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Just Eat announced about recently they were bringing their contact centre back to the UK from offshore / nearshore, but also bringing it back in house after outsourcing it for many years.

In this Editorial we explore this further, with a range of views and opinions, both from those in the BPO sector and in house operations, and those with UK and offshore operations.

We ask, how much of a trend is this likely to be, or set, will other big operations follow suit, what do they feel was the strategic, operational or financial rationale behind this decision, and what does it say about the future of offshoring or near shoring, especially as it seems at odds with our launch editorial where everyone seems so buoyant about the state of the BPO sector. ( See that article here  https://www.cxfo.org/together-in-electric-dreams-part-1)

What do you feel is the strategic rationale behind this?

“To a greater or lesser degree there are so many possible angles that will have played a part in the Just Eat decision to establish an inhouse, onshore customer management operation”, says William Carson, Director of Market Engagement at Ascensos

“Just Eat is an interesting business – when we talk about their customer management, it’s worth remembering that to my knowledge as a shareholder, they are required to service essentially three distinct customer groups – the field teams that recruit restaurants, the restaurants themselves as clients, and of course Just Eat customers as end users.  In this regard, I have no doubt that the national lockdowns in the countries which comprise their primary markets will have had a major influence in their decision-making along with the significant growth in customer demand for online food delivery. Customers placed 135 million orders on Just Eat in the UK in the first six months of this year – an increase of 58 million compared to 2020.

Whereas other major restaurant chains are built on a franchise model, Just Eat has to continually refresh it’s restaurant clientele. They need to support the technology that the field team use as well as the onsite machines that link restaurants with the Just Eat systems, and all that before they even get round to supporting their customers! Whatever combination (or part thereof) of these customer service streams that were outsourced, I would expect the challenge of supporting the complexity of a multi-lingual field sales team, a constant rotation of restaurant clients, and the associated tech support for these teams may have presented an increasing management burden for Just Eat and their partner(s) which has resulted in the decision to re-shore inhouse for the UK market.

The decision won’t have been taken lightly and opening a UK site will have needed to pass through many board level iterations and validations. That takes time – that time may have coincided with the natural expiration/renewal of the BPO contract(s). Also, it could very well be that the service has changed significantly over the lifetime of the contract and aligned with unprecedented growth and opportunities in the market, Just Eat has decided that now is the right time to consolidate with a view to returning to a  more sophisticated BPO market place sometime in the future if required.”

“Those close to the sector will have heard the stories of companies having to bring contacts back, down to issues described as ‘cultural’ but to be fair it’s not that simple now”, says Nicola Collister, CEO and Founder at Custerian.

“Even before Covid (more of which later) there were some significant factors coming into play. If people were honest – cost – was perhaps the most significant driver pushing contact overseas. Then we started to see a cost increase due to upskilling of in country colleagues, overhead, utility cost rises etc. Then came the need to deal across multiple channels and of course the growth of self-serve, accelerated by digital stripping out transactional interactions and driving increasingly complicated queries or contact where ‘value add’ was required as part of the customer experience.

All these factors were forcing a rethink anyway and we had already heard stories of businesses bringing stuff back onshore and then came Covid! which added in the need to build in better resilience as existing Business Continuity plans were found lacking or flawed in many areas, for clients and in many cases BPO’s themselves.  

Homeworking was now not a nice to have, it was a must have to survive and some of the onshore and offshore locations did this brilliantly, however there were also some horror stories of a BPO CEO being arrested, another BPO suggesting videos being turned on to see what people were doing, plus struggles to get homeworking up and running sufficiently in some countries combined with the pressures on contact centres to now scale up in some cases, as Online supported by Contact Centres was the only way some businesses were trading. 

In recent months, there have been a lot of discussions with Service Executives whom have also stated the increase in customer contacts which shows extremely challenging areas of vulnerability which requires a strengthening of the skills sets we see in most centres.”

