US COMPANY Hewlett-Packard opened two new call centres in Slovakia this year in March, becoming only one in a row of large multinational players that have found Slovakia an attractive place for their international service call centres.
Firms like Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Dell use the call centres in Slovakia to back their offices or serve customers in western Europe, Africa, America, and Asia.
Favourable geographical location, good infrastructure, language skills and, of course, lower average salaries were the factors that led to Slovakia winning these investments.
"With our Application Management Centre and European Operation Centre Bratislava, we considered several countries," Rolf Lobreyer, Hewlett-Packard delivery manager for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, told The Slovak Spectator.
"The Slovak Republic was selected for its very good language skills, competitive data and voice networks, stable economy and political environment, geographical proximity to western Europe, and position in eastern Europe," he continued.
Hewlett-Packard opened two centres this year in Slovakia. The first was the Application Management Centre, which started assisting major HP customers based in EMEA territories with application management in January 2004.
The second was the European IT Operation Support Centre (OSC) Bratislava, which started operations in March 2004. Its mission is to provide round-the-clock service solutions and deliveries from a single location for HP customers operating in EMEA.
About 20 people work in the former and their number should increase to 150 within two years. In the latter, about 300 people will be employed.
Eva Megová, managing director of the IBM International Services Centre in Bratislava, also singled out the good IT skills common among young Slovaks as an advantage.
IBM initially established international centres in Slovakia in 2000. In 2003, the company founded the independent company IBM International Services Centre, which connected existing centres in Slovakia and developed their activities.
Today, there are eight IBM centres in Slovakia providing services in administration, marketing, and commerce to IBM Worldtrade Corporation branches in Europe, America, Asia, and Australia.
IBM centres currently employ more than 500 workers and they are still expanding. "The existing centres are growing. Their successful operation creates room for new growth," Megová said.
Dell opened its call centre at the end of 2002 and now employs about 300 people. The centre gives technical support to Dell customers in German-speaking countries. One of the reasons for establishing the centre was that Dell is planning to increase its market share in Germany to 11 percent in the coming years.
The companies agree that they are basically looking for people with a good knowledge of foreign languages. For some positions they require a university degree and IT experience. Some companies also offer vacancies for fresh graduates of technical and economic schools.
Additionally, employees may take educational courses offered by the company to continue their professional career.
Insiders say this points to rapid development in the country's service sector, especially since a growing number of firms are willing to locate European or global call centres in places geographically removed from their territorial markets.
With continuing sluggishness in the world economy and decreasing technology budgets in multinational firms, corporations are increasingly looking to concentrate service personnel in countries with lower wage costs.
"In Slovakia we have recently seen striking growth in the number of call centres," Miroslav Poliak, senior human resources adviser with the Amrop Jenewein Group, told The Slovak Spectator some weeks ago.
"By creating a call centre, firms do not only improve their relationship with their most important target groups; they also lower their costs, which can be to the benefit of customers.
"Current practice has shown that, thanks to lower operating expenses and highly qualified human resources, Slovakia has become a centre for many international companies providing this type of service, even for markets in foreign countries," said Poliak.
In addition, Poliak said, call centres offer employment opportunities for young people that lead to the rapid development of technical and communication skills and put employees in contact with global information players.
"Traditional methods are coming under the influence of developing information technology, including internet expansion, and we are moving away from classic forms [of customer relations] towards a new level," said Poliak.
"In an international company, a first work experience like this can be a significant step towards a further career because such firms provide a number of different training programs in communication and presentation skills. If the company is sales-oriented, there is training in the area of sales and marketing," he added.