Voice-based services or call center services-- the offering that actually started it all for the BPO industry in countries like India and the Philippines, has changed a lot since inception. The very purpose of outsourcing this service has undergone a radical change.
“Initially, clients preferred to turn the work to service providers because the service providers offered a cost advantage or some type of 'peak volume overflow' capacity that the clients could not staff themselves,” says Sid Pai, Partner & Managing Director, TPI India.
Offshore call centers offering voice-based services were the perfect answer to this and one saw a massive build up of call centers in the early part of the decade. Very soon, the industry matured. Many call centers reached a point where they couldn’t scale up or they couldn’t retain key clients. This led to a shake-up in the call center industry, especially in India, where many of them were snapped up by IT services companies ( e.g. Infosys-Progeon, Wipro-Spectramind, IBM-Daksh, etc) seeking to enter the BPO industry.
BPO’s addressing the voice market had growth challenges. The way out was to shift the focus to other areas of BPO like finance/ accounting, mortgage, insurance and other niche sectors like KPO and LPO. Says Atul Vashishtha, CEO of Neo Advisory, “The market for non-voice services was expected to grow faster, as the call center sector was more mature and significantly developed ."
Revival and New Hope
The voice-based BPO industry is reviving. “Investments in technology platforms, process improvements, equipment and facilities and acquiring specific vertical capabilities, made by the service providers are outpacing those by the client. Service providers are moving up the value chain,” says Pai.
Voice- based services continue to expand their domain and tailor their offerings according to the needs of their clients. “Today customers are looking at unified communications to integrate various communication systems with their business applications to improve their business processes. These improved business processes lead to higher productivity for employees and greater customer satisfaction which in turn results in higher revenues and profits,” says Minhaj Zia, National Sales Manager, Unified Communications, Cisco India & SAARC.
Expanding scope of services
Clients today have access to a wide spectrum of services under voice. “Cisco subscribes to a range of services covering the entire gamut from technology services desk for customers and employees, human resources support for employees , escalation options for customers for quick access and marketing access to and from Cisco,” says V.C. Gopalratnam, Vice President (IT) and Chief Information Officer, Globalisation, Cisco, on the internal deployment of voice services in the company.
Providers are also developing expertise in niche areas within voice services. Andrew Kokes, Vice President of The Americas, Sitel, cites an example. “Revenue generation is one of the key metrics that Sitel is measured against for most customer care programs (revenue per month, revenue per call), and is a large part of our core expertise. More than half of all Sitel-managed inbound programs incorporate some form of upsell or cross-sell offer.”
The maturity of this segment allows outsourcing to many more locations as compared to emerging areas of BPO and thus finding price points and capabilities according to the specific needs of the client. “In all cases the services (we subscribe to) have a “follow the sun model” with sufficient geographical spread to cover all time zones effectively,” says Gopalratnam.
Collaboration and integration- the new formulas of growth
Collaboration and integration of communication platforms and capabilities are the new formulas of growth in this sector. “Collaboration is slowly moving towards new forms such as Enterprise Social Software, UC as a Service, TelePresence etc. Cisco’s Unified Contact Center solution.... provides a VoIP contact center solution that enables organizations to integrate inbound and outbound voice applications with Internet applications, including real-time chat, Web collaboration, and email. This integration provides for unified capabilities, helping a single agent support multiple interactions simultaneously, regardless of the communications channel the customer has chosen,” elaborates Zia.
Voice services are set to move to a higher degree of integration at multiple levels. Kokes says, “Voice-based contact center services are rapidly moving beyond traditional "voice" communication to include a blend of voice and live-chat (i.e., text based) engagement. In such arrangements, contact center agents are provided with real-time indicators of a website visitor’s propensity to purchase, and can invite that online consumer to chat via IM before the customer navigates away from the site. Such a model also opens the door to Pay-for-Performance client arrangements, whereby the call center fees for service can be aligned with the program’s overall success in producing incremental online sales.”
Zia also sees integration and improved technology as growth drivers for this sector. He says, “Enterprises will move beyond contact center to a customer interaction network with hosted contact centers for both enterprise customers and service providers. In a central office or data center, service providers will host the contact center infrastructure software, which will be shared by multiple business customers. Subscribing business customers will have IP or time-division multiplexing (TDM) infrastructures or a combination of the two.”
A suite of integrated services can also be introduced, he says, like virtual call centers, network routing with computer telephony integration (CTI), networked interactive voice response (IVR), intelligent call routing (routing calls between contact centers based on call context information, agent availability, and customer information from databases) and multimedia applications such as Web collaboration and e-mail response management.
With so much innovation happening and set to happen in this ‘traditional’ sector of BPO, analysts are optimistic of its transformational capabilities for businesses. “(Its potential to transform) looks evident given the investments made by the service providers on technology and platforms. In addition, leading service providers have built modern global services delivery infrastructures and implemented best practices that allow them to effectively and efficiently leverage their scale, volume, global capacity and technology to better serve their clients.” says Pai. To this, Atul Vashishtha adds that this is a market that will become increasingly global and Tier 2 players will need to specialize to succeed.