The 2013 Market Leaders
Contact Center Outsourcing
Amid the sluggish global economy, the contact center industry hasn't lost any of its growth momentum. Actually, a difficult economy presents an even more compelling reason for enterprises to optimize the cost of servicing customers, while also increasing their focus on improved customer experiences. This, analysts argue, can continue to pave the way for outsourcing growth.
With more than 4,000 contact center outsourcers in North America, finding one that can adequately handle a company's complete contact center needs could seem overwhelming.
Among the top challenges outsourcers continue to face are keeping up with the changing needs of today's mobile and social consumers, training call center staff to meet changing demands and technologies, and providing a solid analytics backbone to manage the large amounts of consumer data that companies now collect. Growing government and consumer pressures are also encouraging third-party contact center operators to move away from foreign call centers in places such as India and the Philippines in favor of more on-shore or near-shore locales.
But despite all the difficulties and challenges, market participants have expressed high expectations for multiyear engagements and continued growth. In fact, analyst firm Ovum set the number of outsourced workstations in 2013 at 397,000, and expects that number to reach 408,000 by 2014, 420,000 by 2015, 433,000 by 2016, and 446,000 by 2017.
Convergys, last year's vendor contender, is a well-known and long-standing global outsourcer with annual revenue of more than $2 billion. This year it finished closely behind the winner, despite leading all the vendors in the number and breadth of services offered (4.4) and ability to execute (4.6). Its one weak spot was cost, which came in at 3.5. Still, analysts were impressed with the company's overall portfolio, which features a rich set of applications that include the Customer Interaction Portal, a VoiceXML-based self-service platform; the Dynamic Decisioning Solution, which provides dynamic menus and tailored menus based on company policies and customer information; intelligent outbound notifications; voice authentication; and speech analytics. "Convergys has lots of expertise, including service contracts and maintenance renewals, and great upsell/cross-sell," says John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research at the Technology Services Industry Association. He adds that the company also has "a great internal research division focused on customer satisfaction and loyalty."
Teleperformance, 2012's category winner, this year saw its customer satisfaction score drop to 3.2, despite putting up strong numbers in all the other criteria. The company scored a 4.1 in the number and breadth of services offered—its contact center solutions include call recording, on-hold services, speech analytics, workforce optimization, and predictive dialers—and a 4.2 in its ability to execute. The company, which brings in about $2.7 billion in yearly revenue, is certainly the largest in the industry, with 276 contact centers in 51 countries.
West, an industry leader in 2012, this year takes the top spot, with scores of 4.0 or better in all of the judging criteria. The company garnered a 4.3 in the number and breadth of the services it offers and a 4.5 in its ability to execute. Though still a predominantly automated processor of voice-based transactions, it has evolved to support many other channels of customer engagement and also provide the network infrastructure for those channels, according to analysts, who call its voice self-service solutions, which have increasingly rested on natural language understanding, among the most comprehensive in the industry.
Sykes, another industry leader last year, fell down to vendor contender this year, with a lackluster score of 3.3 in customer satisfaction. On a positive note, it did score highly (4.0) in its ability to execute and cost. Like Teleperformance, Sykes, a company on pace to bring in $1.2 billion in revenue this year, has very capable operations in 20 countries throughout North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Ragsdale calls it "a high-quality provider."
Mobile Voice Search
Mobile device sales have rocketed this year, and analysts believe that by the end of 2013, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth, according to the Cisco Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update.
Mobile phone sales were expected to reach nearly 426 million units in the first quarter of 2013. And a June 2013 report from the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of American adults are now smartphone owners.
"Mobile voice service is already considered a necessity by most, and mobile data, video, and TV services are fast becoming an essential part of consumers' lives," the report stated. "Mobility has proven to be transformational."
In the smartphone operating system sector, Android phones accounted for more than 74 percent of the market, increasing nearly 50 percent over the past year, according to findings from the "Gartner Market Share Analysis: Mobile Phones, Worldwide, 1Q13" report. Apple took second place, accounting for only 18 percent of the market.
"There are two clear leaders in the OS market, and Android's dominance...is unshakable," said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner, in a statement. "With new OSs coming to market, such as Tizen, Firefox, and Jolla, we expect some market share to be eroded but not enough to question Android's volume leadership."
Analysts laud Apple for its ongoing development of Siri. Even though Nuance Communications provides speech recognition for Apple products, Apple has made speech recognition a deeply integrated part of the user experience. "Apple has done important things to make Nuance technology visible, and iOS is a progenitor of the virtual assistant type speech models, but for my money, the prize goes to the inventors, not the improvers," one analyst says. "Apple is better positioned to integrate speech recognition right down to the hardware design requirements of its handsets, but in the end it is really just making a great set of rails for Nuance to run over."
Analysts view Nuance Communications as a pure-play speech recognition leader in terms of its engine and Internet Protocol. "Nuance products have created the potential for a wider audience of business[es] to leverage the benefits of mobile speech recognition," one analyst says. "The downside in the mobile sense is that Nuance does not have the mobile industry clout that Google has, and its products and applications [have] not deeply integrated into the mobile user interface the way that Google, Apple, and [to a lesser extent] Microsoft have done."
Google has proved popular with both users and analysts. Google, and its Android operating system, is a clear winner in this space, taking top honors five years in a row. Analysts praised its cloud services, deeming it among the most powerful networks in the market. "Google's response times tend to be faster to a mobile device than on an Apple iOS or Windows phone device," one analyst says. "Additionally, Google has what was at the time the leading software engines built into Android, and handset manufacturers such as Samsung have taken this base to deliver ever more powerful and user-friendly features to make using speech recognition more accessible. Android/ Google has delivered a mobile platform that best enables speech recognition innovation for device OEMs. Google's cloud-based engine has the industry's best and largest opportunity to collect and analyze speech requests to deliver the best engine tuning opportunities."
Microsoft made strides this year by making Bing's voice search and voice-to-text twice as fast and 15 percent more accurate on Windows Phone 8. However, at least one analyst believes that Microsoft has a problem with industry recognition and would do well to improve marketing and packaging issues. "After being ostensibly ahead with Tellme and then Bing Mobile, Microsoft's mobile speech initiatives have been invisible," the analyst says. "Google has played up the power of voice input in conjunction with Google Now and mobile search. Nuance and Apple have various speech-enabled personal virtual assistant initiatives, but Microsoft not so much."
Companies and Suppliers Mentioned