Last updated Wednesday, July 30, 2014 10:57pm

Abhijit Banerjee, vice president and Asia Pacific region head at Servion greets Brandt International founder, president and chief executive officer Munirah Looi. ― Picture by Digital News Asia Abhijit Banerjee, vice president and Asia Pacific region head at Servion greets Brandt International founder, president and chief executive officer Munirah Looi. ― Picture by Digital News Asia KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 ― It’s an industry that has been evolving over the last dozen or so years, from the humble ‘call centre’ to the more comprehensive ‘contact centre’ and these days, with social media, mobile and multiple channels in the mix, it’s called the customer experience and customer interaction management front.

Two Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC Malaysia) companies ― one a Chennai-headquartered multinational and the other a homegrown hero ― have formed a partnership to provide a full suite of solutions to take on the regional market.

Servion Global Solutions Contact, which specialises in contact centre management (CCM) and Customer Interaction Management (CIM) solutions; and Malaysia’s Brandt International, which offers business and knowledge processing (BPO/ KPO) services and consulting, sealed their partnership in November, just about a month after first opening discussions, according to Abhijit Banerjee, vice president and Asia Pacific region head at Servion.

“Brandt does consulting around people and processes in contact centres, that’s their forte … which we don’t do. Our forte is the technology part of the enablement, so we saw this as a good fit,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) in an interview.

According to Brandt International founder, president and chief executive officer Munirah Looi, she bumped into Abhijit at a conference in Jakarta.

“We realised we were both speaking about the same challenges and opportunities, and decided to take things on from there,” she told DNA. “Given our areas of expertise, we realised we were a good fit.”

Both companies come with a fair degree of pedigree. Servion and its client CitiBank were winners of the Best Call Centre Project Award 2012 in the sixth Asian Banker Technology Implementation Awards Programme; as well as the Best Call Centre Project Award at the 13th annual Asian Banker Summit 2012.

Brandt, which was established in 2004, has been identified by the Malaysian Government as having the potential to go regional and even global under its Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), under the Business Services National Key Economic Area.

It was with a certain degree of serendipity that saw this partnership being established: Both companies had been doing the corporate world’s equivalent of soul-searching when Abhijit and Munirah had bumped into each other in Jakarta.

Munirah Looi.Munirah Looi.Being an ETP flag-bearer meant a new dimension and scale. “We had to re-look our value proposition,” said Munirah (pic). “Since being established in 2004, we’ve been very focused on homegrown companies and the Malaysian market, and it was only about three years ago that we started being more aggressive in the regional, as well as global, market.

“Our core capabilities and strengths have always been in the customer experience and management area ― we’ve been very good in terms of the people, processes and components, all very technology-independent.

“But we needed to intensify our value proposition to address the market needs and competitive landscape out there, and Servion is that missing link we needed,” she added. “Now we can offer end-to-end solutions.”

The Chennai connection

Servion, which claims over 600 customers and 1,000 installations in more than 60 countries, takes a consulting-led approach to optimising customer interaction for its clients. The partnership with Brandt came at just the right time for it too.

The MSC Malaysia status company has been present in the country for about seven years, but primarily as an operation that delivered services to its clients all over the region.

“We were doing regional deployment from here,” said Abhijit. “We really did not have a strong marketing strategy in place for Malaysia ― we had a few clients here, but they had been our clients for several years. So the business did not expand.”

“What we decided to do differently, since the middle of last year, was that we looked at Malaysia as a market in itself ― here was a market that was very conscious of customer experience.

“Over the last few years, more and more brands have been trying to deliver their brand promise using several, customer interaction multichannel layers ― whether it was email, chat, telephone, contact centre, IVR (interactive voice response) and now, social media.

“Everybody wants to convey their brand promise to their consumer, in the way that the consumer expects it. So, everyone has been talking about customer experience ― it’s the hot topic right now, so much so that companies are even appointing ‘chief customer experience officers,’ sitting in between marketing and strategy.

“So we felt the market was ripe, and it was a good time to expand and spread the message that we can help Malaysian enterprises in this journey,” he added.

Indeed, according to Avaya’s Asia Pacific Customer Experience Index, more than 60 per cent of customers demand multichannel communications, and 41 percent are likely to move or have already moved their business as a result of poor customer service.

Abhijit Banerjee.Abhijit Banerjee.Abhijit (pic) noted other factors too, across various industries. In the financial services industry, large Malaysian banks were increasingly going regional. Smaller banks were nipping at the heels of regional players with the promise that they could deliver personalised, more ‘culturally-friendly’ services.

“All these require a robust customer experience management strategy because you’re going into markets with very different footprints,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian healthcare sector is gearing up for medical tourism, “which would require international-class customer services,” he argued, and the hospitality sector was girding its loins for Visit Malaysia Year 2014.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s plans to position itself as the global hub for Islamic or Syariah-compliant financial services, from banking to insurance, would also require local companies to offer a world-class customer experience.

It was all coming together, “but we needed a Malaysian partner with the local connections and market understanding,” Abhijit said, which is where Brandt International comes in.

“Our strength is in delivering robust, technology solutions around customer interaction management,” he said. “We’re technology-agnostic, and have partnerships with several technology multinationals, including Avaya and Cisco, with products in this space.

“We can design and provide a technology solution, one which need not be restricted to one principal’s products – different courses for different horses,” he said.

“But marketing and selling is not our forte, so that’s where a local company with its local connections can come in, though we will work and develop opportunities together,” he added.

Central to both strategies

Both Munirah and Abhijit were also very confident that their partnership would make a great case for how MSC Malaysia companies could work together to expand not only their business, but their horizons and take on regional, and even global, markets.

“We had 100 per cent growth this year, and with this Servion relationship, expect to leapfrog next year,” said Munirah. “We have ambitious plans for next year; our target is to go into emerging markets such as Cambodia and Vietnam.”

The company started the year with a headcount of 350, and had doubled it by November and expects to close the year with 900 employees.

While she could not disclose actual financial figures, Munirah said the company is on target to meet, if not surpass, the numbers it committed to the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the national ICT custodian which oversees MSC Malaysia.

It has set some hard-coded targets for 2016: RM100 million in turnover. Currently, 35 per cent of its revenues come from outside Malaysia, mostly near-shore markets like Indonesia and Singapore, but by 2016, it aims to generate 70 per cent of its revenues from overseas.

“It [2016] is potentially a year that we can look at corporate restructuring activities that would potentially lead to a listing,” she said.

Servion’s Abhijit, while noting that the sales cycles for a business such as theirs was very long, said that before the partnership, his company had been in “serious discussions” with two major Malaysian companies.

With the partnership, he added five more large companies to the list of potential clients.

The end-game is to capture a leadership position in the customer interaction management space in Malaysia, “but we also want to establish a very strong partnership model of how two MSC companies ― one foreign, one local ― can come together to create a regional presence, and show this to MDeC,” he added.

MDeC is watching. In a statement issued by Brandt and Servion, MDeC chief executive officer Badlisham Ghazali was enthusiastic about the possibilities.

The Brandt-Servion “partnership clearly indicates the readiness of homegrown outsourcers to move into the global arena. I look forward to seeing the fruits of [this] partnership as an agent of change for Malaysia’s customer service industry,” he said. ― Digital News Asia

This article was first published here.