When consumers cite phoning a contact centre as the second-most stressful thing in life, something is clearly very wrong. While moving house was understandably quoted as the most stressful event in a recent survey by Empirix, a call to a contact centre surely shouldn't be more stressful than getting married.
But is it really any wonder, when consumers are left on hold or passed from one agent to another? Consumer confidence has been further damaged by instances such as HSBC admitting that it decides whether to direct callers overseas or to a UK call centre depending on the amount of money in their bank account. Yet more harm to the industry's reputation came with a Channel 4 documentary in March, which exposed the practice of British consumer data being lifted from Indian call centres, claiming that thousands of credit card and passport details are being stolen and sold on.
The backlash against overseas call centres has prompted some brands to return their operations to the UK. While the move offshore was seen as a way to cut costs, it has led to complaints of poor service and frustrated customers. A lot of outsourced work should have remained in the UK, argues David Payne, managing director at Maia Consulting. 'Customer service work should certainly remain within European culture,' he says. 'Yet for every company announcing its return, there is another leaving for overseas providers.' While Lloyds TSB has brought its operations back to the UK, for example, Barclays has moved more jobs out to India.
NatWest, meanwhile, has used its UK-only call centre policy as a marketing tool. In its ad campaign, it guaranteed that customers would be put through to contact-centre bank staff in Barnsley or Cardiff, rather than Bombay or Calcutta.
However, investment in such marketing activity is money wasted if poor call centre experiences drive consumers away. While it might seem obvious that the customer experience suggested in TV ads should marry with the reality, Anne Marie Forsyth, chief executive at the Customer Contact Association, believes that often they are all too different. 'However, innovative companies are now starting to join the two together, which is seen in job titles such as director of customer experience,' she adds.
Insurance company More Th>n is one company that has managed to put customer service at the heart of its marketing strategy, introducing personal managers for customers calling its contact centres. They are guaranteed to reach a named agent, either by phone or email, and hear back from them within 24 hours if they don't get through immediately. Its current ad campaign highlighting the concept is the first time More Th>n has led with such a service proposition. 'Everyone talks about First Direct and its service messages in banking,' says head of marketing Pete Markey. 'We want insurance consumers to think of us for service.'
While More Th>n runs this service in-house, the concept has garnered interest in the wider outsourced industry. 'One of the big challenges is developing the capability of individuals to provide a high level of personal service, by ensuring they have all the relevant information and that they are correctly trained,' says Ian Bateman, managing director at Inkfish. 'From a logistical point of view, that individual might not always be available. We are likely to see more of this strategy - but limited to specific industries and for certain services.'
Getting companies to commit to this sort of training is not as easy as it should be. While contact centres have evolved from a simple response mechanism to handle the lion's share of customer communications, many businesses still view them from an old-fashioned perspective. 'Many clients do not see the phone as a brand-enhancing service - they see it as a cost centre,' admits John Price, chairman of the DMA Contact Centre Council. 'Until big service firms really look at what they are doing, instead of cutting costs and compromising customer value and service, we will have bad practice,' he says. 'We're expecting staff to put the brand values upfront, when the ethos of the company is often to give the least amount of service at the lowest cost for the biggest profit.'
Not everyone sees the landscape in such stark terms. 'It was a case of acquisition at any price 10 years ago,' admits Chay Garland, chief executive at Garlands Call Centres. 'Today it is about getting the image of contact centres right in the eyes of the customer. Organisations understand the value of keeping customers,' she adds. 'They are the richest source of marketing information a business has access to.'
One insurance company that has taken this strategy to the extreme is Swiftcover, which trades on the fact that it has scrapped its call-centre strategy. Customers can get quotes and sort claims online, with a team of 12 on hand to answer calls if necessary and more for email support. Axing the overheads of a contact centre means cheaper premiums, explains Tina Shortle, marketing director at Swiftcover. 'We wanted to shake up the industry, which was too traditional and not thinking enough about the customer experience,' she says. 'It also made consumers realise that they don't need to go through a call centre if they don't want to.'
