Outsourced customer contact management is learning from the mistakes of the past, developing to meet the needs of increasingly discerning clients. Sal Giordano, vice-president of sales and client management EMEA for Sykes Global Services Ltd, tells Jim Banks how tailoring is the way forward.
While it is generally accepted that outsourced call-centre and customer contact management services can cut costs, problems with language capability and insufficient levels of technical knowledge have mitigated these benefits. However, these teething problems have pushed clients and service providers to develop more mature attitudes towards contracts, offshoring and the importance of outsourcing to corporate strategy.
The best services providers are increasingly flexible in their development of solutions for each customer, while clients are becoming more detailed in their approach to finding an outsourcing partner.
Customer contact management, if handled well, can certainly be highly beneficial in more ways than just improving customer satisfaction and reducing costs.
Sal Giordano, vice president of sales and client management EMEA for Sykes Global Services Ltd, believes: 'A good customer experience allows you to upsell and cross-sell, which means adding revenue. Many of our clients are looking for that added benefit to enhance the overall customer experience.'
The main focus of Sykes Global Services is customer contact, including customer support services and technical support, though it also does targeted outbound sales and billing services. It has 27,000 employees in 43 centres in the US, EMEA, Central and South America and Asia.
Its services, says Giordano, can quickly make a difference to many businesses: 'The benefits can be seen immediately. There are cost savings right off the bat and clients see other benefits, such as better first call resolution and lower call handling times.'
FINDING THE RIGHT BALANCE
A significant slice of the cost advantage comes from using locations where labour is less costly. Attitudes towards offshoring, however, are changing. Service providers, therefore, have had to accommodate the move towards blended shoring by giving clients access to onshore, nearshore and offshore facilities.
Giordano explains: 'There has been a dramatic change in the last couple of years. English-language customer support saw a significant amount of offshoring, but now there is more balance. Companies once pursued offshoring to find the cheapest options, but now they are pulling back, segmenting their customers and providing different levels of service from different locations. A blended model might, for instance, have one-third of customer contact services onshore and the remaining two-thirds offshore. This provides the right blend of cost containment along with an enhanced customer experience.'
Cost is not the only advantage of offshoring, however, and access to greater technical competence is a key factor. In some locations, trained engineers may be taking technical support calls.
The cost and skill level differentials will no doubt change over time, so companies need to find a partner that can move with these trends. A service provider must also offer a variety of services to reflect the range of experience among companies outsourcing customer contact services.
THE BENEFIT OF EXPERIENCE
Many IT companies, for instance, have developed outsourcing strategies and metrics over many years and will be seeking the latest advanced tools and technologies. Novices looking to cut their call-centre costs require more intense consulting services to ensure they outsource in the right way to benefit their business.
Increasingly, clients can look at the track record of their service providers, particularly noting where other companies have renewed their outsourcing relationships.
Giordano says: 'When picking an outsourcer, companies want a global player and one that has experience in their industry. However, managing large programmes for diverse industries as we do means we can leverage our experience of, say, financial services and transfer that knowledge to servicing a hi-tech client.'
'Over 90% of our clients stay with us. We have invested in tools and technologies that provide an enhanced overall customer experience.'
Increasingly, service providers with a strong track record and sufficient global presence to ensure appropriate language capability, reflect the evolving trends in shoring strategies and tap into the best expertise wherever it may reside, will stand out from the crowd.