Adding value to Latin America's contact center industry

Friday, October 21, 2011

Business intelligence, cloud computing and social networks are among today's most recurring topics in the IT industry, and the contact center industry has been no exception. In an ever changing IT scenario, contact centers are obliged to adapt to market trends to face competition and retain customers.

To find out more about the trends and challenges for the Latin American contact center industry, BNamericas attended the fourth Contact Center Day held in Chilean capital Santiago, organized by e-Contact, a local IT solutions provider for the contact and call center industry.

During the event, BNamericas spoke in greater detail with e-Contact commercial manager Patricio Cáceres, IT consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan's research manager Juan Manuel González, and US call center technologies provider Interactive Intelligence's senior director of solutions marketing, Tim Passios.

BNamericas: What are the main trends that will shape the Latin American contact center industry in the medium term?

González: Regarding contact center outsourcing in Latin America, there are three or four trends we're seeing equally in all countries. One of them is multichannel contact center. There's been increased use of social networks, chat services and SMS, and contact centers have reacted to that.

Secondly, resources are increasingly strong at a regional level, with countries growing strongly such as Colombia and Peru. In Central America, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Guatemala are also showing solid growth.

Another issue that is a major concern in Latin America is security, where the main problems are in Mexico and Guatemala, though they're isolated problems. In general, Latin America is perceived globally as a safe region to invest, but I would say that recent events in Mexico have been unsettling and have drawn some attention.

BNamericas: Are there trends in any one country that stand out in particular?

González: In Mexico in particular we're seeing growth in the contact center industry in secondary cities, such as Puebla and Aguascalientes, versus a slowdown in places like Chihuahua because of those security concerns.

In Central America, there are some countries where the industry has traditionally grown but outsourcing is no longer economical. An example is Costa Rica, one of the safest countries but now also one of the most expensive. Then we have Panama and Salvador, where the market is saturated, and Nicaragua and Guatemala, which are growing but with image problems.

Argentina is losing ground in offshoring, while Chile is losing market to Peru. Operations that used to be done in Chile are migrating to Peru due to costs. Additionally, some clients have migrated because they aren't pleased with the quality of services in Chile. This problem is the result of the high turnover rates in the Chilean contact center industry, which affects service quality because you don't have people with experience on the phone.

BNamericas: What do you attribute market losses in Argentina to?

González: Costs, because the country has had constant inflation during the last three years, close to 25%. For outsourcing that's not beneficial.

BNamericas: What about applications in the industry?

Passios: The first key trend in the contact center industry is the multichannel contact center - the adoption of different forms of media coming into the contact center. It's not as if it is something that's relatively new, but it is just now finally picking up a lot of steam within the contact center industry. I think one of the reasons why multichannels are happening so rapidly is because of social media.

But our message to our contact center customers is make sure you're supporting the customers today, focus on your traditional channels first - voice, email, chat. If you're not supporting your customers with that, then don't even think about social media because you'd be giving your customers another reason to complain about the poor service they're getting.

BNamericas: What about the cloud?

Passios: Cloud is happening in contact centers as well. But there are some concerns around security, loss of control. We provide a solution that's cloud-based with many deployment options, and one of them overcomes the security concerns. The contact center applications - the IVR, ACD, workforce management, record, all the application layers - stay in the cloud but your voice, the call recordings and all your data stay on your site. So security isn't an issue.

BNamericas: Is it going to help reduce costs as well?

Passios: Absolutely. It depends on what applications the customer wants, and it also depends on the length of deployment.

BNamericas: Are costs going to be the main advantage with cloud?

Passios: No. Flexibility and speed of deployment are huge motivators to move into the cloud. If I can get my contact centers up and running within weeks versus months or years, that's a huge advantage. The other advantage is that I can concentrate on my core business area; I don't have to worry about the IT side of it.

Cáceres: Without a doubt, something very relevant today is being able to maintain customers in the company. [To increase] customer loyalty, you need to have real-time and historic measurements to take actions.

You have to be able to measure not only if you're talking to the client or for how long, but also how effective you're being. Therefore, some indicators appear that are more business-related than directly related to the industry itself.

And now with so many channels like social networks, mails, chat, and phone services, I have to implement the same strategy because the client is the same across all channels.

That's where business intelligence comes in. You start defining the processes, determining what needs to be measured and how. This is more than a trend, it's a necessity.

BNamericas: What are the main challenges for the industry?

González: I think the main challenge for contact center outsourcing services in Latin America - particularly in more mature markets like Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Chile - is to ensure the industry is no longer perceived as a low value-added service.

There will come a time when contact center providers will have to add value, providing more complex services. Otherwise, they will have no margin.

With social networks the challenge is to prove the return on investment. Today companies invest only if they know that behind that investment there is a clear competitive return.

BNamericas: Some companies have started using video applications. What's the outlook of these in the industry?

González: I think services with video applications are going to take off, but the boom should take another 3-4 years. With video we'll see something similar to what happened with social media. First it has to take off among consumers, and when it does, connectivity might be a hindrance.

BNamericas: What other innovative applications will be seen in the industry?

Passios: Speech analytics, which can be defined as being able to monitor or look at a conversation that has occurred and understand what is being said about it. There are current speech applications on the market today that will do word and phrase spotting or emotion detection, [but] they do those things typically after the call has already taken place.

We're providing real-time speech analytics, which means that as the conversation is occurring I'm listening to exactly what you say and I'm also listening to what I say and we're determining who is saying what. Is the customer the one that's frustrated and angry? Is the agent provoking the customer? We will know that immediately.

First we provide a dashboard that allows supervisors to see in real time what's happening with those conversations. We score them, meaning the more negative key words and phrases are spoken, the more negative the score is. I can very quickly look or have an alert show me all calls that have negative scores. So I can laser-focus on those specifics interactions and then I can listen to them, I can chat with the agent, I can whisper coach to them or I can just take the call over.

So imagine in a contact center with hundreds, maybe thousands of agents, or even the smallest with 15 or 20. Supervisors don't have to watch everything, they can let the system monitor the conversations that are taking place and only get involved when they need to be.

BNamericas: What's the average ROI of this solution?

Passios: We don't [have it] right now. That's one of the things we're working on. The reason we don't is because we have customers in beta now, and the goal would be to track those and see what kind of ROI they achieve.

We have beta customers running on it today, and we will have a generally available solution in about 30 days. Today, the beta customers are in the US, but in about six months from now we will roll it out in Latin America and support Spanish as well. I expect it to be a major revenue generator.