Similarly dedicated to its 'customers', The National Blood and Transplant Service runs a helpline for donors, which receives about 2m calls a year, and makes nearly 2.5m more. While primarily a reminder service, it has introduced some customer-service elements, such as asking donors if they want to make another appointment and to discover how a first- timer's experience went. As a result, outbound calls will grow. Only 28% of donors currently make appointments; the target is to increase that to nearly 80%.
'When people are looking to do something altruistic, we are competing with 235,000 registered charities,' says Ian Hamerton, its national call centre manager. 'We ask a lot from our donors - they visit a draughty village hall and have needles stuck into them. We need to give as good a service as we can.'
To ensure that this service is top-notch, it runs a number of checks on its contact-centre agency, Teleperformance. At least 300 random callers complete a survey covering empathy, understanding, clear information, listening, politeness and service recommendation, and a 10-point satisfaction scale is applied. The service only counts 10 as a success - more than 80% score 10s, and less than 0.5% score 0. 'We have to deliver what the customer wants,' says Hamerton. 'Nobody ever calls for a chat.'
To provide an effective service, it makes a big difference if advisers have all the relevant information about a customer on-screen. This aids customer service as callers can be dealt with by one agent, rather than being transferred around several, allowing for more integrated cross- and upselling opportunities. Yet such systems remain some way off for most firms. 'It is difficult because companies build up different business areas with various propositions, which operate on diverse systems,' explains John Byrne, marketing director at Vertex.
Some firms have added CRM to existing systems, enabling all the data to be viewed from a central point. 'But such systems cost money and there is a strategic debate; the client must decide whether to make that investment based on what the return might be,' says Byrne. While systems are improving, according to Maia's Payne, 'you'll still see agents switching between screens and systems'.
Of course, no matter how high-tech the system, it will only be as effective as the employees who operate it; if they are disengaged or poorly trained, they are unlikely to offer a great brand experience to callers. 'We employ staff with life experience, who can have a grown-up conversation with customers,' says Byrne.
Lifestyle is a recruitment factor for Merchants, which tries to match the lifestyle of staff with the brands they will be representing. 'There's no point trying to talk to customers about life insurance if you have no experience of it,' says Martin Dove, Merchants' managing director for Europe. 'We're looking for genuine interest. It has a direct correlation with their ability to empathise with the customer.'
One approach being tested to attract more involved staff is allowing them to work from home. Teleperformance uses home workers for specialist services such as Welsh-language speakers. Vertex currently has about 130 homeworkers - not as many as Byrne would like. 'We often have clients who want a long-day service, and it is a good way of filling the gap either side of nine to five,' he says. 'I could see virtual businesses set up where people sit at home, but link into a call centre and provide that service because they are a specialist,' he says.
However, Ben Dixon, chief executive at customer management firm LBM, does not believe that these employees will be able to offer as good a service. 'It is nice to think it could happen, but you can't instill company culture or provide the same training if staff are remote,' he says. Payne agrees: 'It's not going to work. You need people around to keep your energy levels up,' he argues. 'But I could see contact centres fragmenting into regional units, so you might have a 20-person unit in a village.'
About 14% of the UK's near-6000 contact centres are outsourced, totalling 581,000 agent positions. This number is predicted to rise 31% by 2011, stressing the importance of getting customer service right now. Those that leave it too long will find that both consumers, and brands, won't think twice about hanging up and turning to a company providing a better experience.
Broadsystem is affected by the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which restricts the amount of financial information that can be made public by companies with US parents. For this company, we have used the latest available data from Companies House, provided by Willott Kingston Smith, to give an indication of the size of the agency compared with its peers. The latest available figures are for the 2005 financial year. Transcom Worldwide has not been included in the rankings, as it was unable to separate out its UK turnover from its global figures.
