Online retail giant Amazon has expanded its South African prescence with the opening of a new customer service centre in Cape Town.
The centre, in the Wembley Two building in the Gardens area, would employ about 1 400 people by the end of next year, with 400 of these positions seasonal, senior VP for customer service Marc Onetto said this week.
The customer service operation was established during 2010 and built up to a staff complement of 250 agents in temporary facilities in the Cape Town city centre until suitable permanent premises were found in Wembley Two. Amazon now holds five of the six floors of the new building.
The Cape Town customer service centre currently supports customers buying from the amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and amazon.de websites, which primarily cover the North American, UK and German markets.
South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, offered specific advantages for Amazon in setting up a customer service centre, Onetto said.
Key among these was the geographical location. He explained that weather could often disrupt Amazon customer service centres during the Northern Hemisphere winter, and so having a customer service centre in the Southern Hemisphere, especially during the peak Christmas season, is advantageous. The longitude of South Africa provides a time zone advantage and assists in Amazon being able to provide a 24-hour global customer service.
Onetto said that the quality of the South African staff was another key consideration. “When we offer customer service we make it from places where people are nice! We found that in South Africa,” he said.
Cape Town has been able to offer a unique language advantage to Amazon in terms of customer service. “Beyond just the people being nice to our customers there is the fact that there is a diverse culture here and we were able to find a lot of German speakers, which allowed us to offer customer service for Germany.”
Amazon is already operating a technical development centre in Cape Town. Over the past five years, this portion of the Cape Town business has grown to 50 development engineers and the company is now looking to expand the team even further, with talented computer scientsts to work on the ‘cloud computing’ aspect of Amazon’s business.
Onetto said that both the national and Western Cape governments have provided support for the establishment of the Amazon offices in Cape Town, assisting with obtaining the right authorisation and ensuring quality for the telecommunication service requirements.
Opening the new customer services centre jointly with Onetto, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said she was pleased to hear that Amazon has had a positive experience with the government structures, especially as her provincial government was putting special effort into reducing the barriers to entry for new businesses into the province.
“It warms me so much to hear the real reason you chose to be here was because of the service orientation, warmth and customer centricity of our people . . . if we as a culture get that right there is no limit to the number of major companies we can attract to our magnificent country as a whole,” said Zille.