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Contact Centres in the cloud – a solution for the African dilemma

04 December 2014

By Pippa Wilson, Portfolio Manager: Cloud Solutions, Jasco Enterprise, The Jasco Group

As a developing market, the African continent is currently seeing much international interest and investment. This is resulting in large multi-national organisations, including retailers and banks as well as other enterprises, beginning to open branches in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania to name but a few. However, customer support remains a challenge, as traditional telecommunications infrastructure is lacking in much of Africa, as are the IT skills necessary to implement and support the contact centres required. Outsourcing this to offshore providers has typically been the solution, but with multiple channels of communication including social media, it is often not the most desirable answer to the customer contact problem. While fixed line infrastructure may be minimal, mobile is burgeoning, including mobile broadband. This opens up the cloud as a potential technology solution, and cloud contact centres are seeing impressive growth as a result.

 

According to recent figures released by Business Day, growth in US and European markets sits between 5% and 7%, indicative of a flat and saturated market. In contrast, the average return on equity for investors in Africa is between 35% and 55%, making the continent an enticing business prospect. Even the South African market is showing slower growth than in the rest of Africa, with some organisations realising as much as 80% of their revenue in the rest of Africa. Targeting emerging markets is an easier and more profitable business prospect than competing in a commoditised and pressurised environment. However, one challenge that is still to be overcome is that of the contact centre.

 

For most businesses, the contact centre is the face of their operations for the customer. In addition, it is vital for performing a variety of other functions, including sales, technical support, debt collection and customer care functions, among others. However implementing contact centres in Africa has proven challenging for a number of reasons. One of the chief challenges is a lack of skills – from an implementation perspective as well as support and maintenance. In addition, sourcing equipment can prove challenging as vendors and suppliers may not have a presence in the country. Traditionally, technology implementations in African have been supported from South Africa or the Middle East. Delivering the initial technology implementation would require teams of experts to travel to the site and once completed, would still incur the cost of having to send support teams for maintenance issues. Furthermore, component stock and spares would need to be held on site in the event of breakdown or failure. This has proven to be an expensive and time-consuming option, and one that has led many organisations, who are not limited by legislation, to outsource their contact centres to offshore providers.

 

However, offshore contact centres have limited application. Globally there has been a renewed focus on improving customer service, which can only be done by carefully managing customer interactions. While approximately 90% of interactions in emerging markets are voice based, there is still a requirement for other channels including email, web, SMS, social media, fax and face to face. Emerging markets are also seeing a large growth in social media, and contact centres need to cater for these interactions, which generally requires in-country solutions managed by the organisation to be effective.

 

In light of these issues, the contact centre in the cloud is fast being realised as the answer to these challenges. Mobility is key and should be leveraged in the African market. Mobile devices such as smartphones change customer interactions, and traditional approaches will need to evolve to cater for mobile. Video is another key interaction, and will begin to play a more prominent role for customer care and support. A cloud environment offers benefits such as the ability to incorporate multiple channels of interaction with flexibility and agility, as well as remote support, ease of rollout, infrastructure that does not have to be maintained by the client and little capital expenditure investment.

Cloud platforms are implemented and maintained from a data centre where IT personnel are permanently located to implement, maintain and support the platform. All of this is generally provided as part of the cloud monthly subscription without the need for additional resource or spares costs. Upgrades, maintenance, support, and even sometimes implementation, are done without the need for the supplier to go to the customer’s premises, making this the ideal solution for customers in Africa. Higher quality of service is possible due to a dedicated team of highly specialised staff supporting the platform from a central location. In addition, cloud-based contact centres often support omni-channel interactions due to the flexible nature of the cloud, and cloud platforms deliver economies of scale, with cost savings being passed on to the customer.

Organisations looking to move into Africa need to embrace mobility. While fixed infrastructure is often lacking, mobile penetration is vast and still growing. In addition, video is set to pay a key role in the African market. The application is not expected to be traditional video conferencing, but rather the use of video to deliver tech support help to customers in remote areas. Cloud contact centres are flexible enough to treat mobile interactions the same as traditional fixed voice while enabling video to become an important interaction channel and supporting interactions from other areas such as social media. Cloud-based contact centres can be used to improve the African brand and increase local opportunities rather than companies routing their customer interactions to offshore providers. Top of Form