“Just Eat have made a bold move to bring their customer contact back in house.  The early months of the pandemic illustrated how difficult in-house customer service could be to manage, with access to equipment for homeworking and looking after employees.  Just Eat had a massive uplift in volume during the pandemic, so it will be interesting to see how they handle the extra workload, as the labour market in the UK is very challenging and attrition rates in certain sectors will no doubt rise.“ Says Toby Bland, SVP Business Development at Teleperformance

“Many organisations wanted more flexibility from their outsourcing partners to mitigate risk, including using different geographies to ensure continuity of service during lockdowns.  We’re seeing this with clients as well, resulting in more scalable solutions and fast ramp times to support customer demand. Increased competition will pressurise Just Eat to keep costs down, whilst onboarding new customers – business side (restaurants), as well as consumers. Turnaround times for onboarding new clients is key, and managing their demands (e.g. uploading new menus by restaurant) for example is ultimately the goal they need to achieve.”

“For many companies, customer service has become pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the scrutiny of the C-suite, it has been moved from being seen as a cost base to a strategic opportunity and therefore ripe for investment.” Says Dino Forte, CEO of Ventrica

“Just Eat’s decision to move its contact centre operation back to the UK is just one example of many exciting changes, investments, and developments in the industry.”

“Firstly, I’m excited to see what my brilliant ex-colleagues from BT, who are instrumental in running the contact centres inhouse for Just Eat, will bring to service delivery.  Alexis Bowman has worked across all dimensions of transformation, change and service and will be truly inspirational.  Kirsti McKernan was a brilliant hire into BT from my outsourced partner 2Touch back in 2012 – and I managed to retain 2Touch’s commitment and volume delivery alongside that move inhouse.  This story alone is a brilliant testimony to true partnership between inhouse and outsourced organisations”, said Paula Constant, CEO of Woven 

What does this mean for Offshoring?

William- “The re-shoring of customer service has been going on for some time across multiple sectors. I’ve seen telecom and loyalty programs return in the last 3 years – albeit not inhouse. Many brands, and their partners, are utilising ever more sophisticated technology to address customer experience management needs and as they do so, they are constantly educating the customer to seek more autonomy in managing their individual experience and requirements without that immediate need to email, call or interact with the brand itself to solve a query, adjust an order or set up a computer or gaming system.

In the first instance customers today are more likely to resort to social media, YouTube, Google Home and Alexa to seek solutions than contact a company directly. Moreover, as 5G and IOT roll out with ever increasing roles to play in the customer engagement space, the ability for customers to self-serve will undoubtedly be a factor in a business’s right shoring strategy and especially the return of off shore programs to onshore or nearshore locations.

That in turn opens up opportunities for BPO to expand proactive, assisted-sales initiatives to become true profit centres for their clients’ businesses.

I also think we can’t necessarily assume that re-shoring decisions are always on the client side only. It’s worth mentioning that offshore territories have seen a significant increase in demand in their domestic markets and this may influence BPO partners in the choice of business sectors and global territories they wish to support over the long term.“ 

Toby – “The traditional offshore destinations are still popular, but we’re seeing huge growth in South Africa as a BPO location for English language voice as well as more complex work. The cultural affinity with the UK, similar time zone, along with good access to talented and educated people is proving very popular, as well as more established in-country experience in food delivery services is more established than in the UK.”

Paula “I’ve headed up Woven for just shy of 1 year.  It’s my first gig running an outsourced call centre business, as my experience has been wholly in-house, in commercial and operational leadership roles including various consumer, business, onshore, offshore services across financial services, telecoms and facilities management.

When I was on this ‘other’ inside, my experience of insourcing from outsourcing was driven by 4 factors.

The first was the effective delivery of voice, or complex voice queries specifically, offshore, which proved time and again to be more successful in the UK.  I don’t think this should or will always be the rule and this is a challenge for us outsourcers to prove out in the next few years. Often UK operational leaders, trainers and agents who inherit the onshored work have long tenure in the business, understand the brand, have deeper connections across the business outside of the contact centre to lean on product and process knowledge, and have a more versatile objection handling and problem solving education. 

The second was a one-off, through the pandemic, which was an absolute inability to provide either a physical onsite or a remote work from home solution, which I experienced with Asian suppliers throughout 2020.  They simply could not log on for service delivery. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that businesses in our industry have an even greater level of resilience than we ever imagined.   

