While anecdotes from the industry press would lead us to believe that call center outsourcing – hiring a third party to engage in your contact center work – is dwindling, this is plainly not the case. According to research organization the Everest Group, global call center outsourcing grew between seven and eight percent in 2012 to reach $65 to 70 billion. The industry has clearly recovered from its lowest growth rate in years in 2009, and both new contracts and renewals are showing evidence of decent growth.
What the study does reveal is that the growth is highly regional – mature industries such as the U.S. and the UK have remained relatively flat – and as we might expect, most of it is in regions such as EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and APAC (Asia-Pacific). While customers are still chasing value – regions such as Asia often offer reduced labor costs – they are also looking at other factors, such as “follow the sun” strategies that allow them to offer service round-the-clock, tech support expertise that is getting harder to find locally, and remote spillover or disaster recovery services in the event of a sudden call spike or a power outage.
There is also evidence that call center outsourcing today is about much more than telephone calls. Non-voice channels are on the rise among outsourced call center services companies, and agents are handling e-mail, chat and even social media conversations. The industry calls them “value-added” services.
“We are finding that the scope of services in a contract is expanding quite a bit to include more value add,” Katrina Menzigian, VP at Everest Group and the report’s author, told the Web site Nearshore Americas. “Along with performance management, customer retention, and analytics, clients are also looking for subject matter expertise.”
As the industry is discovering, it’s not enough to simply pick up the phone. True customer engagement requires that agents continue conversations with customers when they contact a company, not treat each contact like a new event. When customers call, text or e-mail today, they expect the individual who handles their query will know who they are and understand their past history with the company. Today it’s the single largest driver of whether a customer considers an interaction to have gone well or gone poorly.
Aside from assuring that customers are serviced to the best possible standard of service, these multimedia outsourced contact center operations serve a different purpose: they help keep the pricing model for outsourcing attractive to buyers. By handling multimedia work or back-office work, third party call center companies are sweetening the deals and attracting more buyers.
“We have seen significant growth in pricing models that look beyond headcount,” says Menzigian. “These might include fixed fees for a value-added service, or they might be transaction-based. In this context, hybrid pricing is emergent.”
This drift away from transaction-based or fixed-price contracts makes sense, since labor costs have gone as low as they can go while still attracting educated workers who speak English (or other European languages) and meeting local minimum wage standards or industry and labor group mandates. By adding strategic extras to contracts, EMEA or APAC-based outsourcers can compete among one another for new business, or keep renewals in place.