Customer service outsourcing comes down to comfort; West retains the crown.
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Customer service outsourcing comes down to comfort: assurance that quality, security, and customer satisfaction won't be sacrificed. Some firms are providing comfort through work-at-home agents (WAHAs), who tend to have more customer care experience, says Michael DeSalles, strategic analyst at Frost & Sullivan. WAHAs tend to be more comfortable, which tends to make customer interactions more satisfying. Moreover, with rising "green" awareness, the elimination of commuting costs and air pollution achieved by having a WAHA doing the job is a win-win.
Going global is another way outsourcers are keeping ahead. Transatlantic vendors are starting to dominate, rather than players just focused on North America, says Suvradeep Bhattacharjee, principal analyst in the United Kingdom-based offices of analyst firm NelsonHall. A trend toward software-as-a-service (SaaS) within customer service outsourcing has also emerged. The fundamental value proposition of SaaS is that it should be easy to deploy and maintain, says Jeff Kaplan, managing director of consultancy THINKstrategies.
Ones to Watch
Sitel expanded its market reach via its merger with ClientLogic, which closed last February, and generated a 4.4 rating in company direction for its ability to improve upon clients' customer satisfaction and reduce defections. The vendor landed the 2007 Frost & Sullivan Award for Global Excellence in Customer Care Outsourcing by virtue of its global reach, customer contact solutions portfolio, and growth initiatives, DeSalles notes. "The merger brought them tremendous depth in international markets, and their customer-retention levels are very good," he says.
With contact centers in 45 countries servicing more than 75 markets, Teleperformance continues to build local-market leadership in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America through global acquisitions -- one reason for its category-leading company direction score of 4.7. By emphasizing intelligent customer contact supported by custom analytics and complex mathematical models, Teleperformance has turned the corner when it comes to customer needs -- and yet the company missed the leaderboard thanks to a hit in its rating for customer satisfaction (a 4.0 score).
Convergys has a solid reputation for customer satisfaction, scoring a 4.5, but has been slow to adapt to market changes. Still, analysts say the company is in talks with financial services firms seeking to offshore jobs to maximize cost savings, and blue-chip clients such as Starbucks and Johnson & Johnson continue to express high satisfaction. Analysts also laud company efforts to explore opportunities in Spanish-speaking markets.
EDS sustained its position as a leader by not resting on its laurels, transitioning from business process outsourcing to customer management services. EDS is also aggressively building industry-specific offerings, especially for large financial, retail, manufacturing, and high-tech firms. EDS has institutionalized key service offerings by process experts -- providing, for example, a support agent specializing in a particular consumer electronic product. The result has been a stellar reputation for depth of services (a score of 4.5).
Cultivating its customer contact solution with educated WAHAs and expanding its global reach, West has catapulted from a 2007 One to Watch to become the market winner in 2008. "West has been a very smart company," Bhattacharjee says, recently announcing that its WAHA service had been changed from a contractor model to an employee model. The move was triggered by clients' need for strong agent management, including continual coaching, feedback, and extensive quality monitoring.
That precision focus on customer service, coupled with West's advanced, agentless outbound-notification services, has propelled a reputation for depth of services. "Consumers can choose their touch point in terms of how they want to be contacted," DeSalles says. "Notifications can come across as a text message [or] cellphone automated message, and can connect to a live agent." West's willingness to invest in technology and optimized customer care solutions has led to excellent customer service ratings, a differentiator in a competitive field, DeSalles says, and a strong outbound-calling service lets West market new services to potential customers on behalf of clients. Additionally, West attempts to personalize and integrate its service suite into clients' operations, making it costly for them to leave. Though 32 percent of revenue comes from its 10 largest customers, those clients are loyal: They've been with the company, on average, for eight years. Moreover, the diversity of West's client base across numerous industries should shield the company from market volatility.
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