Own members doubt its value, cite poor government support
Some suggest body should come under Outsourcing Malaysia
[Article updated with additional information]
THE Customer Relationship Management and Contact Centre Association of Malaysia (CCAM) celebrated its 14th anniversary last year. The merriment of the evening hid the fact that the association, which on Feb 27 changed its name to Association of Customer Experience of Malaysia (ACE), is in increasing danger of being marginalised, despite being employers for between 40,000 and 50,000 people.
“Most of these jobs are average to low-paying and as a result, you do not see much government focus in this industry,” notes a former executive committee member.
It gets worse because the Philippines has already won the battle for the low- to mid-range English speaking contact centre work, and is steadily winning business away from Malaysia.
As a result, local industry players are crying out for government support to help them compete and differentiate themselves.
Indeed, speaking to former and current executive committee members of CCAM, this is their single biggest grouse. “Funding from the government is almost nil for us,” says a current committee member.
A past committee member also complains that they never got any funding support, noting that even when ‘Business Services’ was picked out as an area that the Performance Management & Delivery Unit (Pemandu) of the Prime Minister’s Department wanted to focus on, the specific Entry Point Project (EPP) that dealt with outsourcing, EPP2: Growing Globally Competitive Outsourcers, ignored the voice of CCAM and the role contact centres played in the economy.
But CCAM committee members, past and present, also acknowledge that many of the problems they face are self-inflicted. These range from a poorly functioning secretariat, very little professional development, to no thought leadership displayed by the association.
Indeed, its annual general meeting (AGM), due to be held on March 29, has been postponed to April 26 because of sloppy work at the secretariat level, claim two executives with knowledge of the matter.
Meanwhile a telco member of CCAM says, “You can’t rely on them to open up business opportunities or offer operational development courses. We have asked but none are forthcoming.”
Yet its most glaring weakness has been at the thought leadership level. “We could never produce any industry data or reports that authoritatively state the size of the industry, its future trends and specific policy recommendations for government to act on,” admits one former executive committee member.
There are no indications that things are about to change. A recent attempt to collect data resulted in fewer than 10 companies responding.
This, out of an industry which has between 400 and 600 companies. Some of these so-called companies, however, are as small as two-person teams of debt collectors; many are between 10- and 20-strong only.
In a desperate attempt to turn its fortunes around, specifically in lobbying government for financial support, CCAM members in 2012 voted in a former politician as its president, Mohd Irwan Rizal, who was the deputy secretary for Umno Youth’s Seputeh branch in Kuala Lumpur up to 2011.
Umno Youth is the youth win of the United Malays Organisation, the largest and most dominant component party of the ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional.
By most accounts, this has not worked out, with some members now complaining that Irwan is more keen on CSR-type (corporate social responsibility) projects, especially involving schools, than those that can help members – especially where professional development is concerned. Some even claim that Irwan is using the CCAM post to further his political career.
In response to this, a bemused Irwan shoots back, "Wouldn't it be much easier if I continue to stay on in Umno if I would like to further my so called political ambitions? Not everyone knows about CCAM. Only members and contact centre players know of its existence. The public doesn't know, government doesn't know. Even universities also have no knowledge about CCAM."
Meanwhile, the focus on schools is to create an awareness of the contact centre industry right from the grass-roots level.
“Schools produce future leaders and we need to educate them about the opportunities available in our industry. Most of the students are only exposed to common careers,” he argues.
Despite the criticism, the association is in the midst of launching its Junior Club that will involve primary, secondary schools, colleges and universities as well, he adds.
It is because of these issues and with an eye to getting the contact centre agenda back on policy-makers’ radar, that some CCAM members are now thinking that the association should just come under the umbrella of Outsourcing Malaysia, which recently amended its Constitution to admit the shared services sector into its fold.
A key reason for the move by Outsourcing Malaysia was to give it a louder voice at the table when representing industry issues.
“That is something we could definitely use,” says a CCAM member who is also in Outsourcing Malaysia, mainly to enjoy the better organisation and activities that the latter association has in the pipeline.
Indeed, this is a rising trend among the larger CCAM members who want to take advantage of the fact that Outsourcing Malaysia is better funded and has a strong relationship with Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the main government agency tasked with growing and developing the outsourcing sector.
One of the top two CCAM members, both by revenue and size, Scicom Sdn Bhd, for instance, is an Outsourcing Malaysia member.
According to an MDeC executive, it makes sense for CCAM to come under Outsourcing Malaysia as contact centres are part of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry, which is part of the Outsourcing Malaysia charter.
Having contact centres come under the wider Shared Services and Outsourcing umbrella of Outsourcing Malaysia also has the advantage of showing contact centre staff the evolution of their jobs.
In a sector where no one bats an eye at 40% attrition rates, and where most who leave do not return, any help that CCAM and the image of contacts centres gets, is welcome.
To help the industry improve its image, Irwan has overseen the change of name from CCAM to the Association of Customer Experience of Malaysia (ACE).
“The new name, effective Feb 27, is part of the continuous awareness/ branding initiative,” he says.
Some members are scathing in their response to the new name. “It is a shallow exercise at best with no impact on any of the deep underlying issues that confront the industry,” says one member who declined to be named.
Meanwhile, Outsourcing Malaysia chairman David Wong (pic) tells DNA that his association “is always open to collaborate with any organisation that is aligned with [our] objectives of growing the outsourcing industry in Malaysia. We welcome any such collaboration.”
For CCAM – or ACE – members who are wary of their interests not being protected should they decide to come under Outsourcing Malaysia’s fold, offering them a deputy chair post, as outsourcing received, will go a long way to overcoming that hesitancy and pave the way for Outsourcing Malaysia to truly be the voice of the outsourcing and shared services sector in Malaysia.
That is not likely to happen in the near future as Irwan says there is no current initiative to join Outsourcing Malaysia.
The members of the newly-renamed ACE will have to decide if going solo is still in their best interest or if joining Outsourcing Malaysia would at least allow some of their problems to be tackled immediately.
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