Vodafone has closed its Egypt call centre and transferred 125 jobs back to New Zealand.
The news follows unrest in Cairo, which disrupted the centre, and seems to show that offshoring has its limits. Here's Vodafone service director Kelly Moore:
"With more and more customers now having their mobile and fixed telecommunications with Vodafone, they want a consistent experience across both our mobile and fixed contact centres. Consolidating our customer management in New Zealand enables us to do that."
But truth be told, despite claimed savings of around 35 per cent, the Egyptian call centre may have been false economy.
Those commenting on the various news reports of the announcement have complained of poor service from Egypt, saying this led them to ditch Vodafone for rivals.
Customer service is a sound selling point, especially in an increasingly competitive market, like we now have in the New Zealand mobile market.
Furthermore, for complex issues, there are fewer misunderstandings if the person at the other side of the line speaks the same language as you do — accents and all.
For the most basic service, well, we are on the way to automated voice recognition being reliable and suitable.
It may well be a case that offshoring has reached a limit and such jobs will start to return to their country of origin. Only recently we saw Greenstone Energy relocate call centre jobs back to New Zealand, saying this would bring better customer service.
Indeed, when times are tough, as they are now, it may be best for large businesses to try and keep such jobs at home, to show that they are doing their best for the country and we are "all in this together".
2degrees keeps its call centre work in New Zealand. Vodafone has been playing catch up. Meanwhile, Telecom too may find it worthwhile to bring the call centre jobs home from the Philippines to further boost its image, especially when it has had problems with Manila before.
It may seem like old-fashioned protectionism but times being as they are now, you could say charity begins at home, and this will be good for business too, including the bottom line.