Derek Gallimore talks with Clinton Cohen, CEO of iContact. Based in South Africa, the company provides customer service, back office, and sales solutions to clients in the United States.
South Africa was recently named the most favorable outsourcing destination this year by Ryan Strategic Advisory. In this episode, Derek and Clinton share insights on the BPO industry in South Africa, the challenges and opportunities that arose during and after the lockdowns, and how iContact plays its role in working with their clients in outsourcing.
Clinton Cohen is the CEO of iContact, a business process outsourcing company based in South Africa. For the first time, South Africa lands top ranking as the most favorable outsourcing destination in the world, according to the Omnibus Survey conducted by Ryan Strategic Advisory.
In this episode, the Outsource Accelerator podcast delves into the outsourcing industry in the country and its strengths and characteristics.
An overview of the South African outsourcing industry
South Africa has been regarded as the most favorable outsourcing destination in the world by Ryan Strategic Advisory Front Office BPO Omnibus Survey after garnering 2nd place for three consecutive years. As per Clinton, this is a great time to turn the spotlight on South Africa and get introduced to the world as a powerhouse destination.
Even before landing the top spot in the survey, the country already has “a mature outsourcing destination with a mature global market.” They have been offering services to the UK, Europe, and most recently, US clients.
The strengths of South African outsourcing
Clinton highlighted the strengths of the outsourcing industry, including:
- Infrastructures. The country possesses world-class infrastructures and strong USP connectivity to connect with the world faster and more easily.
- Language alignment. English is one of the native languages in South Africa. With this, agents in the country can speak with a neutral accent and communicate better with their clients.
- Level of customer care. According to Clinton, South Africans are naturally empathetic to the customers, asking about their welfare first before their details.
- 24/7 service. South African BPOs follow the sun mentality, which opens up the landscape on working up with time zones within the sun, then another team after the sun.
- Availability of the workforce. Though having a high unemployment rate, Ryan sees this as a benefit in terms of the availability of workforce getting tapped in the industry.
- Government support. Lastly, like in India and the Philippines, the industry receives a great amount of government support through benefits from foreign investment and the inclusion of business processing services (BPS) in the educational system.
In comparison with the Philippines
Clinton mentioned that the country is able to compete with the current outsourcing destinations and is head-to-head with the Philippines. Though the latter has a higher headcount when it comes to contact center solutions, South Africa can compete with cloud solutions and talents in other fields.
The industry during COVID and the new normal
The outsourcing industry in South Africa has had its share in the challenges brought by the COVID pandemic. Though, as Clinton mentioned, South Africa “was extremely collaborative”, with competitors through industry bodies getting together, identifying their issues, and plotting their strategies.
Along with government intervention, they have done the following steps:
- Identified the essential and non-essential services. In the case of iContact, they have identified roles such as financial and customer support services as essentials. Some, meanwhile, are sent out in the field.
- Tried out and shared what works and what does not. Challenges arose during work-from-home setups such as connectivity problems and data security concerns. With this, companies have continued to share their strategies on what worked for them so others can try it for themselves.
Clinton said this collaboration was the amazing part since he has witnessed the industry come together in a time of absolute chaos. And with the pandemic still existing, it’s still a priority for companies to keep their employees and their families safe.
As the lockdowns eased, the country has also seen immense growth and opportunities through the disruption. Clinton saw an immediate need for certain clients to scale as providers. Though others don’t want to put their eggs in a single basket, those who did, as he mentioned, “contact centers went in the room enabled and ready”.
About iContact’s offerings
iContact likes to position itself as a boutique BPO company with a personalized and tailored approach. Having a team of 1,500 employees, the majority of their workforce is located in Johannesburg, their head office, while others are in Cape Town.
The company has a predominantly US-North American market, providing a wide range of services such as contact center, back office, and sales to both local and international companies.
Despite the dominant UK and European market in the country, iContact experienced tremendous results upon tapping on the US market. This, as Clinton found out, has really been “our biggest from a business perspective in terms of reaching and servicing the global outsourcing community.”
As for the pricing structure, they offer a wide range of options depending on the situation and the needs of their client. Though usually, they charge per productive hour for each agent.
iContact on getting the client to outsource
Many of the company’s clients have tried outsourcing in some forms before. Though, iContact gets on a more holistic approach in getting a client to outsource their services to the company.
Clinton mentioned that they try to get what their clients’ issues are, why they’re looking to outsource in the first place, and how they can build “an end-to-end, client-centric, customer-centric journey that’s going to attend to those wins for the client.”
Then, they also introduce South Africa as an outsourcing destination, its strengths, and why businesses should choose the country for their outsourcing needs.
iContact is hands-on in their client’s outsourcing journey. From finding solutions to their needs to tailoring their services. They provide small and medium teams, rendering work-from-home arrangements, to even a single agent working for them in a controlled office.
With this experience, Clinton found their clients to be evolving their engagement with them. As he mentioned, “the closer we are to them in the operation, the easier… like a customer key that you’re working on getting as close to that in-country experience, if not better, working in an outsourced environment.”