Mindpearl: perfect match – William Pattison
Call centres have long been integral to a bank's customer service offering. As financial institutions fight to carve a niche in the marketplace, their ability to forge strong relationships can prove a major determinant of success. And while customer relationship management (CRM) has many components, contact centres remain near the top of the list.
In theory, the benefits are obvious.
Call centre operatives can assuage customer concerns whenever and wherever they arise. Not tied into the strict working hours of a branch, they provide a helpful channel of communication, no matter how complex the query.
In practice, however, there are pitfalls. For many organisations, the major problem is turnover - employees face difficult working conditions and must frequently be replaced. Given the impact on the bottom line, it is easy to see why so many banks outsource their operations to lower-cost locations abroad.
"Looking at a banking institution, they'll want to retain a small proportion of their call centre business onshore, whether it's for their top customers or for calls that require high-level negotiations," says William Pattison, CEO of Mindpearl. "But they'll often put 90% of their call centre business offshore if it's done in the correct manner."
Outsourcing: a follow-the-sun philosophy
For many years, European organisations typically outsourced to India and the Philippines. Intent on maximising the labour arbitrage, they employed a low-cost workforce in a low-cost location. So prevalent as to be a cliché, this practice was not without its disadvantages: the time difference proved problematic, often necessitating employees to work antisocial hours.
"If people are on permanent night shifts, you will see high attrition," explains Pattison. "This has been found by a lot of call centres on the Indian subcontinent. There's no reason why you can't balance your calls between different centres, provide a superior work environment and minimise the overnight shifts."
Then there was the issue of cultural fit. Many employees in India required intensive scripting, a fact that sat awkwardly against customers' need for personalised service.
"Financial services require people to make business decisions, provide empathy at the right point and react on what's being said," says Pattison. "For a lot of people in the UK, scripting drives them insane."
In many cases, these issues proved insuperable. The trend today is away from reliance on up-front cost savings, and towards a more sustainable strategy that satisfies customers and employees alike.
This philosophy lies at the heart of Mindpearl's client offering. As a specialist multilingual contact centre services provider, the company has facilities dispersed across the globe. With services offered in more than 20 languages, employees are based in Barcelona, Brisbane, Cape Town, Dubai and Suva, such that 'the sun never sets on the Mindpearl empire'. Incoming calls can be rerouted to a native speaker at the appropriate location.
"Following the sun was certainly our plan from the beginning," says Pattison. "My target attrition rate is 9%, which is very low when I look at my competitors. And in my opinion, it comes about because of our 'follow the sun' concept."
Not only does Mindpearl provide desirable working hours, it also boasts superior facilities.
"We try our best to try to mould shift patterns requirements based on employees' needs - we're not running a chicken ranch," Pattison explains. "Our facilities are at the top end compared with most of our competitors. One has to work around whether you're going to provide the employees' parking or ensure that shifts are compatible with the public transport offerings of a particular city, therefore creating a very safe environment."
This gives Mindpearl greater scope to employ top-quality employees. The company recognises that technology can only take it so far - it must also find the right people for the job and ensure they deliver every time.
In Mindpearl's case, employees need to be able to tackle highly specialised enquiries. Historically, the company shied away from financial services customers, having been founded to address call centre needs for a consortium of airlines. Now, however, it is looking to branch into the banking sector, which has broadly analogous customer requirements.
"In our training, we go through listening to what the caller's actually saying - we certainly don't assume to know what they want," says Pattison. "There's not a set 'ABC answer' that can come to that customer or that caller. Every one of them has a unique request and that needs to be handled appropriately."
This intelligent approach is much easier to adopt in countries with a complementary cultural background; for example, Tokyo customers can be served by Mindpearl's Japanese-speaking Brisbane staff. Looking towards the UK market, the company sees benefits in outsourcing to South Africa. Its Cape Town employees, many of whom have travelled to Europe, have a notably strong affinity with the country.
"India and the Philippines have been very successful in the back office and continue to be so, but in terms of telephonic workload, South Africa is streets ahead," says Pattison. "I think the education system and the cultural match with the UK is a lot closer, and the culture is not to do scripting - you ask employees to use their initiative and common sense."
South Africa: call-centre spotlight
Mindpearl was one of the first contact centre services providers to enter South Africa, having established its operation there as early as 2001. Since then, it has worked closely with local government investment bureaus, and has been used as a showcase for other companies that are catching on to the trend.
Although Cape Town is more expensive than India or the Philippines, the quality is sufficiently high to retain customers and employees, and thereby save money in the long run. Should a company have concerns about the location, these tend to dissipate on closer inspection.
"If you've got people who haven't travelled or do not know South Africa, there's this idea that you're in a 'third world' country with very poor infrastructure," explains Pattison. "This is becoming less of a problem because more people know someone who's been to South Africa, but for someone with no knowledge of the country, their perception is often a very negative one."
For Mindpearl, this challenge can be addressed by encouraging potential clients to visit the site of operation. The company does its best to entice clients to South Africa, taking them on a tour of several different centres. When this is not an option, it will show them videos via YouTube, but site visits are recommended as a matter of course. This can help foster peace of mind and remove any negative preconceptions. Looking to the future, Pattison believes that outsourcing to locations like South Africa will become more prevalent.
"Back-office outsourcing will continue to go to the Indian subcontinent, but voice calls will get split between the quality offshore locations such as South Africa and onshore," he says.
"Financial services are now looking into options they didn't explore in the past for reasons of cost and flexibility, especially now customers want a 24/7 service on the banking line. The consumer's demands today are more aligned with these requirements than they were 15 years ago."
As these shifts make themselves felt, organisations such as Mindpearl look poised to make significant inroads into the financial services market. Banks, meanwhile, are taking the long view. They can no longer afford to skimp on quality call centres in the interests of saving costs.