Craig Gibson, CEO of Webhelp South Africa, argues quality rather than quantity should be the primary concern for customer experience companies choosing an offshore location…

South Africa has become something of a success story in customer experience circles in recent years. Its buoyant BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry now contributes close to 6 billion Rand (£350m) to the economy, and employs more than 200,000 people.

In 2014 the number of people working in the sector in the Western Cape – just one of three provinces in which BPO is booming – has already grown 8%.  Meanwhile in the region as a whole, employment in the offshore sector has increased by an impressive 41%.

And the good news is the market is far from overheating. With more than 370,000 English speakers joining the workforce each year, there should be substantial growth opportunities for the offshore workforce in the foreseeable future.

All this being said, we remain cautious.  South Africa’s BPO industry is still susceptible to a unique quirk of the outsourcing sector – the belief that once a market reaches maturity, it’s time to get out before a shortage of talent and real estate begins to push prices up.

However, operators should look at moving to cheaper locations to reduce costs at their peril if they fail to factor quality into the equation.  In itself, moving operations to a new location comes with significant set-up costs and can be inherently risky, meanwhile it also closes the door on a substantial opportunity in the existing market.

By investing in the talent and resources they’ve already spent considerable time and effort developing, instead of burning them, outsourcers can actually stand to achieve far greater efficiency gains and long-term customer experience improvements.

In South Africa for example, sustained outsourcers’ investment has stabilised costs while substantially developing the local talent pool.  Outsourcers have also funded vast improvements in the county’s telecoms infrastructure which have made it an even more attractive offshore proposition.

The trick is in establishing a true measure of costs, versus value. Where low costs have for many years been the predominant driver for the offshore sector, smart businesses realise they don’t necessarily deliver the best value.

Sure, a new market may be 20% cheaper in terms of labour and operations, but these savings are worth nothing if the new operations don’t provide the quality customer experience needed to maintain sales performance, loyalty and retention.

When you begin to consider the value a given location and its talent can deliver, suddenly the cheapest option becomes a secondary consideration.

When we began to look at South Africa, we found a well-educated, intelligent and articulate population whose English language fluency and close cultural similarities to Western Europe.  All these factors made them a perfect fit for our clients with English-speaking customers which added substantial value.

Ultimately however, to deliver an excellent customer experience that achieves business objectives, interactions must be compliant. This is critical, regardless of how much they cost to deal with, or where they’re managed.

But just how exactly do you measure this?

While average handle time and speed to answer are relatively easy to assess, the same cannot be said of the customer experience. It’s not enough to simply measure customers’ happiness and brand loyalty, you need to find a way of gauging their satisfaction with each individual interaction.

In the same way as we use Touchpoint Net Promoter Scores (tNPS) directly after interactions to establish a customers’ likelihood to recommend the brand, we’ve begun experimenting with sentiment analysis to determine their mood and whether their disposition to the brand has been positively or negatively affected by their contact.

As a result we’re able to provide our team members’ with feedback to further improve customer experience, which in turn reduces waste and improves efficiencies even further.

By building well-governed operations that focus on delivering sustainable value, rather than turning a quick buck, and by working with local governments to build talent rather than burn through it, it’s our belief that we can change our relationship with offshore locations.  Ultimately, we hope this will ensure ‘maturity’ in offshore markets comes to be – as it is with South African fine wines – something to savour.

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