A substantial part of the growth in the call-center industry in Sweden takes part in outsourcing service agencies. Outsourcing of call-center services is more common in Sweden than in the rest of Europe – 20 percent of the market is outsourced in Sweden, compared to the European average of 10 percent. In fact, the number of employees in call-center service agencies in Sweden is double the amount of service agency employees in Ireland and The Netherlands combined.
Outsourcing Market Shows Strong Growth
Many of the large, international call-center service agencies have established operations in Sweden over the past five years, and lately, the outsourcing market has experienced a very strong growth (246 percent of growth the past three years). The US-based service agencies Convergys, Manpower, Sitel, Stream, and Sykes together hold a 20-percent market share in Sweden's outsourcing industry.
The outsourcing market in Sweden is currently increasing with 35 percent per year. Seventy percent of the outsourcing service-agency employees in Sweden work in centers with a staff of more than 100.
With one of the highest number of Fortune 500 companies per capita in the European Union, the trend toward outsourcing is prevalent not only in the call-center industry but in the entire Swedish economy.
No. 1 in Scandinavia
The trend towards regionalization in Europe is also demonstrated by how the international companies locate their headquarters. An increasing number of Fortune 100 companies choose to establish regional headquarters in the Baltic Sea Region, which consists of the Scandinavian countries and the other countries surrounding the Baltic Sea, including Poland. At present, 54 Fortune 100 companies have regional headquarters in the Baltic Sea Region. Of the 54 companies, 35 located in Sweden.
Sweden's IT Advantage
Another characteristic of the call-center market in Sweden is the focus on IT and technical help desks. There is also a heavier focus on the telecom industry in Swedish call centers compared to the European average. This is not surprising, given Sweden's prominence in information technology and telecom. For the third year in a row, Sweden was in February ranked as the world's leading information economy by the IDC/World Times Information Society Index (ISI). Internet use and cellular phone use are very high in Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries.
We Speak Your Language
Sweden is the largest labor pool in Scandinavia with multilingual Nordic capacity – Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Danish. In the service agencies, 45 percent use the Scandinavian languages daily. The language factor is a strong reason to locate a call center in Sweden, according to Pettersson. " In addition to the Scandinavian languages, there are many people in Sweden that are native in the other languages of the Baltic Sea region, making it easy to serve the entire region out of Sweden," says Pettersson.
High Technical Level
The Internet-savvy Scandinavians are also a reason for the high technical level of call centers in Sweden. As Sweden is a leader in the IT and Internet environments, its people are very demanding of the newest technology. As a result, nearly all call centers in Sweden are Web-enabled.
Manpower Expands in Sweden
Manpower Inc. is one of the most expansive call-center service agencies in Sweden. The company established operations in Sweden in 1996 by merging with a Swedish staffing-services company, and quickly grew to become the country's largest supplier of staffing services. In June, 2000, Manpower opened a call center in Harnosand, northern Sweden, serving companies that outsourced entire customer service departments. It was the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based staffing-services company's first call center for outsourcing in Europe. Manpower is now one of Sweden's largest call-center service agencies.
The Harnosand facility started with a staff of 100, and has since grown to a staff of 350 employees. Ljusdal, another town in the northern part of Sweden, was Manpower's next choice for establishment. Last year, the company announced its third call center for outsourcing in Sweden. At this new facility, in Ornskoldsvik, Manpower started operations in April this year.
SYKES Continues to Expand
Sykes Enterprises, Inc., a call-center service agency based in Tampa, Florida, opened its first call center in Sweden 1996 in Sveg, northern Sweden, by acquiring Datasvar Support. SYKES – a global company with over 17,000 employees, 42 customer support centers, five e-commerce fulfillment centers, and 16 branch offices throughout the world – quickly became Sveg's largest employer. In August 1998, SYKES opened its new and expanded, state-of-the-art facility in Sveg. The Sveg facility, a technical call-support center, has since grown to 360 employees.
In the spring of 1999, SYKES announced the opening of its second call center in Sweden. This time the service agency chose Dals-Ed in western Sweden. The Dals-Ed center is now housing 180 employees.
It was Scandinavia's high demand for technology helpdesks that prompted SYKES' establishment in Sweden in the first place. The constantly expanding technology in the region has resulted in a climbing demand for support at SYKES' specialized technical support centers in Sweden.
Both Sveg and Dals-Ed are largely rural communities that were fighting high unemployment and a steady outflow of people to the cities. The new American employer has helped reverse this trend.
SITEL Bucked the Global Trend
SITEL's Swedish subsidiary, SITEL Nordic, recently bucked the global trend of economic reduction by adding 86 new employees, an expansion representing a staff increase of 25 percent. Since then, SITEL Nordic has won a new contract from a large, international computer manufacturer allowing the service agency to expand further in Sweden. SITEL Nordic currently has a staff of 450 in its two facilities, Orebro and Eskilstuna, both in central Sweden.
One of SITEL Nordic's most important customers in Scandinavia is Microsoft. Notable is that SITEL's Swedish subsidiary recently has outsourced technologically skilled agents full time to Microsoft, in order for the software giant to maintain the highest competence in software technological support.
SITEL Corporation also entered the Scandinavian call-center market by acquiring an existing firm. In 1997, SITEL purchased Svanberg & Co., in the mid-sized city of Orebro, located in central Sweden. The company, renamed SITEL Nordic, now serves all Scandinavia. SITEL is a Baltimore, Maryland-based company. SITEL employees operate contact centers in 20 countries, and offer service in 25 languages.
Convergys Consolidates to New Facilities
In August 1998, the call-center service agency Convergys established a call center operation in Linköping, southeast of Stockholm. Convergys' decision came after a comprehensive site selection process. Only a couple of months later, Convergys acquired Exit Marketing AB, also in Linköping, and gained a well-established foothold in Sweden.
Even before it opened in Sweden, Convergys had secured a contract with Compaq Computer.
Computer helpdesk support accounts for a large part of Convergys' business in Scandinavia, but Convergys also has important clients in the transport industry.
Convergys has 350 employees in Sweden. In November last year the company consolidated its centers in Linkoping and moved into new facilities. The newly constructed call center has room for further expansion of Convergys' operations in Sweden.
Headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, Convergys employs more than 45,000 people in 47 in its data centers and other offices in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe, Israel, and Asia.
Stream International is Close to Denmark
Stream International is the latest U.S.-based call center service agency to establish itself in Sweden. The Massachusetts-based company chose Helsingborg, in southern Sweden for its location. Helsingborg was selected because of its geographic location within Scandinavia, close to Denmark, and the proximity to the Lund University.
The call center is primarily a technical helpdesk, and customer support is handled in Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish. A large client is Palm Pilot.
The high technological level was a key factor for Stream's interest in Sweden.
The company started with only 20 employees in its Swedish subsidiary, but quickly expanded to a staff of 100. Before the end of this year, Stream expects to employ 150 in its technical support center in Helsingborg.
Stream International, a Solectron company, has approximately 12,000 employees around the world. Stream operates within Solectron's Global Services business unit, and has 22 Customer Interaction Centers in 10 countries.
About Invest in Sweden Agency
Invest in Sweden Agency (ISA) was established in 1996 by the Swedish government to attract and facilitate foreign direct investment in Sweden. ISA assists companies interested in locating manufacturing sites, research and development facilities, sales offices, and customer interaction centers in Sweden by providing free site-selection information and other business-related services. ISA is headquartered in Stockholm, with offices in New York, London, and Tokyo, a branch office in Los Angeles, and representatives in major European, North American, and Asian cities.