FACT FILE - TOP 10 BRANDS FOR CUSTOMER
EXPERIENCE OF TELEMARKETING
3 First Direct
4 Learn Direct
6 British Gas
8 Virgin Media
10 National Blood Service
Source: Maia Consulting Brands were benchmarked over the past eight
months. Good performance had to be repeated on multiple calls, handled
by different agents.
TOP CONTACT CENTRE AGENCIES
RANK AGENCY Turnover Turnover Change
2006 (pounds) 2005 (pounds) (%)
1 Vertex 420,400,000 413,500,000 2
2 Ventura 190,900,000 149,200,000 28
3 Sitel 116,100,000 109,200,000 6
4 Teleperformance 55,000,000 53,371,000 3
5 Response 51,000,000 47,000,000 9
6 Telecom Service Centres 49,300,000 43,400,000 14
7 Garlands Call Centres 43,500,000 36,200,000 20
8 LBM 40,510,000 39,541,000 2
9 Prolog 36,500,000 35,000,000 4
10 Inkfish Call Centres 32,774,000 31,327,000 5
11 The Listening Company 26,000,000 17,400,000 49
12 CPM 15,660,000 10,660,000 47
13 2Touch 15,000,000 15,000,000 0
Broadsystem* 14,893,000 24,800,000 -40
14 Pell & Bales 13,000,000 10,500,000 24
15 Ant Marketing 10,000,000 8,500,000 18
16 Arvato Loyalty Services 9,500,000 8,220,000 16
17 Telegen 7,700,000 8,100,000 -5
18 Kingston Comms Contact
Centres n/a 7,200,000 n/a
19 CCA Direct-Dialog 4,800,000 4,200,000 14
20 Converso Contact
Centres 4,310,000 4,200,000 3
21 Spark Response 4,225,000 6,220,000 -32
22 Navigator Customer
Management 3,700,000 3,700,000 0
23= Data Base Factory UK 3,100,000 3,000,000 3
23= The Telemarketing
Company 3,100,000 3,000,000 3
25= Europa 1,400,000 1,200,000 17
25= Senior Response Limited 1,400,000 1,000,000 40
27 Base Connections 1,180,000 1,217,000 -3
28 Blue Donkey Intelligent
Telemarketing 1,000,000 650,000 54
29 Eclipse Marketing 920,000 820,000 12
30 Chorus Direct 905,330 641,250 40
31 Confero 750,000 750,000 0
32 Price Direct 500,000 500,000 0
33 Granby Marketing
Services 189,000 290,000 -35
RANK AGENCY Gross profit Gross profit Chg Staff Live
2006 (pounds) 2005 (pounds) (%) opera-
1 Vertex 16,900,000 24,700,000 -32 9000 6300
2 Ventura 58,600,000 42,700,000 37 9007 6880
3 Sitel 46,800,000 42,700,000 10 4800 7150
4 Teleperformance n/a n/a n/a 2500 2400
5 Response 15,000,000 16,000,000 -6 2500 3000
6 Telecom Service
Centres 15,000,000 14,900,000 1 2400 n/a
7 Garlands Call
Centres 9,000,000 7,100,000 27 3100 3200
8 LBM n/a n/a n/a 1900 1800
9 Prolog n/a n/a n/a 900 1000
10 Inkfish Call
Centres n/a n/a n/a 1500 2030
11 The Listening
Company 8,900,000 6,200,000 44 1600 1350
12 CPM n/a n/a n/a 400 700
13 2Touch n/a n/a n/a 545 500
Broadsystem* 3,603,000 4,149,000 -13 350 570
14 Pell & Bales 5,200,000 4,200,000 24 100 500
15 Ant Marketing 1,200,000 900,000 33 650 1000
16 Arvato Loyalty
Services 2,540,000 1,900,008 34 n/a 115
17 Telegen 3,500,000 3,700,000 -5 290 240
18 Kingston Comms
Contact Centres n/a n/a n/a 300 500
19 CCA Direct-Dialog 2,100,000 1,850,000 14 250 300
20 Converso Contact
