More than ever before, the recession has made customer experience a corporate priority. “This is encouraged both on the agent side and in channel management,” says John Willmott, cofounder, chief executive officer, and business process outsourcing lead analyst at NelsonHall. This year’s contact center outsourcing leaders are agile—their modes of delivery include offshore, near-shore, work-at-home agents, and vast geographic footprints. Integration with automated channels, interactive voice response, and Web self-service is also paramount. Last year was one of consolidation, but instead of knocking out competitors, outsourcers were ogling complementary solutions to expand service, enter new territories, and specialize in new verticals. That may change, but Forrester Research analyst Elizabeth Herrell says that she expects more consolidation: “We [are in a] market that is feeling the effects of strong competitive pricing,” Herrell says.
Need evidence that consolidation doesn’t have to hurt the customer base? HP Enterprise Services (formerly known as EDS) maintained its status this year, despite some early questions about the company’s future after Hewlett-Packard’s May 2008 purchase. HP raised its score in customer satisfaction from a 3.8 in 2009 to a 4.5 this year. HP has an “outstanding reputation among clients,” remarks Frost & Sullivan analyst Michael DeSalles. Although scores for depth of services (4.0) and company direction (3.5) both took dips since last year, DeSalles says HP is focused on its enterprise customers.
A smart acquisition strategy helped newcomer Sykes onto the leaderboard this year. Acquiring ICT Group in October was what one industry analyst calls a “good forward-looking move.” Willmott says the deal “puts [Sykes] up there with the leaders.” ICT brings Sykes expertise in healthcare and government—verticals, Willmott says, that will further the company’s growth. Sykes received the highest score among the leaders for company direction (4.2); yet its depth-of-services score (3.9) waned. Compared to leading outsourcers, Willmott says, Sykes isn’t “doing the same level of activity around multichannel and analytics.”
Surprised to see last year’s winner Teleperformance knocked down a peg? So were analysts, yet several of them chipped away at the company’s scores due to some blips in strategy and client satisfaction. Ratings for depth of services bore the brunt, dropping from a 4.8 last year to a 4.0. Analysts praise the company’s global presence and solid financial position, but Willmott recalls a 2009 performance call during which it surfaced that some basics were not in place in terms of agent management and cost control. “The level of offshoring [Teleperformance] actually needed didn’t seem to be there,” he says. The company’s customer satisfaction score dropped half a point, which DeSalles suggests may be due to some recent negative publicity overseas. Regardless, don’t expect Teleperformance to fall off the radar just yet: “When it comes to contact centers,” one analyst says, “[Teleperformance has] the best minds you could hope for.”
What a difference a year makes. A 2009 One to Watch in this category, Convergys emerges as this year’s winner, thanks to several highly rated moves. DeSalles praises the company’s excellent reputation in the marketplace—it scored a whopping 4.7 in customer satisfaction. Its new data-decisioning service has been turning heads, as has an innovative roadmap. One analyst suggests that Convergys may have bitten off more than it could chew in 2008 by focusing on becoming a “relationship company.” Fast-forward to today, when another analyst suggests that the company’s leaders “have a fairly good idea of what they want to achieve as a business.” Analysts praise the company’s “seasoned management team” and its “overall strong value proposition.”
ONE TO WATCH
Sitel took a slide in its standings this year, mostly due to low scores in company direction. One analyst notes, however, that the company is working on beefing up its home-agent model, which should improve prospects. The same analyst praises Sitel’s ability to innovate, so don’t be surprised if the company returns to the leaderboard next year.
West finds itself a One to Watch for the second year, again just narrowly trailing the leaders. One analyst says that, although West is a strong player with a focus on direct response, the company may be getting pigeonholed. West has significant deployments and offshore capabilities, but may not be perceived as having a portfolio as robust as those of some of its competitors. Despite any apparent misperception, Frost & Sullivan’s DeSalles says West’s blended solutions remain the best in the business.