Cornell University

Global Call Center Project

169 Ives Faculty Building, 607-254-4437

FranceFrance

National Country Report

Lanciano-morandat, C., Nohara, H. and Tchobanian, R.  2005.  French Call Center Industry Report, 2004.

This report is the first comprehensive benchmarking survey of work and human resource practices in the French call center industry. This survey was carried out by the LEST (Laboratoire d’Economie et de Sociologie du Travail) group, Aix en Provence. The survey is based on general managers’ responses to a nationally representative sample of 204 establishments (over 10 employees), which corresponds roughly to 6% of 3,300 centers in 2004.

Highlights of the National Report

The French call center sector experienced a real take-off only in the last half of the 1990s.  Rapid expansion since 2000 has led to the beginning of efforts to institutionalize the sector’s boundaries and its industrial relations system. Currently, the national government and local authorities are striving to transform the high potential of this industry into a source of sustainable local economic development and job creation.

Sectoral and Organizational Characteristics

French call centers are a relatively new creation (the average center is 9 years old): The oldest centers are often found in the telecommunications services or retail sectors, while the most recent ones are in the banking sector and are subcontractors.. The typical call center in this study serves the national market, rather than a local or international one.

Given the recent development of the French call centers compared to those in other countries, the typical call center in France is much smaller, less rationalized, and less equipped with the latest IC technologies, compared to call centers, for example, in the US. This industry is, however, characterized by a large heterogeneity in sectors and market segments.  As a result, work organization and human resource practices differ considerably across centers. 

Employee Demographics, Training and Staffing

French call centers employ a predominantly female workforce (71% of employees are women); and 25 percent are hired under temporary contracts.  However, contrary to the typical image portrayed in the media, the workforce is generally well-qualified. The typical worker has a diploma of Bac+2 (two years of tertiary education).  In addition, it takes on average about 17 weeks – over 4 months -- to become proficient on the job.  Thus, a central problem for human resource policy is that there is a ‘mismatch’ between the monotonous nature and low pay of the job, on the one hand, and the relatively high skill level of employees, on the other. As a result, employee dissatisfaction and lack of promotion opportunities appears to translate into high quit rates.  In addition, because these centers are relatively very flat organizations, promotion opportunities are limited.

Working Conditions

Call center workers average about 90 customers per day, with a call handling time of 3.8 minutes per customer. Call center employees have relatively low levels of discretion over daily tasks and the pace of work.  Only 36% of managers report that they have some or a lot of discretion in these areas. The use of problem-solving groups is also infrequent. On average, 40 percent of employees have some involvement in problem-solving groups.

The call load is higher than this average in outsourced and retail centers, and lower than this average in large business and IT service centers.

In-house Centers and Subcontractors

Almost three-quarters of the centers in this study are in-house centers, while the remainder are outsourced.  The differences between these two types of centers marked.  Subcontractor centers are larger, have more routinized and lower paid jobs, have higher quit rates, and have lower levels of union representation.

Turnover and Mobility

Total annual turnover (including quits, internal transfers, dismissals, and retirements) averages 22% among French call centers in our survey.  However, the forms of mobility are very different, according to the sector. Outsourced call centers have the highest quit rates (more than 15% by year). In addition, the ‘dismissal’ rate is high (5%) in this sector. By contrast, call centers in financial sectors or the telecommunications industry have the lowest ‘quit’ rates and highest opportunities for internal mobility (promotions and internal transfers) compared to their counterparts in other industries.

Institutional Environment of Call Centers

Local and state governments often offer incentives to firms seeking to locate call center operations. In the French context, more centers benefit from tax incentives than from other forms of assistance (such as site location assistance or loans and incentives for locating in targeted zones). Twenty percent of call centers reported that they benefited from tax incentives.  In particular, 35 percent of inbound subcontractors and 25 percent of outbound subcontractors received tax incentives for locating in a particular region.

Call centers often find support for their staffing and training needs from public resources in the town where they are located. On average, 68 percent of call centers use public job recruitment and placement services and 37 percent of them use public training resources or programs. 

Union Representation

Half of French call centers in our survey have a union present. Compared to non-union centers, union centers have quit rates that are 50% lower and average tenure rates that are 50% higher.

French Research Team

Hiroatsu Nohara
Center National de la Recherche Scientifique
Universite Aix-en-Provence
35 Avenue J. Ferry
13626 Aix-en-Provence Cedex France
nohara.h@univ-aix.fr

Robert Tchobanian
Center National de la Recherche Scientifique
Universite Aix-en-Provence
35 Avenue J. Ferry
13626 Aix-en-Provence Cedex France
tchoba@univ-aix.fr

Caroline Lanciano
Center National de la Recherche Scientifique
Universite Aix-en-Provence
35 Avenue J. Ferry
13626 Aix-en-Provence Cedex France
lanciano@univ-aix.fr

Co-Sponsors of the Report: Russell Sage Foundation; French National Research Center; AFRC (Association Francoise des Centers de Relation Client - French Employers Association of Call Centers).

For more information, contact: Hiroatsu Nohara, nohara.h@univ-aix.fr, LEST: http://www.lest.cnrs.fr.