Having grown rapidly during the boom years, the UK outsourced contact centre market stalled when the economy turned downwards after Autumn 2008.
Market growth has been modest since then, leaving the industry at a shade under 50,000 outsourced seats, or around £2.6 billion in revenue while margins remain below historical levels.
Outsourcers continue to be victims of change, rather than leaders of change. The rise of self-service, social media and crowd-sourcing has been seen as a threat, rather than an opportunity to work in partnership with clients to find innovative new commercial and operational models.
Outsourcing of contact centres in the UK is a highly established sector, but one where client experiences have been mixed and one which has had to adapt in recent times to the introduction of new channels as well as deal with the consequences of the economic crisis.
However, two acquisitions of leading UK operators suggest that there is renewed optimism around the sector. First, the Scottish call centre operation, HEROtsc, which had been bought by Hero Group, the Indian conglomerate, as part of its then strategy to build a global customer management business, was sold to Webhelp Group, which is based in France and operates contact centres across Europe.
Then LBM, which had undergone a successful turnaround under private equity ownership, was bought by Stream Global Services, the international customer management group based in the US.
Quality of staff and everything around recruiting, training, coaching and engagement of people is, predictably, one of the main criteria for organisations selecting an outsourcer. It is almost more important than location (and often a driver for location choices), although there are some industries where certain locations have strongly negative connotations (e.g. India and China).
A positive trend for the industry in the UK is that the flow of companies bringing call centre operations back from offshore locations such as India has continued. Examples from the last few months include Play.com, Advanced Payment Solutions and Virgin Holidays.
Others are expected to follow as high wage inflation in India has narrowed cost differentials while new cloud computing technology, being widely adopted by the industry, gives more flexibility for different parts of a contact centre to be in different locations.
For more information on the UK outsourced contact centre market, see the latest research: UK Outsourced Contact Centre Market
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