Lee Perkins, EVP MD at Sage UK, said that while many are looking to manufacturing and heavier industry to support the region’s involvement in the powerhouse, he believes that it will be the weightless sectors, like software, and financial, professional and business services (FPBS) that will spur on the North East’s growth.
The North East Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Economic Surveys demonstrated that while it was manufacturing that continued to underpin the regional economy throughout the recession, growth in the service sector far outstripped manufacturing growth during 2013 and 2014, as optimism returned to North East industry.
He said: “The term Northern Powerhouse denotes heavy industry, like manufacturing and engineering, but in fact, the region’s contact centres are also well-placed to support the North East as it looks to establish itself as a driving force, powering the North’s economy.
“When you consider that the concept of the powerhouse is about the North creating an economic climate that rivals London, then we also need to be looking at the role that our contact centre industries and back-office support businesses can play.
“As a business that is very reliant on having an effective contact centre, we know just how valuable they can be to business, and the region has a deserved reputation for success in this field. However, in spite of this, it’s can be a forgotten sector. We’re fully behind the industry, something that is demonstrated by our commitment to championing best practice and celebrating success.”
The Newcastle headquartered firm, a market leader providing businesses with a range of easy to use business management software and services – from accounting and payroll, to enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and payments – provides its services to millions of customers around the world, employing more than 14,000 people.
Though growing its international footprint, the company has stayed rooted to the North East and has recently demonstrated its support for the contact centre sector, by signing up to become headline sponsor of the North East Contact Centre Awards, which recognise best practice in the field. Sage is a previous winner of the Large Contact Centre Category of the 2013 North East Contact Centre Awards, also having been named top dogs in the awards’ first year in 2003.
“The more that can be done to champion the sector, and celebrate the role it plays in the region’s success, the better – and I am sure it will continue to be a driver, as the area starts to punch its weight in the North’s powerhouse,” added Mr Perkins.
The North East Contact Centre Awards features 11 categories, from Best New Talent to Outstanding Contribution to Community.
Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, which organises the North East Contact Centre Awards, said: “Like Sage, we are hugely supportive of the contact centre industry and believe firmly that it has an important role to play in the region’s contribution to UK Plc.
“If you think about the blue chip businesses we have in the North East, many of them are contact centre businesses. In Sunderland alone, we count Barclays, More Than, TSB, Npower, and EDF Energy among the big name businesses that have chosen the city – between them, the city’s contact centres employ around 14,000 people. When you consider that we are just one part of the regional contact centre landscape, that really does prove just how vital this sector is to our great region.”
Leanne Chambers, head of resource solutions at recruitment agency NRG, said that the contact centre industry is a fast-changing sector, with the makeup of roles required becoming increasingly varied. She said: “We have worked with the contact centre industry for almost 40 years, during which time have seen huge evolution of the customer service sector. More customers use online self-service for the majority of their queries making the contact centre agent a person they reach to when self-service fails, when they need to discuss an issue or as a last resort.
“The contact centre is becoming a relationship hub for omni-channel contact and we are beginning to see a definite shift in the skills and behaviours required to handle more complex customer queries. The contact centre sector provides career progression and opportunities not seen in many other industries and therefore should be celebrated as a career of choice and a sector that can contribute strongly to the North East economy.”