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BPOs including Aditya Birla Minacs, FirstSource & Aegis are offering social media & reputation management services now

July 05, 2013 | Jochelle Mendonca

Business process outsourcing firms are finding a new lucrative opportunity in managing social media for corporations whose customers are taking to the online medium to share feedback.

BPOs such as Aditya Birla Minacs, FirstSource and Aegis are now proactively offering to monitor social media and reaching out through platforms including Twitter and Facebook as they manage customer relations for their clients.

"Companies have realised they need a social media strategy to survive and they know that contact centres are their main touchpoints with customers. So clients will push their contact centres to adopt it and contact centres too will want to adopt it to pull additional clients," said Sanjay Dhawan, technology leader at advisory PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Gartner has predicted that by 2015, more than half of contact centres will have social media as a mainstream channel of communication with customers. Multi-channel communication - where companies can monitor social media sites and generate sales leads and combat product criticism - is becoming increasingly important and, unlike voice contact centres, India is likely to be dominant in this space.

Industry observers say that the new opportunity will be a key income stream for the Indian BPO sector that is chasing a revenue target of $50 billion (Rs 2.9 lakh crore) by 2020, up from Rs 1.1 lakh crore at present. Realising the potential, industry body Nasscom is working to create a centre of excellence in the segment.

Deepak Patel, chief executive officer at Aditya Birla Minacs, said his company has invested about $11 million in social media-related services. The BPO scans social media for keywords.

Service providers getting creative

If there is a negative comment about clients, it can reach out to customers via social and voice channels.

Bangalore-based Minacs offers key-word monitoring and reputation management services, which were the preserve of internal marketing department or smaller social media advisory firms. Patel said that customers are still assessing how best to tie social media into their existing processes. Minacs is implementing a social media strategy for five customers currently and is in discussions with a further 12 for this service.

Service providers are also getting creative in their offerings. Mumbai-based FirstSource, for instance, runs social media forums for its clients, where customers can engage in discussions about products or services.

"These offerings help you move up the value chain. Plus, the sales cycle and adoption time is short. Where a typical contact centre contract could take 18 months, something like this takes about six months," Smita Gaikwad, global head of marketing at FirstSource, said.

For BPOs such as Aegis Global, social-media offerings are a way to get their feet in the door with new clients. Though deal sizes can be small, profit margins on these services are two-three times that of traditional contact centre business, said Sandip Sen, CEO of the Essar Group company.

"The demand for these products is great. We have over a dozen customers on our social media platform. And we enter discussions with a new customer almost every month," said Sen, who is a member of Nasscom's council for business process management companies.

Companies that sell specialised software to contact centres are also cashing in. Aspect Software, which is owned by US private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, launched its Aspect Social software about three months ago to tie social media into its contact centre solutions and is seeing early wins among Indian BPOs, according to Sanjay Gupta, managing director for India, SAARC and the Middle East.

From just being an add-on differentiator, contact centres are looking at social media to redefine how customer support is provided. Cisco, which is a large provider of contact centre solutions, sees the space as 'hot.'

"Everything is becoming more proactive. Companies can't dictate the way they talk to customers. They have to adapt to the way the customer wants to be served and contact centres are now reflecting that," said Daisy Chittilapilly, a vice-president at Cisco India

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