the LOW hanging fruit is out there available so work with reliable partners.
In the mean time…invest in programs that are long lasting, are directly with the client and are legitimate. These will be smaller programs to start with, will no pay a lot initially but once you have them figured will be your greatest assets. These can be appointment setting or mortgages (easier to get) or tech support or TAS etc.
My biggest worry is that the investor community who is putting the money in will be taken-in by scams, cons and failures and the genuine entrepreneur who needs funding will suffer. I hope it doesn’t happen that way.