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The social enterprise and BPO

October 13, 2011

BPO (business process outsourcing) has been a market for a while where the players are known and very few innovation takes place. This results in fierce competition and good pricing for the customers. If you want to break through this circle you need to pick up new trends early and embed these into your services. The social enterprise is such a trend that can create a whole new market for a BPO provider.

The Social Enterprise

I cut this quite short in here. If you want to get a better view on this, watch Marc Benioff’s keynote from 2011 Dreamforce. In addition you could dig deeper into this topic with these two blog posts:

The real competition to Microsoft (links to the Marc Benioff keynote in there)

Google+ for the Enterprise – the breakthrough for Google Apps

Cornerstones to the social enterprise vision are the changed style of collaborating internally and the interaction with customers (B2B as well as B2C) through social media. The interesting part for BPO providers is the latter part.

Market Potential

So far the vast majority of companies focus their communication with customers on phone and email. Some have directed their marcomm department to oversee social media as well but that is just a small start. Also it is missing the whole point.  The interaction within social media is not about marketing only but service and support which will grow hopefully into viral marketing by itself.

So the market itself is untapped by neither the companies themselves nor the BPO providers. That in itself is a huge opportunity but there is even more to that. Not only that the companies do not yet do it often they also lack the technical means to do so. They do need help to get connected to the social media in the first place before thinking about who actually serves that front in person. This puts BPO providers that also have ITO (IT outsourcing) or at least SI (system integrator) skills in place into a superb position. You can help your customer to open the gates on this new way of interaction with customers by creating the social media interface for them. My best guess would be that you will need to have skills. The part of helping the company to become a social enterprise alone creates value but now you add your BPO capabilities on top. The customer does not need to go out and search for candidates with social media skills. You already have a team staffed and ready. Imagine a customer where you already man the phone lines. You can immediately bring customer knowledge into the social media team.

Investment Case

So what does a BPO provider do to drive his business into the space of social media? There are three components

  • People
  • System integration
  • Optional: IT consultancy

On the people side it is mainly training or hiring of the right folks. The good thing is that BPO providers do have a well-oiled training machine. They just need to identify the new content to be put into that machine and get their folks trained appropriately. Finding new employees is another challenge altogether. First of all there are not really appropriately trained employees on the market. Secondly if you find some they probably do not fit the payment range you need to operate at. On the other hand you’ll probably focus on younger people in Eastern Europe or Asia. This new generation of workforce grew up with social media and will be a good foundation to build this business.

Why do you need system integration? Simply because you want to build an interface to social media that connects into your customer’s world as well as into the social media world out there. Surely you could go the easy way an extend the customer system to your facilities and train you employees on this system but as we figured out earlier most customers do not have a social media interface yet. So by you having one that can be tailored to act on behalf of your customers, you can ensure a continued quality and reduced training effort.

If your customer wants to get its own social media system and neither has on in place already nor is he willing to adapt yours there is a huge opportunity for extra revenue. With either your own IT consultancy skills or partners you can help the customer to build the system. By doing so, you not only generate money but also can ensure that the system easily integrates with your own environment. If you have your own ITO or IT consultancy department get them ready to drive social enterprise solutions like If you do not have this capability and do not want to build it you need to choose the right partners. Make sure you go for quality here as these partners work will reflect on your image as well.

Where to start?

Assuming that you are already an established BPO provider I would recommend to start building a reference case with one of your existing customers. Look for a customer with consumer business and a strong brand. I would be surprised if they will not listen to you and it is up to you then to create a compelling business case. While building that look for real life samples. Are there any failed communications traceable in the web? How is that customer being discussed in forums? Look for the signs of negative statements. Show on these case how it could have worked differently if the customer would have used your social media BPO.

Before I forget it, make sure the social media interface is not solely served by your own people. You do need the business departments of your customer to play ball as well. Your value is to filter, steer and ensure no end customer is left behind. If you achieve that you can be a leader in the BPO industry and your customers will benefit big time for embracing social media.

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