Congo’s first call centre gives a glimpse of how the central African country could follow a path already taken by the Philippines and India, which have long hosted low-cost offshore operations for U.S. and British companies. it was founded by two Congolese women with European telecoms experience in 2005 – and so far it has had only a handful of overseas clients, usually on short-term contracts.
Serving companies, aid agencies and even churches, the Congo Call Center (CCC) handles queries from 8,500 people each day on everything from problems with phone bills to spiritual anxiety and domestic abuse or sexual violence.
As a Francophone former Belgian colony in the same time zone as Western Europe, Congo could be well-placed to become a telecoms hub, including for tele-services in French and other languages.
“Whether it’s in English or French, clients don’t really notice the accent over the phone,” said co-founder Huguette Samu. “Europeans find that Congolese have a quite acceptable accent.” The company also works in Congo’s four national languages – Lingala, Swahili, Tshiluba and Kikongo – and employs 350 agents, almost all in their 20s and 30s. It hopes to expand to as many as 600 within three years.
In April, French telecoms giant Orange paid $160 million for Millicom’s Congo subsidiary Tigo DRC, noting that Congo is the largest mobile phone market in west and central Africa after Nigeria.
Long-term, CCC’s managing director Faly Tamuna Lukwaka is optimistic. “The Congolese market has 70-80 million people,” he said. “We’re pioneers but we think it’s a sector that is developing rapidly.”