In continuation to our one of the ongoing series – “ upcoming outsourcing destinations ” BPOVoice interviewed Mr. Nicholas Nesbitt , Founder & CEO, KenCall (winner of the Non-European Call Centre of the Year”), regarding the challenges Kenya needs to overcome in order to position itself as a viable alternative . Here are the excerpts :
What were the main reasons behind the non emergence of African countries as a credible business destination?
Most of sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa, has been adversely affected for many years by unstable political circumstances and often wide-reaching corruption. Lack of infrastructure in areas has also been a major sticking point. Africa has been playing under the shadow of these issues, which for many are simply too big. Until now, most areas of Africa have been non-starters where investment, international growth and service procurement are concerned.
What are the unique advantages that Kenya has vis-à-vis other African nations ?
Kenya is a unique proposition offering numerous benefits and advantages to English-speaking countries. Due to Kenya’s colonial past, English is spoken country-wide in an easy-to-understand neutral Anglophone accent alongside Kiswahili. This enables customer service representatives to converse easily with English speakers around the world and those speaking Kiswahili on home soil.
The other key benefit is the education in the country. Kenyan universities produce over 50,000 highly-skilled graduates each year but they enter a labour market that is still significantly under-employed. Outsourcing is an industry with great progression prospects and a diverse workload, so employment at KenCall and its competitors is much sought after. The number of highly skilled, enthusiastic people that work for us and want to work for us means we can continually improve our services. We can also continue to offer ever more highly skilled services as the company grows. For example, we are currently developing a farmers’ helpline to help Kenyan farmers and smallholders become more successful and profitable in their production. For this service we are employing highly skilled agriculturalists who can not only converse with farmers, but investigate and solve their agricultural problems. These kind of projects allow us to grow our own capabilities as a company, whilst enhancing they way Kenya works at the same time.
What are the various steps that the Kenyan Govt has taken to improvise the overall image and provide a business friendly environment for investors?
KenCall has worked with the government since 2002 to explore the benefits of offering outsourced services to the world and it is now fully behind the industry’s development. Outsourcing has been singled out as a key pillar in the government’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan. This document lays out the steps the country must take to become the thriving Kenya of the future; a gem of the continent and credible business location on the global map. The government also recently commissioned a sizeable study by analyst McKinsey to further inform Kenya’s outsourcing industry development. To lead the industry’s development, the government has set up the Kenya ICT Board which is leading various marketing initiatives benefiting the industry.
One of the most important initiatives to the industry, and Kenyan business as a whole, is the government’s investment in undersea fibre optics. Until now, the country has been communicating globally via satellite which is hugely expensive and very slow by global standards. Later this year The East Africa Marine Cable System (TEAMS) will go live, bringing broadband access to the entire country and then to the rest of East Africa. This, along with SEACOM, a private sector cable deployment, will slash telecoms costs by up to 60 percent, driving massive change across the board.
The outsourcing industry will at once be able to offer lower prices whilst competing on the same technological plain as the rest of the world. The ability to offer further online services will also increase. Just switching on fibre is also likely to create many new outsourcing companies, growing the size of the industry and increasing its global clout.
What about the flow of FDI ?
Many investors have been put-off by perceptions of sub-Saharan Africa. Outside the continent all countries are largely tarred with the same brush even if one is making some real progress. Having said this there are some pioneering investors in Kenya that have been there for years and are doing some great things. KenCall itself is part-owned by international investors.
After the fibre goes live there will be a wealth of opportunity for new business and new development. For example, telecommunications costs for small businesses will fall enabling more entrepreneurs to start-up enterprises. At the same time, consumer internet and mobile subscribership will also grow opening up a whole new market for existing global and new domestic online businesses.
What are your current challenges and how do you plan to address them?
One of the key challenges is the perception of Kenya as a viable outsourcing and business location. We have already worked successfully in the US for over four years, we have clients in the UK and are actively expanding our efforts in this market including opening a UK office last month.
To address our own image, we are actively working with the press to spread the word whilst working on doing the best possible work for our clients. The image of Kenya as a whole will increase in prominence as we generate more media interest in the UK. Its viability for procurement people will be enhanced as a greater number of quality Kenyan service providers step up to the plate and start competing in the big offshoring markets.
How much would the launch of SEACOM help the African countries to have an even playing field?
From my previous comments it’s clear how important the launch of SEACOM and TEAMS will be to the country. Kenyan outsourcing is like a dog on a leash at the moment. We’ve done the work successfully for over four years using super-expensive satellite communications. I can’t wait to show Kenya and the world what an ambitious Kenyan company can really do when the leash comes off.
How much would your recent deal with Telkom Kenya boost your entire operations?
It’s great to have such a well-established telecoms player working with us and it opens the door for us to work with other telcos both in Kenya and the rest of the world, for example Orange through Telkom Kenya. The fact a large Kenyan company has chosen us also increases interest in outsourcing and our viability for other large players in the country.
I think quality customer service is still evolving within the country. There are still many companies that aren’t doing it well and sometimes simply don’t see the need. With the advent of fibre there will be a lot more information available at the fingertips of ordinary Kenyans and this means change. It will become easier for Kenyans to complain, gather information and switch services than ever before. Many companies will have to wake-up fast and shape up their customer service very rapidly and the outsourced model could become very attractive for this.
You have bagged one of the prestigious award of the “Non-European Call Centre of the Year” at the European Call Centre Awards. Tell us more about it?
We’ve actually just been nominated for the same award again! We are very excited to be up for such a prestigious award for two years in a row. We’re continually striving for the next level so hopefully we’ve improved enough to win again.
Winning last year was a wonderful accolade for us; it’s always great to win awards that recognise the achievements of the whole company rather than individuals. The submission criteria covers the whole centre from staff, to processes, through to CSR and client satisfaction. It’s testament to the hard work of everyone involved that in just four years, we’ve built a company in a market that didn’t previously exist in Kenya and come out as the best call centre outside of Europe.
About Nicholas Nesbitt :
Nicholas Nesbitt is the Founder and CEO of KenCall, the first and most successful of Kenya’s business process outsourcing (BPO) and contact centre services providers. He is also a Director of the Central Bank of Kenya, a high-profile Kenyan businessman and a much sought-after public speaker on Kenyan and outsourcing business affairs.
KenCall’s continued success has brought it numerous accolades such as:
Fastest growing company in KPMG’s Top 100 Mid-size companies; The Legatum Award for African Entrepreneurship ; Call Centre Focus Best Non-European Contact Centre and even Harvard Business School for its outstanding example of international entrepreneurship.
Nicholas has been frequently quoted and profiled in the media as an industry leader and visionary. He and KenCall have been covered extensively in print, TV and radio by The New York Times, The Financial Times, the BBC, The Guardian, the Star (Germany), Financial Times (Netherlands), several airline magazines and all the regional business publications in East Africa.
Nicholas is also a member of the Boards of the Kenya College of Communications and Technology (KCCT) and the Kenya School of Monetary Studies (KSMS). The President awarded Nicholas a presidential medal of honour in 2006, the Order of the Grand Warrior (OGW), in recognition of his pioneering spirit in creating and growing the Kenyan BPO outsourcing industry. Nicholas is also a member of YPO (Young Presidents Organization).
Nicholas is also a menber of the World Economic Forum and advises on the economic and business development of the African continent.