In the Outsourcing and Contact Centre industry, offshore and nearshore operations are fighting a reputation they haven’t earned. A small minority of major brands rushed into offshoring some years ago and the resulting failures still taint the image of a part of the sector which, when planned and managed properly, offers excellent benefits. The advantages offered by good Offshore and Nearshore operations are significant.
With competition intense and GDPR now an important factor in choosing an Outsourcing or Contact Centre partner, operations outside the UK or Europe must assure brands that they’re capable of not only doing a great job, but of full compliance too.
So, we asked some of the leading lights of the offshore and nearshore Contact Centre sector to tell us how they are dealing with brands to prove that it’s possible to marry competitive costs and excellent customer service from operations outside the UK.
Our Panel Of Experts
Niall Rogers, DDC Outsourcing Solutions – “DDC Outsourcing Solutions is a well-established part of an international group with 12 locations across the globe speaking 32 languages. We’re unusual given our fairly large size, in that we’re still privately owned. The group has grown from data capture into other areas and we’re always looking at ways to develop and to give great solutions to our customers.
“DDC OS’s core business has been Customer Service for around 10 years, with a particularly strong offering in the Utilities sector. We work in the retail, finance, insurance and other sectors too. Our approach is to never shy away from a challenge and if we can help, we will.
“Our ideal customers are brands who are open to a partnership approach where DDC OS can provide strategic input and become part of the team. We have the people and the expertise to be able to influence contact strategies for the better.”
James Prince, MD and Steve Prince, Operations Director, Business and Consumer Choices – “We’ve been in the marketplace for 30 years this April (2019). We initially built our reputation on data collection, building databases for other people to use. Data capture and surveying is still a substantial part of our business but increasingly we’re working on lead generation, establishing lead qualification and hot-keying opportunities to our clients. We also have a huge amount of experience in the gaming sector.”
Andy Norbury, Owner, ADC Contact Solutions – “ADC CS is a relatively new business built on years of experience delivering great contact solutions in South Africa for UK brands. I was building Contact Centres for major UK businesses and in 2010 I came out to South Africa. Our experience has been that teams here perform to a superb level at 30-40% less cost than in the UK, without the staff churn and recruitment issues that many UK operations work under.”
Why Should a Brand Consider Nearshore and/or Offshore?
Niall Rogers, DDC OS: “In an ideal world, location wouldn’t be a consideration! Many offshore outsourcers have locations throughout the world and are doing a great job. It’s important for brands to recognise the advantages that Offshore and Nearshore operators can offer.
“Cost is a major advantage. Using an Offshore provider usually saves money because the UK is simply more expensive. This is usually the first reason a brand will consider a Nearshore or Offshore outsourcer, but the decision then goes a lot deeper than that. What’s setting successful brands apart now is customer service, especially in very competitive or struggling markets such as retail. Customer service is such a big differentiator and driver of reputation.
“There is a perception of Offshore ‘sweatshops’ delivering poor customer service which thankfully is almost entirely untrue. Many Nearshore and Offshore capabilities are amazing. The percentage of degree-qualified multi-lingual agents outside the UK is amazing, coupled to lower costs too.
“So if you’re a brand, think about this: Where you absolutely need a UK voice? When you do, you can find excellent operations all around the world, for example The Philippines has some excellent English-speaking Contact Centres.
“Webchat and email response can more easily be placed either Offshore or Nearshore. Think about which of your customer service workstreams could be done just as well and around the clock outside the UK. You can utilise the best location for your brand’s needs. For example, your enquiries might not fit UK office hours at all, if they’re coming from people who are browsing during evenings and weekends in the UK.
“Always ask extra questions though. If you’re a brand, ask potential providers: How else can they help you? They might have ideas you haven’t even thought of! What other work in your sector have they done, and how have they delivered it? Most of the best providers, whether Offshore, Nearshore or indeed in the UK, will know someone who can help even if it’s not themselves.”
How Do BCC and ADC Work Together?
Steve Prince, BCC: “We have a strong presence in the gaming sector. A couple of years ago the planning that was going on for GDPR was impacting the amount of work some major clients were prepared to outsource. Being in the public eye, some big brands were nervous and began to scale down their operations and outsourcing. To make sure their needs were met, we began to look into offshore solutions to deliver a great service and reduce costs whilst safeguarding the clients against the perceived risks of Offshoring.
“We looked at Durban (South Africa) as a potential solution and we found that ADC Contact Solutions were mentioned to us more than once… so we decided to get in touch.
