Vodafone secretly plans to outsource jobs to India: insider

Author
Chris Keall - NZ Herald,
Section
Business,
Publish Date
Monday, 11 March 2019, 12:18p.m.
Vodafone New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images
Vodafone New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

Vodafone NZ's sweeping restructure involves "culling" hundreds of call centre roles and replacing some tech staff with "Indian counterparts", an insider says.

He warns the telco plans to shed "technical network and install managers" and send the roles offshore.

"There have been reports that Indian staff have been found sleeping at their desks as they get used to working during New Zealand time," the source said.

India is seven hours behind New Zealand.

The account is similar to one offered by a (now-ex) Vodafone technician, who earlier told the Herald he was one of 40 staff who saw their jobs sent offshore to giant Indian outsourcer Infosys.

The laid-off staff were asked to mentor their Indian replacements before leaving.

"We had to train them for eight weeks. It really rubbed salt into the wound."

Vodafone NZ spokeswoman Kathy Gliek confirmed outsourcing of IT roles did take place in late 2017, but would not confirm if the jobs went to Infosys, citing commercial confidentiality. All segments of the company are being assessed under the current restructure process, she said.

Although the possible loss of local call centre positions has grabbed headlines, the person close to the current restructure indicated cuts in other departments were imminent.

He said, "SME Account Manager roles are being cut from 38 nationwide to only 19.

"Business support staff are being culled from 16 to nine. Some of the disappearing roles will be going to India.

"The atmosphere is incredibly tense, as those affected don't find out their fate until mid next week."

Vodafone NZ did not make any immediate response to those claims, spokeswoman Kathy Glieck offered the general comment that, "We have been transparent with staff that we would be looking at all business units as we worked to reshape our operating model to set us up for the future and turn around our commercial performance. We've been updating staff throughout the process via a number of channels, including weekly streamed Executive updates and live Q&As and a series of ongoing Kitchen Chats at all of our offices.

"Staff have been reassured they will have certainty about their roles by the end of March, which is a timeline communicated from the outset of the process.

She added, "While our CEO has said as a proud Kiwi he would love to retain all jobs in New Zealand, we need to make tough choices as a business.

"Where we believe outsourcing, such as to India, may reduce cost while also preserving or improving customer service, those are options we need to look at given our commercial reality and our desire to have freedom to invest in our strategy for the future."

Voluntary redundancy offer to all 2800 staff

Earlier today, Vodafone NZ confirmed it has asked almost all of its staff if they want redundancy as its sweeping restructure continues.

"Vodafone NZ employees were offered the opportunity to express interest in taking voluntary redundancy," Gieck said.

"Voluntary redundancy gives employees the option to elect to leave the business for personal reasons, and to receive redundancy compensation."

Around 600 front line call centre and retail staff "were exempted from this offer to avoid any disruption to customer service while we work through our company-wide review of our operating model," Gieck said.

She added that the voluntary redundancy offer was separate to compulsory redundancies that will affect a so far unknown number of the telco's 2800 staff.

Insiders have told the Herald there is a broad expectation that the voluntary and compulsory redundancy processes will see around 400 staff culled. However, new chief executive Jason Paris has emphasised there is no set number. It won't be fixed until the review wraps up at the end of this month.

Last week, Unite Union organiser Shirley Wang told the Herald that 50 of her members who worked at a Vodafone NZ contact centre were in the gun. She expected their jobs to be offshored.

A "climate of fear and anxiety" had been created by the restructure process, Wang said.

"There will be no closures of New Zealand call centres as an outcome of this process," Paris said.

However, Paris did early acknowledge the possibility of some contact centre roles being offshored, saying: "As a proud and passionate New Zealander my preference is to keep roles in NZ, but when the customer service is the same or better and at a much lower cost then it's tough to ignore this option. Just to clarify that in these overseas call centres we pay the agents well based on their local market and cost of living."

Vodafone NZ customers currently have their support calls sent to helpdesks in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, or one of three offshore call centres - two in the Philippines and one in India.

"We've spent a lot of money on trying to acquire new customers and probably haven't done as good a job as we would like to demonstrating to the existing customers how much we value their business," Paris says.

Automation will be part of the mix as the telco seeks to lift its game.

Services will be digitised on many levels. One initiative saw a virtual human, "Kiri", introduced via smart kiosks introduced to a number of Vodafone NZ stores shortly before Christmas in an AI trial.

Paris said the total number of call centre staff would only be lowered if the pain points that trigger helpdesk calls can be reduced first.

He also tells the Herald that more self-service and automation options are in the works.

"When you're dealing with an organisation, you'd much rather deal with us for an app or digital channels than talk to people, in the main, unless it's a big decision or a complex problem," he says.

If Vodafone NZ does end up offshoring more call centre roles, rivals 2degrees and Vocus (owner of Orcon and Slingshot) can be expected to make hay.

2degrees has long used the fact that all of its 350 or so call centre staff are based in New Zealand as a marketing point - something spokeswoman Katherine Cornish underlined this morning as she told the Herald, "We're Kiwi as, bro."

And last year, Vocus promoted the fact it had brought support roles from Manila to Auckland (culling helpdesk numbers from 100 to 60 in the process).

There are nuances here, however. Spark got a lot of stick when (as Telecom) it moved most of its centre operations to Manila in 2006.

Paris said earlier that his brief as incoming CEO was to get Vodafone NZ into shape for an IPO in early 2020.

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