Forget India... call centres are moving to Bulgaria
The next time you pick up the phone to pay a bill, book a holiday or reserve some tickets, it's possible that you won't be speaking to an office in Cardiff or Sunderland or even Bangalore - but to someone at one of an increasing number of call centres in Bulgaria.
British firms such as Thomas Cook, eBay, Sky, Seatwave and Zumba Fitness have all outsourced aspects of their customer services to Bulgaria. Such deals have led some to suggest that India may finally be quietly losing its crown as the call-centre capital of the world.
British businessman Jonathan Gladwish 's firm, 60K, is one of the half a dozen or so outsourcing firms attracting companies to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, where it handles more than 3,000 British customers a day.
“When we set up in 2008, Bulgaria was virgin territory with an ageing telecoms infrastructure and practically no outsourcing,” said Mr Gladwish, who employs 650 staff speaking 27 languages.
“That's all changed. During that period I've come to realise how well educated the young people are here - something like 93 per cent of my staff are graduates or postgraduates who want to work for me for two, three or even four years before moving on.”
Mr Gladwish, whose customers include Sky Broadband, saves 40 to 50 per cent by basing his operation in eastern Europe. He contrasts the situation in Bulgaria with that in the UK, where working in a call centre is often a seen as little but a “stopgap” for graduates.
Lidiya Hadzhieva, 24, is typical of the workers in Bulgaria's call centres.
She studied abroad and graduated from an Austrian university last year with a degree in political science and speaks German, English and, of course, Bulgarian.
“My first intention was to stay and work in Austria,” she said. “But I knew outsourcing was growing in Bulgaria and the profile employers are looking for is young people like me with language skills. It was natural for me to look for a job here.”
Bulgaria is still the EU's poorest state, and student groups have occupied the country's biggest university in recent weeks amid anti-government unrest over poverty and corruption.