“BCC is based in the UK so we take care of data security and compliance from here, and we use our own systems and controls. We’re doing this for a mixture of clients from various sectors now, too. We use a blend of UK agents from BCC and overseas agents from ADC. Our Offshore team at ADC has grown from 5 agents to 55, proving how well the system works for us.
“UK costs have been rising for at least the last 6 years. This is an important factor, especially in the very competitive gaming and publishing markets where we have some of our largest clients. Offshoring and blending our UK and South African teams can allow us to offer fixed prices for up to 3 years, whilst in the UK the introduction of the Living Wage will once again push costs upwards.
“So in short, combining our two companies to serve our clients allows us to offer a UK presence with the cost benefit of Offshore operations.”
Andy Norbury, ADC: “A lot of the negative perception of Offshore operations is down to poor communication and difficulties building working relationships. Honesty and communication are key, and the BCC/ADC model delivers the benefits of Offshore with the easier relationship-building of Onshore.”
How Does GDPR Affect the Offshore & Nearshore Model?
James Prince, BCC: “Of course there are deeper issues, but in simple terms all our data is handled in the UK so we do not have issues with it being stored outside the EU. Information pops up on a screen in Durban and all storage and processing happens back at BCC in the UK.”
Andy Norbury, ADC: “The bigger the client, the bigger the sensitivity to risk, as a general rule. So we have to show how we handle those risks. It’s not worth putting a client’s reputation at risk so we take all aspects of GDPR very seriously in South Africa. We consider it very similar a UK operation using home-workers. Training is absolutely key, along with having good controls of how data is used even though it’s not processed on our overseas sites.”
Niall Rogers, DDC OS: “Naturally we’ve had a lot of questions about this issue. There is very little to worry about for security-conscious clients and outsourcers, because organisations who take data security and privacy seriously should not have needed to make big changes to comply with GDPR. We’ve written a White Paper called “GDPR and Outsourcing: Bursting The Myths” to outline our approach to compliance.
“Within the DDC group, we have a piece of software called DDC Risk View which specifically checks in real time for security issues, so we’re extremely proactive about not only compliance, but data security on the whole.”
Why Is There a Bad Reputation Attached to Offshore & Nearshore Operators, and What Can The Industry Do to Counter it?
Niall, DDC OS: “A small number of huge brands have become known for having the worst customer service and this has been widely publicised, which sadly fuels the reputation of Offshoring unfairly. The way to counteract this is to have a trusted voice consistently doing a good job over the phone, web or email.
“Also, brands advertising ‘UK only call centres’ don’t really help the reputation of great Contact Centres outside the UK. It’s a quick and easy way to differentiate from poor providers, but it really doesn’t help the vast majority of the sector, which acts honourably and delivers an excellent service.
“Maybe placing more emphasis on results like issue resolution or call answering times would help to focus on what consumers actually want: their issue resolved or their transaction processed quickly and accurately. The reality is that technology makes delivering great customer service processes more practical all the time, regardless of location.
“At DDC OS, our UK team means that relationships can be managed easily for UK brand clients, then your UK-based team handles the relationship with the Offshore & Nearshore parts of the team, what we call a Hybrid approach. Brands get highly skilled staff with the cost benefits of teams outside the UK, coupled to UK-based account management and liaison. This should place the focus firmly on getting the work done right without issues of past reputation mudding the waters.”
James Prince, BCC: “The root cause seems to have been when we experienced a lot of Ofshore call centres where the first language was clearly not English. Regardless of how an accent is perceived, the ability to think, talk, react and solve problems in quick response to consumers is vital. We chose ADC in Durban because the first language in Durban is English. In Cape Town, for example, it’s usually Afrikaans and that simply slows things down. Our ADC agents clearly have South African accents but the quality of conversations is excellent, with positive results for consumers.”
Andy Norbury, ADC: “As well as language, it’s essential to build any Contact Centre to have great agents and to deliver sustainably good service. Poor service comes from poorly-trained agents.
“Cultures can’t be changed quickly so you have to take account of the culture where your Contact Centre is based. Training can take longer but with good management this can be accounted for, and the cost savings add to the benefits. We’ve got trainers in situ, plus we work alongside the UK team at BCC with James and Steve as a UK-based escalation route to cover any client issues.”
Steve, BCC: “A lot of this is about trust. In the early days of Offshoring, a lot of mistakes were made and some Contact Centres tried to cover things up. This did a lot of damage not only to the trust of UK clients and consumers, but to some big brands. Let’s not forget, some big UK brands are still fairly poor operators, too!”
How Will the Market Develop as the World Becomes More Global?
Niall, DDC OS: “At DDC we plan to continue to develop our UK operation as well as our global operations. Our business model is very much based on serving from the UK with the benefits of global reach and lower costs without sacrificing quality.