Centres 1,302,000 1,385,000 -6 148 260
21 Spark Response 1,370,000 1,530,000 -10 192 540
22 Navigator Customer
Management n/a n/a n/a 60 150
23= Data Base
Factory UK n/a n/a n/a 48 120
23= The Telemarketing
Company 1,750,000 1,700,000 3 120 100
25= Europa n/a n/a n/a 35 n/a
25= Senior Response
Limited n/a n/a n/a 50 50
27 Base Connections 160,000 123,000 30 37 94
28 Blue Donkey
Telemarketing 300,000 100,000 200 35 100
29 Eclipse Marketing 507,200 541,200 -6 62 50
30 Chorus Direct 337,382 207,052 63 150 300
31 Confero n/a n/a n/a 40 180
32 Price Direct 100,000 100,000 0 6 100
33 Granby Marketing
Services 115,000 170,000 -32 75 60
Founded 1996. Subsidiary United Utilities. Chairman Philip Green,
MD Tom Drury. 70% inbound, 5% outbound, 25% web services. Clients
include Westminster City Council, Marks & Spencer, Royal Liver.
Member CCA. www.vertex.co.uk
Founded 1968. Subsid Next. Chair James Howell, MD Kate Marsden.
87% in, 10% out, 2% web, 1% other. 95% strategic, 2% fulfilment,
3% other. Clients include Northern Rock, Orange, British Gas.
Member CCA. www.ventura-uk.com
Founded 1985. Subsid Onex Corporation. Chairman Dave Garner, MD
Dale Saville. 75% inbound, 12% outbound, 8% web, 5% other. 3%
tactical, 57% strategic, 2% fulfilment, 38% other. Clients
include BT, T-Mobile. Member CCA. www.sitel.com
Founded 1950. Subsid Teleperformance Group. Chair Jeff Smith. 65%
inbound, 25% outbound, 10% web. 25% tactical, 65% strategic, 5%
cons, 5% fulfilment. Clients include COI, Sainsbury's. Member
CCA, DMA. www.teleperformance.co.uk
Founded 1991. Subsid Murray Intl Holdings. Chair Donald Wilson,
chief executive David Wallace. 63% in, 34% out, 3% other. 25%
tact, 70% strat, 2% cons, 2% fulfil, 1% other. Clients include
Sky. Member CCA, DMA. www.response-uk.co.uk
6 TELECOM SERVICE CENTRES
Founded 1994. Privately owned. Chair John Cole, chief executive
Ken Hills. 97% in, 2% out, 1% web. 10% tactical, 87% strat, 1%
cons, 1% fulfilment, 1% other. Clients include T-Mobile,
Hewlett-Packard, HSBC. Member CCA, DMA. www.tsc.co.uk
7 GARLANDS CALL CENTRES
Founded 1980. Privately owned. Chief executive Chay Garland. 74%
inbound, 20% outbound, 6% web services. Clients include Vodafone,
TalkTalk, Virgin Media. Member CCA. www.cjgarland.co.uk
Founded 1996. Privately owned. Chairman Keith Pacey, chief
executive Ben Dixon. 35% inbound, 65% outbound. Clients include
O2, Sky, Carphone Warehouse. Member CCA, DMA. www.lbm.co.uk
Founded 1981. Subsid Caverswall Holdings. Chair Sir Bernard
Audley, MD Robert Audley. 50% in, 10% out, 20% web, 20% other.
30% tact, 20% strat, 40% fulfil, 10% other. Clients include DfES,
DoH, HSE. Member CCA. www.prolog.uk.com
10 INKFISH CALL CENTRES
Founded 1995. Subsid Domestic & General. Chair John Pearmund, MD
Ian Bateman. 70% in, 28% out, 1% web, 1% other. 6% tactical, 94%
strategic. Clients include D&G Warranty, Post Office Homephone.
