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Calling for new type of industry

By Shi Jing in Hefei, Anhui province  (China Daily)

11:23, June 17, 2013

Staff at a business call center in Nanjing, capital city of Jiangsu province, answering inquiries raised by customers from inside and outside the country. Business outsourcing has allowed companies to split services into components that can be subcontracted and performed in the most efficient and cost-effective way. [Photo/Provided to China Daily]

Anhui capital joins Chinese model cities in featuring BPO services

Telephones ring nonstop everywhere in the spacious glass-walled modern office overlooking a relatively less developed neighborhood. Staff greet their customers over their headphones with the words "Hello sir/madam. How can I help you?" while quickly typing on their computers and searching for the required product information. The boss sits opposite his workers, checking out how everyone is doing. Welcome to a setting similar to the US television sitcom Outsourced that was first broadcast three years ago.

The situation comedy is set in a call center in Mumbai, India, where an American novelties company has recently outsourced its orders processing.

In his bestselling book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Friedman recounts a journey to Bangalore, India, and points out that outsourcing has allowed companies to split services into components that can be subcontracted and performed in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

Of course India is known for its business process outsourcing industry thanks to its language advantages, but now it is also taking place in the inland cities of China. Hefei, the capital city of Anhui province has pioneered the oriental idea the world is "flat".

There are three business processing outsourcing industrial parks in Hefei, namely Hefei High-Tech Industry Area, Hefei (Shushan) E-commerce Industrial Park and the International Business Outsourcing Industrial Park of Hefei Lakeshore New District, with the latter one developing the most rapidly.

Having set foot in the Lakeshore New District in May last year, leading Chinese online travel service provider eLong Inc quickly expanded its call center team in Hefei from zero to the current 1,300 people. Ding Haochuan, vice-president of operations at the company, said it aims to increase the number to 1,500 by the end of this year.

"At present, our call center in Hefei is regarded as mid-level in terms of size compared with larger businesses such as insurance companies or telecommunication operators. But, over time, we hope to increase the headcount to about 3,000 in the long run. It is not a very large number because you can't expand recklessly," he said.

Elong's call center is the company's second, the first being in Beijing, where it is based. There are about 1,000 operators working in the capital's call center. Ding said they would like to establish two core centers in China, both of which will be complementary to each other. At the same time, having two centers will help to ensure the security of users' information.

The cost of the Hefei call center is about 20 percent less of that in Beijing, according to Ding. But he added that this is not the only reason that they have chosen to settle down here. To have the right people working for the call center weighs as much.

"Hefei is known as a city of scientific technology and education. The large number of university graduates here provides us with ideal candidates for the call center," he said, adding that the convenient transportation to more developed Jiangsu province and Shanghai facilitates communication between talented people.

The local government has also made great efforts to attract companies to settle here. Apart from providing favorable conditions regarding rental tax and construction supporting facilities, the government has also established the business process outsourcing centers right in the center of the city, thereby providing lively attractions for workers here, Ding added.

The local government of Hefei mapped out a goal of building the city into China's call center capital in July 2010. Local authorities were ambitious enough to expand the scale to 100,000 customers within five years. It is also the government's goal to make business process outsourcing one of its signature industries.

Overall, there are already 21 model cities in China featuring BPO services. Hefei, not only enjoys convenient transportation to the developed Yangtze River Delta region but also boasts a sufficient supply of qualified candidates for call center workers.

"At present, there are four science and technology bases in Hefei. More than 60 colleges and universities in Anhui province will provide the people call centers need," said Wu Songjiang, director of the BPO work office at Hefei Bureau of Commerce.

The relatively lower business cost of Hefei has also attracted companies to set up here. The Lakeshore District aspires to grow into an international financial BPO center with the cooperation of Shanghai Pudong Lujiazui financial district.

The next stage of development of the Lakeshore District, Wu explained, is to attract the 14 major commercial banks in China including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, and Agricultural Bank of China to set up their call centers here. Also those of insurance and securities companies as well as the telecommunication companies already here.

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