“We have to consistently ask ourselves ‘What can we do better?’. We’re investing a lot of time into omni-channel communications, as it’s clear that consumers expect to be served through their preferred platforms. It’s not going to be enough to deliver excellent voice services in 10 years, as people move away from voice and hold conversations using other technologies.”
Steve Prince, BCC: “In the UK, ever-increasing costs are putting pressure on us all. A lot of smaller Contact Centres have either gone bust or been bought by larger players. However, there is a place for smaller operators and access to complementary Offshore partners or sites can help them to be competitive.
“Consumers increasingly want their customer experience via handheld devices. The investment needed to respond to this is also pushing operations offshore for cost reasons.”
Andy Norbury, ADC: “To many big brands the cost of operating in the UK is justified by the risk of reputational impact. However, attracting and retaining good staff is much more difficult. The Living Wage will not help in terms of delivering competitive services in the UK either. In South Africa there’s a very different dynamic to Contact Centres: agents are much more loyal as their wages usually support the family, whereas in the UK agents are usually second wage-earners or students who are less likely to stay.
“Consolidation of the industry towards fewer, more massive operators does leave a place for more agile operations to meet the needs of smaller clients or to serve workstreams that don’t require huge teams.”
What Questions Would YOU Ask Potential Providers if You Were a Brand?
Andy, ADC: “I’d ask about staff attrition rates and the training and investment in agents. The differences can be surprising between operations, not just across global working cultures. To establish trust, I’d ask about Quality Control systems and the availability of call recordings or live access to calls, plus the frequency and transparency of reporting.”
Steve, BCC: “When it comes to deciding between basing your Contact Centre in the UK or Offshoring, consider the risks versus the rewards. Offshoring is significantly cheaper, but it might take a little longer to get your project live. Also, you may have to hand over day-to-day control to someone a day’s flight away. If you trust the people you’re working with, you can afford to hand over a reasonable amount of control and oversight. In our relationship with ADC, we hold the main structures, data, account management, processes and systems in the UK. The South African ADC team works within our structure and we have a relationship which works for the benefit of our clients.
“So, the risks of an Offshore operation are mitigated by our UK operational effectiveness.”
Niall Rogers, DDC OS: “For the UK part of a potential outsourcer’s operation, I’d ask what their policy on innovation is. This gives an indication how forward-thinking they are and whether they’re likely to be able to meet your needs in a few years’ time.
“Where in the UK is your business based? – Some areas are better for UK Contact Centres than others for various reasons: employment catchment areas for suitable agents, transport links, account management and so on.
“What are your set-up times? This can encompass recruitment timescales as well as project and infrastructure plans. Great operators can be both quick and flexible, with rapid project deadlines and the ability to flex the size of a team up and down.
“Outside the UK, access to languages can be important. If your brand works across nationalities, this is a vital issue. At DDC OS for example, we work in 32 languages. You should also ask about Disaster Recovery planning and experience. More sites should mean more flexibility to solve problems and some organisations will have first-hand experience of moving operations to cope with very real situations: for example, weather disasters in the Philippines have resulted in us moving services around the world to cope! Whilst nobody wants to test their Disaster Recovery plans in real life, it’s been comforting to know that they work.
“Ask about plans post-Brexit. Preparation for potential Brexit scenarios shows what your provider’s flexibility and agility capabilities might be. Having operations inside and outside the EU can be a huge help, for the right partners.”
In Conclusion: Is Offshore or Nearshore a Viable Alternative to UK-based Contact Centres?
There may be a perception that using Offshore or Nearshore Contact Centres is not going to deliver as good a service as having all operations in the UK. There’s no doubt that some major brands are still suffering from poor decisions to relocate operations to Offshore providers without adequate planning or training, resulting in problems that have caused damage to their reputations.
However, the benefits of getting it right can be significant. UK costs are high and look like they can only get higher. The challenge is to achieve the cost benefits of moving some workstreams to locations where costs are much lower than the UK and where staff attrition is also lower and customer service is also excellent.
The experts we’ve interviewed for this article have invested their experience, resources and time to build teams with values and processes rooted in the UK, coupled to the lower costs of locations elsewhere in the world. By retaining data processing in the UK, GDPR compliance has been simplified too.
If your brand would like to see some of the benefits described here, the key will be in great due diligence. The Contact Centre panel can advise you on this, just give us a call to let us know what you’re looking for – 0114 209 6120.
Here at the Contact Centre Panel, we offer a free, no-obligation assessment of your current Sales and Customer Service Contact provision, so just contact us by email or call 0114 209 6120 to talk about your needs. We won’t push: we will only help if you need it.
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