Member CCA, DMA. www.inkfish.co.uk
11 THE LISTENING COMPANY
Founded 1998. Privately owned. Chief executive Neville Upton. 49%
inbound, 45% outbound, 6% other. 94% tactical, 6% consultancy.
Clients include BSkyB, MBNA, O2. Member CCA, DMA.
Founded 1936. Subsidiary Omnicom. Chair Tony Stratton, MD Mike
Hughes. 42% in, 41% out, 5% web, 12 other. 30% tactical, 50%
strategic, 20% fulfilment. Clients include British Gas, Honda,
GSK. Member CCA, DMA. www.cpm-int.com
Founded 1969. Subsidiary Acxiom. Chairman Ken Goulding, MD Stuart
Gray. 30% inbound, 19% outbound, 51% other. 19% tactical, 30%
strategic, 46% fulfilment, 5% other. No clients disclosed. Member
CCA, DMA. www.2touch.co.uk
Founded 1986. Subsid News Intl. Chair Les Hinton, CEO Caroline
Worboys. 45% in, 5% out, 20% web, 30% other. 1% tact, 45% strat,
20% cons, 10% fulfil, 24% other. Clients incl COI, Future
Publishing. Member CCA, DMA. www.broadsystem.com
14 PELL & BALES
Founded 1991. Privately owned. Chief executive Karl Holweger. 1%
inbound, 99% outbound. 85% tactical, 5% consultancy, 5%
fulfilment, 5% other. Clients include NSPCC, Cancer Research,
15 ANT MARKETING
Founded 1989. Privately owned. MD Andy Hinchcliffe. 5% in, 95%
out. 35% tactical, 55% strategic, 4% consultancy, 5% fulfilment,
1% other. Clients include AIG, Royal Bank of Scotland Group,
Centrica. Member DMA. www.antmarketing.com
16 ARVATO LOYALTY SERVICES
Founded 1995. Subsid Arvato Services. Chair Matthias Mierisch,
CEO Graham Ede. 75% in, 15% out, 5% web, 5% other. 30% tact, 20%
strat, 10% cons, 20% fulfil, 20% other. Clients include Audi.
Member CCA, DMA. www.arvatoloyalty.com
Founded 2000. Privately owned. Chairman Steve King, managing
director Tony Kinghorn. 15% inbound, 85% outbound. 95% tactical,
5% fulfilment. No clients disclosed. Member DMA.
18 KINGSTON COMMS CONTACT CENTRES
Founded 2000. Privately owned. Managing director Jason
Rewse-Davies. 79% inbound, 19% outbound, 2% web services. 19%
tactical, 5% consultancy, 76% fulfilment. No clients disclosed.
Member CCA, DMA. www.kcom.com
19 CCA DIRECT-DIALOG
Founded 1992. Subsid CCA International. Chair Jean Pierre
Cismaresco, MD Carol Rogerson. 54% in, 40% out, 3% web, 3% other.
38% tact, 50% strat, 2% cons, 5% fulfil, 5% other. Clients incl
BT, GM. Member CCA, DMA. www.ccadirectdialog.com
20 CONVERSO CONTACT CENTRES
Founded 2003. Privately owned. Managing director Dino Forte. 62%
inbound, 38% outbound. 14% tactical, 86% other. No clients
disclosed. Member DMA. www.converso.co.uk
21 SPARK RESPONSE
Founded 1982. Privately owned. Chairman Barry Stiefel, managing
director Peter Slee. 74% inbound, 26% outbound. 26% tactical, 74%
fulfilment. Clients include Toys R Us, Powergen, DeAgostini.
