Why South Africa is the next great Customer Experience destination

Mark Mitchell, Greg Goosen and John Hawthorne delved into how and why South Africa is the upcoming Customer Experience destination. Read on to find out what they had to say at the Masterclass session at the BPESA Global Business Services Investor Conference.
6 minutes
Ignition Group speaks on why South Africa is the next great customer experience destination

In November 2022, IgnitionCX held a Masterclass session at the BPESA Global Business Services Investor Conference, a prestigious event attended by delegates from around the world. Presented by Mark Mitchell (Chief Operations Officer, IgnitionCX), Greg Goosen (Senior Director of Business Development, IgnitionCX) and John Hawthorne (Senior Vice President of Business Development, IgnitionCX), it delved into how and why South Africa is the upcoming Customer Experience destination.

At this conference we heard the word ‘cooperatition’ – cooperating with our competition. What this means is that there is so much work out there for all of us in South Africa, that it makes sense for traditional competitors to cooperate.

South Africa is the current buzzword in the Customer Experience (CX) industry, and we’ll talk about why that is shortly, but whatever the reasons, we need to capitalise on this. As an industry in South Africa, we need to continue to promote South Africa as a CX destination, have a common marketing campaign if you will, and get offshore companies to realise that South Africa is the best CX option for them.

If we can do that collaboratively as an industry, then we will all benefit. Once we have companies in the US or the EU looking specifically at South Africa as the geographic location that can best service their CX needs, we will all have enough business to grow and hopefully fulfil that goal of 500 000 jobs in the next 10 years that is often spoken about.

So why is South Africa the best answer for CX work? There are a number of reasons why South Africa is so attractive as an offshore location, particularly for US clients:

The People: Many of the traditional offshore CX geographies have a particular strength, as well as an aspect of CX that they are not as comfortable with. For example, the culture of a population might make them more likely to be good at customer services but not as good at sales, or vice versa.  

South Africans, on the other hand, are tough and resilient and able to hold those tough conversations, but they are also friendly and open and amiable, and enjoy conversing with people, off script. They are great at closing as salespeople and also give fantastic customer service.

The Culture: SA is actually very similar to the States in some respects, so there’s a close fit in terms of culture. Many South Africans follow American culture – the music, the movies, the food – and even aspire to American culture, so they enjoy talking to American people and are able to hold a good conversation with them.

The Accent: When speaking of the CX industry you also need to talk about the accent. We break down geographies into accent neutral, accent positive and accent negative.

Accent neutral is an American talking to an American or Canadian agent, but while the accent is good, you generally don’t get the best service because being a CX expert isn’t considered a career in these countries. It’s also very expensive.

Accent negative is an American talking to an CX expert in a country where there might be an issue with communication or negative perceptions. 

Accent positive is where an American talks to a person with what they consider to be a British or British-type accent. It’s too expensive to offshore work to the UK, Ireland or Australia, so South Africa is literally the only place in the world that offers that accent positive experience at an accent-negative-equivalent price.

Climate Stability: Most of the places where the US has contact centres, both domestically and the offshore places, have numerous climate challenges. The recent floods in South Africa was an unusual occurrence. Normally, the climate is stable and predictable.

Political Stability: South Africa is historically a very stable democracy, as opposed to some CX geographies which suffer from regular political upheaval and changes in governance.

Infrastructure: If we look back at 2010 when SA hosted the FIFA World Cup, there was massive investment in infrastructure: new airports, new interstates, and new fibre optic undersea cables linking Africa to Europe and Asia that supply much higher bandwidth. These things all have an important role to play in the attractiveness of SA as a CX destination, and this investment will continue to deliver for years to come.

Value: Value is extremely important to our buyers. We offer Global Best Practice at a cost that’s extremely favourable compared to anywhere else in the world.

Digital Expertise: The possibility of finding digital expertise in South Africa has increased over the past few years, to the extent that we are on the cutting edge of being able to provide these services. This is a huge asset that we cannot underestimate.

Business Continuity: Over the COVID pandemic, the world was brought to a standstill. Where South Africa shone, and we at Ignition are particularly proud of this, is that we made a plan in a typically South African way. This is where our resilience is so valuable: we had virtual call centres up and running remotely in a matter of days, by supplying our agents with everything they needed to keep their services running. This is another thing that we mustn’t discount – our business partners noticed this and will remember it. When the chips are down, South Africa delivers.

We’ve already listed a number of advantages that South Africa holds over its competitors, more than enough to justify why SA is the answer for CX work, and yet there are others we haven’t even touched on.

So that is how we believe that our industry should be focussing its energies at the moment – in selling South Africa as the geography of choice for offshore work. If we do, there will be more than enough work to go around, and our cooperation will have paid off.

Know yourself: That’s when a CX business needs to know its core competency – who you are, what your niche offering is to that market. By doing this, you can identify potential business partners who you will best be able to serve. This will result in high-quality results for you and your partner, which in turn will deliver a long-term partnership. What else will this deliver? Satisfaction with South Africa, an even better reputation for the country and our industry, and more business for all of us. So that is another way in which we can benefit from ‘cooperatition’ – go after the business you will excel at and improve the value of the SA brand. Leave the business that isn’t in your niche for someone whose niche it is in, so that you don’t drop the ball and diminish our collective reputation. Don’t try and sell yourself as something that you’re not.

At Ignition, we believe in partnerships – our success is based on integrating ourselves into our partnerships, by adding more value than just completing a leg of the transaction. We have always operated like this, and our performance in the US is a direct result of this.

The COVID Effect: We mentioned the challenges that COVID introduced, but we also need to look at how resilient our industry has been. Yes, the last couple of years have been incredibly tough with immense challenges, but CX companies that have managed to come out of those years in a healthy position are now poised for big things.

Certain things have surprisingly become a little easier during COVID, and in some ways clients have become more open to new ways of doing things. During the pandemic, and now after things have settled down, we haven’t had a single potential offshore customer feel the need to come and do a physical site visit. All training and support have been done remotely, and clients are only coming out 6 – 9 months later. This has fast-tracked the onboarding process. Before COVID, would you have believed that you could close a deal and launch the service without the client ever visiting your operation?

Suddenly clients are prepared to conduct a relationship remotely. The world knows and trusts what can be done remotely, and this is hugely beneficial to South Africa, because we are so far away geographically from the States.

That said, if clients do want to come for a physical site visit, encourage them to stay for while. It can’t hurt for them to see the beauty of our country, to go on safari, to meet the people they will be employing and experience the culture. This drives home the messages we keep giving them: the jobs they are creating, and the communities that are benefitting from this.

Feet on the ground: We’ve spoken about doing things remotely, but Ignition is very fortunate to have a great US-based team in John Hawthorne and Jon Ellsworth. Between them, they have well over 20 years’ experience in the industry, and great contacts in the US and an understanding of how business is done over there. They’re invaluable, but having US-based employees isn’t the only way to go. You can also get in touch with a couple of great consultants in the US, who can introduce your business and your skills to their networks. All you need is an introduction and your BDMs can do the rest.

We cannot stress enough how much opportunity there is at the moment for the South African CX industry. There are 64 000 contact centres in the world, all fighting for a piece of the pie. By working together, and by working smart, we can bring a large portion of that pie here to make sure that we all get a place at the table. At the same time, we will be bringing jobs to South Africa and boosting the economy, uplifting communities and creating real change for the future of our country.

IgnitionCX is part of Ignition Group.

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