Through our work with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) Beasley Intercultural consultants Tamerlaine Beasley and Ramona Singh were introduced to an innovative model of call centre delivery, the Centrelink Multilingual Call Centre (CMC) based in suburban Sydney.  CMC has 200 staff and offers full client service in 25 different languages, taking approximately 40000 calls per week. Centrelink clients can ring from any where in Australia on a landline for the cost of a local phone call, and receive full call centre services in their own language. As a result of the success and reputation of this centre, the CMC not only provides award winning client service to Centrelink clients, but other government agencies have used the centre to provide client service during international emergencies such as the tsunami in 2004 and the Bali bombings in 2003. The centre is robust enough to cope with rapid spikes in demand as well as being able to manage calls which are very diverse. In case of an emergency when fast problem solving and critical thinking are required, they are well able to achieve this.

CMC opened in 1989 and clients range from young newly arrived refugees to longer term customers that arrived in Australia after the Second World War. For many refugees the CMC is the first point of contact with a government department once they arrive in Australia. Many of these clients have little understanding of how to navigate our bureaucracy and CMC staff are required to have highly developed problem solving and critical thinking skills to ensure they can communicate effectively. To ensure staff have these skills, all call centre staff at CMC complete a full three month training program which encompasses all types of Centrelink services, so rather than simply operating from a script, staff are able to provide valuable advice on how Centrelink can assist different individuals.  

When thinking about the potential to provide customer service to culturally diverse client groups, it is important to remember that the cultural diversity of Australia also offers valuable opportunities as a base for regional call centre operations.  Companies such as American Express and Reuters have successfully located call centres servicing the Asia-Pacific region in Sydney and there are growing numbers of companies considering this alternative to off-shoring.  Benefits include closer contact with the core business, less cost involved in travel and monitoring and the ability to retain staff for longer periods.  However, it is still important to ensure cross-cultural competencies of staff and, as in the Centrelink example, take training seriously.

January 2007