In the early 2000’s, and in line with Egypt’s development strategy, many multinational and regional companies identified Egypt as a base for their call centre operations. The attraction of Egypt is reflected in its central location between Europe and Africa, along with its large, young, well educated, and bilingual population. While the economic slowdown and political tensions that followed dampened the country’s growth prospects, some businesses are looking once again at call centres as a catalyst for job growth and overall economic recovery.
This is actively supported by government initiatives to attract the growth of call centres in the fields of healthcare, education, and oil and gas. Also, earlier in April during the “Belt and Road” initiative summit, President Sisi announced plans to position Egypt as a regional digital hub for data transfers between Europe, Africa, and Asia. To that extent, the government is seeking to improve the technical and physical infrastructure required to support this growth.
The birth of call centres in Egypt
The number of call centres in Cairo has grown rapidly over the past 20 years. One of the first sectors to expand their call centres were fast food chains offering home deliveries. As the economy grew and expanded in the early 2000’s, businesses in other sectors, such as banking, increasingly turned to call centres to handle their clients’ requests in a more cost effective and efficient manner, thereby reducing their requirements for a large local branch network.
Call centres in a digital age
As technology evolved, customer care or call centres remained a critical component of the growth strategy of many businesses. While e-commerce has become the new interface, most people still prefer to interact with a person on the other side of the screen. No matter how digitised an experience or an industry might become, many firms still require customer service agents. While more of these agents are now working from home, many are still based in collective call centres.
A major attraction of working in a call centre, is that of the flexible work schedules. Call centre jobs’ schedules are often revamped every week, in most cases, and the staff can find a way to work the hours that suit them best (during night shifts, right after classes etc.) which allows the staff to avoid Cairo’s infamous traffic jams (with many employees using bus shuttles provided within their packages).
As businesses shift further to the east of the city to be closer to the New Administrative Capital, west Cairo could develop as a location for more call centres, with a number of such operations already located in projects such as the Smart Village (Vodafone, Orange, Etisalat, Xceed and HSBC, among others). Those would be in absolute competition with currently established call centres in west Cairo (Raya Contact Center, Wuzzuf, etc) and specifically in New Cairo’s banking district (Dell EMC2, Jumia as well as centres for banks and real estate developers, etc.).
A number of owners are currently seeking to attract call centre operations to fill the increasing level of vacant office space in west Cairo. In essence, these could ultimately be renovated to accommodate for operations in the greater sense of service centres rather than simple “call” centres.
Geographic and socioeconomic factors make Cairo well placed to emerge as a major service and call centre hub for companies servicing the growing Middle Eastern, African, and European markets. While advances in technologies are slowly changing the way businesses operate, there will likely continue to be demand for some human element, which in turn is expected to drive demand for service and call centres.
Mahmoud Elleissy Nassef is an analyst at JLL MENA