‘Turkey positioned to be Europe’s call-center hub’

May 27, 2012, Sunday/ 15:05:00/ MEHMET SAKİN

When a Dutch-speaking customer of a group of 50 Netherlands-based magazines phones for customer service, their calls are now answered by employees at call centers in İstanbul and Antakya, Turkey.

The Turks who answer the phones are native Dutch speakers who have returned to Turkey eager to cash in on their bilingualism by managing subscription, billing and distribution services for customers of the magazine group's 2 million-plus circulation.

Mark de vries, Turkish chief of customer service giant Unamic/HCN, says this is evidence of Turkey's potential to become a hub for affordable customer service to Europe, after decades of Turkish emigration to Europe left a generation of Turks with fluency in a variety of European languages.

Unamic/HCN recently hired 250 Turkish employees in call centers in İstanbul and Antalya and is considering hiring more. “We're employing young people in Turkey who were born and grew up in Holland, speak our language as well as we do, but want to live in [Turkey]. In this way, they're happy to work in Turkey and we're happy that they're giving our customers good service,” said de Vries to Today's Zaman.

Unamic/HCN's Turkish ambitions to recruit a Turkish workforce began a year ago after the company was acquired by Xerox, which decided to experiment with relocating some of the 3,500-employee-strong group's operations to more affordable Turkey.

“In the near future we want to provide services in various languages such as German, Arabic and Russian because in Turkey there are people who can speak these languages like native speakers,” says de Vries. “We want to grow rapidly in Europe. For that reason, we want Turks who were born in Europe and grew up in [European] countries and know the languages well to work with us.”

Companies use social media to find bilingual Turks

A key instrument in Unamic/HCN's quest to grow a Turkish service hub has been social media sites. According to de Vries, advertisements on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have netted dozens of Turks who grew up in Europe and are keen to start work in Turkey.

The attraction of Turkey for companies such as Unamic/HCN is obvious. While Europe's current credit crunch squeezes continent-wide employment, Turkey is enjoying its ninth successive quarter of growth. According to a Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) study, unemployment for 15-24-year-olds in Turkey was at 18.3 percent in February. Meanwhile, youth unemployment on average is 4 percent higher throughout Europe, with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimating a 22.6 percent youth unemployment figure for the same age category in March. The disparity is especially pronounced in the south of the continent, with nearly one in two young people in Spain and Greece looking for work, and one in three in Italy and Ireland.

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