22 NAVIGATOR CUSTOMER MANAGEMENT
Founded 1991. Privately owned. Chair Stephen Dover, MD Tim
Cooper. 65% in, 25% out, 10% web. 30% tact, 15% strat, 15% cons,
30% fulfil, 10% other. Clients include Skoda, Seat, Children's
Mutual. Member CCA, DMA. www.navigatorcm.com
23= DATA BASE FACTORY UK
Founded 2000. Subsid Aurenis Group. Chair Marc Labarre, MD Peter
Gale. 85% in, 5% out, 5% web, 5% other. 5% tactical, 5%
strategic, 85% fulfilment, 5% other. Clients include GE Fabbri,
Eaglemoss. Member DMA. www.dbfactory.co.uk
23= THE TELEMARKETING COMPANY
Founded 1990. Privately owned. Chairman Niall Habba. 100%
outbound. 50% tactical, 50% strategic. Clients include American
Express, PALM, CMP Business Information. Member DMA.
Founded 1994. Privately owned. Chief executive Alan Haley. 80%
outbound, 20% other. Clients include IBM, Microsoft, Avnet.
25= SENIOR RESPONSE LIMITED
Founded 2001. Privately owned. Chairman Christopher Aldcroft,
managing director Mike Bingham. 100% outbound. 100% tactical.
Clients include Hidden Hearing, Cancer Research, Liverpool
27 BASE CONNECTIONS
Founded 1994. Privately owned. Managing director Ari Snider. 5%
inbound, 95% outbound. 85% tactical, 9% strategic, 1%
consultancy, 5% fulfilment. No clients disclosed. Member DMA.
28 BLUE DONKEY INTELLIGENT TELEMARKETING
Founded 1997. Privately owned. Managing director Sureya Landini.
100% outbound. 100% tactical. Clients include Dow Jones, Bank of
Scotland, Unipart. Member DMA. www.bluedonkey.co.uk
29 ECLIPSE MARKETING
Founded 1988. Privately owned. MD David Pickering. 70% in, 20%
out, 10% web. 25% tact, 10% strategic, 5% consultancy, 20%
fulfilment, 40% other. Clients include Vodafone, Vauxhall, Alpro.
Member CCA, DMA. www.eclipsemarketing.co.uk
30 CHORUS DIRECT
Founded 2001. Subsidiary Sigma Group. Managing director Robin
Barton. 50% inbound, 50% outbound. Clients include AIG, Percepta,
Daily Telegraph. Member CCA. www.chorusdirect.com
Founded 2001. Privately owned. MD David Freedman. 30% inbound,
55% outbound 15% other. 10% tactical, 70% strategic, 5%
consultancy, 5% fulfilment, 10% other. Clients include Pizza Hut,
Yahoo!, Nissan. Member DMA. www.confero.co.uk
32 PRICE DIRECT
Founded 1990. Privately owned. Managing director John Price. 100%
outbound. 100% tactical. Clients include Allianz Cornhill, Reed,
Cisco. Member DMA. www.pricedirect.com
33 GRANBY MARKETING SERVICES
Founded 1955. Privately owned. Chair Derek Bulcock, MD Stephen
Bentley. 60% inbound, 30% outbound, 10% web. 2% tactical, 98%
fulfilment. Clients include COI, Sainsbury's, Kimberly-Clark.
Member DMA. www.granbymarketing.com
TOP 5 FOR GROWTH
AGENCY Turnover Turnover Change
2006 (%) 2005 (%) %
1 The Listening Company 26,000,000 17,400,000 49
2 CPM 15,660,000 10,660,000 47
3 Ventura 190,900,000 149,200,000 28
4 Pell & Bales 13,000,000 10,500,000 24
5 Garlands Call Centres 43,500,000 36,200,000 20
TOP 5 FOR GROWTH
AGENCY Turnover Turnover Change
2006 (%) 2005 (%) %
1 Blue Donkey 1,000,000 650,000 54
2= Chorus Direct 905,330 641,250 40
2= Senior Response 1,400,000 1,000,000 40
4 Europa 1,400,000 1,200,000 17
5 Arvato Loyalty Svces 9,500,000 8,220,000 16