The third, also an offshoot of the pandemic, but prevalent before, is the increased ability in many countries but clearly in the UK to take advantage of cheap premises, flexible rental set ups and government grants for property and advisor recruitment and training, which significantly decreases the cost of providing services in the UK versus considering an outsourcer.  I set up the aforementioned inhouse contact centre in 2011 in Sunderland with a brilliant local government initiative to reinvigorate the working opportunities in the area.

The final point, though, is disappointingly as true today as it was for me on the ‘inside’.  I worked with some wonderful suppliers.  I also experienced suppliers who served up ineffective glide paths, were not on top of operational performance data, did not invest in quality, did not deliver transformational efficiencies, and did not face into these issues with humility or scrutiny.  There is much more for our outsourced businesses to do – including Woven – to break this cycle of mistrust and to work as a true, embedded extension of our customers’ brands.  The additional reality is that sometimes these behaviours are driven by a very tight price and profit point, and, with the increased competition over advisors and buoyant job market driving wages up, our customers need to help us to deliver profitability.  The best relationships I have built are where I can lay any operational and commercial problems transparently on the table and ask my customers to help me work through them.  It is also our responsibility to educate and price effectively to deliver the ultimate benefits for our customers.”

Will other companies follow suit and what does this mean for Outsourcers?

“Ultimately I consider this a key strategic move unique to Just Eat or businesses seeking to achieve similar aims”, says William

“On the face of it there’s nothing that Just Eat intend to achieve that can’t be achieved with the right BPO partner (and cost effectively at that). However, the specific trajectory for the Just Eat business, breaking into the US and Latin America and evolving their technology solutions, means their next partnership for customer management, if volumes demand it, will probably be with CXM-BPOs in the regions that are best associated with servicing those customer languages and territories along with the ability and indeed agility to link advisor-assisted, digital and autonomous platforms in a 360 eco-system of curated CXM solutions.”

Nicola “What we have seen in the last 18 months are brilliant successes, some horror stories, and the ‘kidders’ …. some saying they were brilliant when in fact Customers were saying how woeful the experience was. 

So, what we are seeing is the growth and focus on ‘blended solutions’,  reducing single point of failure reliance, without increasing costs, but also still meeting the needs of increasingly complicated queries and the increasing need to have a service capable of being brand & culturally aligned for those companies that recognise service as a core part of their proposition”

Toby “With their business model being truly online, it’s interesting to look at some of the research done by Teleperformance’s CX Lab with UK consumers recently. That shows that 67% of UK consumers who were contacted after the pandemic said they are using more self-help options than before, however, 72% of UK respondents would prefer to be assisted by a real person than a virtual assistant.”

Paula “Whatever the reason – or combination of reasons – were for Just Eat’s insourcing, we outsourcers would do well to consider how we act on these factors, together.  Resilient home working, optimal building arrangements, improving complex voice on and offshore are easier actions.  Continuing to build trust and transparency to deliver performance on both sides of the fence remains the number 1 challenge”

“I believe we are entering a period of industry growth and opportunity and for some businesses that will mean onshoring, for others a focus on offshoring, or both. The pandemic has placed customer service at the core of business operations, with continued investment and importance focused on the customer experience, however that is best delivered”, concludes Dino

So that’s the view of those close to the issues. My personal view is that as well as the very insightful thoughts and insights we have shared here, there has always been a cycle in the industry of clients outsourcing, bringing in house, off shoring and re shoring, and going through that again. It happens across sectors and has done for 20 years. Maybe this is just another evolution of that.

What’s clear however is that the BPO’s mustn’t become complacent if this is to remain a one off, at least with the large scale operations, and that Just Eat have taken on a massive task to deliver and operationalise this, but whose to say they wont succeed and challenge the established order, just as they have disrupted the food sector.

Or as one BPO Exec said to me “off camera” “I look forward to them coming back to the market for an outsourcer in a couple of years’ time and reminding them of this”

As ever, time will tell – KG

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