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Webhelp Helping Reinvent French Public Sector CX


2020 triggered multiple large-scale engagements between public sector bodies and CX services providers, with contract activity growing 12.5% year-over-year to reach $4.7bn globally this year (NelsonHall estimate). Outsourcing companies provided healthcare information lines, patient track and trace, unemployment and social benefits hotlines, and loan administration for national, regional, and municipal governments.

I spoke with Fabien Adnet, Head of Webhelp France Public Sector practice, on the company's response to the CX services opportunities in the government sector and the long-term trends for public CX services outsourcing.

Webhelp France public sector

Historically, Webhelp France combined the public and utilities sector practice, starting with support for state-owned energy clients around 2005. In March 2021, Webhelp created a new division dedicated to the public sector in the country. Today, it has ~500 FTEs in 11 delivery centers in nine cities across France, supporting a dozen public sector clients.

The decision to create a dedicated business unit came as an outcome from a shared think tank process with an external consulting agency, Altermind. Webhelp and the agency benchmarked the European CX public sector best practices and met with several national and local government representatives to listen to their needs and challenges.  

The new practice combines all offerings of the service portfolio with experience of different group divisions. For the sector, Webhelp provides general inquiries, information hotlines, customer care, technical support and remote troubleshooting, payment processing, collection management, retention, and back-office processing. It also develops and implements digital tools such as digital payments.

For example, for a transport body, Webhelp has provided support across the customer journey since 2013. It processes L1 and L2 queries about online subscriptions, commercial information, management of contracts and after-sales support (including handling claims and complaints), processes back-office activities such as management of customer data, and interaction with transport firms and external agencies. It also conducts outbound calls, collections, and runs marketing campaigns. Webhelp ramps up the program during two-month peak times, from 30 to 280 FTEs. It manages 24/7 with 90% SLA adherence, 48-hour TAT for back-office tasks, and 24-hour set-up for outbound campaigns.

The company's social media unit, Netino by Webhelp, also has a strong footprint in the French public sector and supports various entities such as ministries, museums, and public campaigns with content management and moderation. An example client is the public information service Service d'information du Gouvernement (SIG). Netino also publishes reports on trends in online hate speech to help authorities identify and categorize online threat messages.

French government's drive towards transformation

In 2017, the French government launched Action Publique 2022, a program aimed at digitizing citizen services to achieve higher quality CX, modernize working environments for the staff, and lower costs. It aims to measure citizen satisfaction with the services; for example, follow-ups over the phone for tax return submissions.

Webhelp and Altermind created a white paper to assess the BPS outsourcing opportunities in support of this transformation. The paper estimated the potential savings of public spending at around €25bn.

Webhelp also published Baromèter, a quarterly report measuring progress at the department level, based on a survey of national and local authorities. The 2020 edition covered 315 elected officials, 172 agents by Webhelp and another provider, and 1k users. The results highlighted three majors challenges to invest in:

  • Quality of the services delivered to citizens
  • Improvement of customer agents' work environment
  • Management of public spending.

In this context of transformation needs, Webhelp defined three strategic tracks based on:

  • Dematerialization and digital transformation
  • Performance satisfaction
  • Placing citizens at the heart of the service experience.

Challenges in purchasing

As with other countries, the French government closely regulates public services outsourcing with multiple restrictive policies and constraints, such as delivery locations in the respective region or municipality. For example, Webhelp has only one French public client with some of the work delivered from offshore. Often, state organizations lack the procurement expertise to purchase CX services specifically. Also, price is usually the main selection decision criterion, leading to contracts with small and local contact centers.

At a higher level, French public agencies have different parts of the customer journeys sitting with different units or departments, resulting in separate contact centers. In addition, in most French public entities, chatbots and customer-facing automation are deployed disparately; for example, in the early stages of email automation.

The pandemic as a catalyst for transformation in government outsourcing

Following multiple lockdowns and disruptions of face-to-face services, public organizations want to enable multichannel experience with mobile apps and social media. A further driver is the level of unpredicted volumes and seasonal traffic. Webhelp is employing its consulting unit Gobeyond Partners to redesign the experience to unify and centralize the CX, starting with phone and face-to-face delivery (the latter remaining the main channel for most citizens). It also assists with the development of organizational training and staff upskilling; for example, government offices where representatives help citizens complete the administrative procedure on a device. Webhelp also uses its digital agency MyStudioFactory to develop interfaces and apps.

An example implementation is for a French agency looking to support the digitization of service registration of citizens. The agency has to deal with strong seasonality trends exacerbated by the pandemic and wanted to enable technical support for online services. Webhelp established three onshore sites and ~150 employees, beginning with simple customer care calls. It trained the agents in incoming and outgoing workflows such as online registration assistance. It redesigned the WFM using part-time and pooling models. It also developed ticketing tools for technical escalations. It handles ~10k calls per month and ~20k callbacks from web interactions. Webhelp achieved ~90% service quality, ~93% control adherence, and ~95% CSAT.

Other factors in public sector outsourcing

Increasingly, the French authorities focus their attention on impact sourcing and green policies to develop ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) specific actions. These include people focus such as recruitment of unemployed workers and benefits recipients, and diversity and minority hiring. For environmental protection, a new French law is currently in discussion to require factoring of the environmental impact in outsourcing. Here, one of the benefits for CX services providers is the shift to work-at-home, with Webhelp currently maintaining 50-60% of its French workforce on remote working. It plans to incorporate 20-25% WAH in all its public sector programs. Webhelp is responding by incorporating environmental, social, and corporate governance KPIs into RFPs, including carbon footprint and effects on the local community.

Another trend in France is greater decentralization of services to the regions and cities. Webhelp's Public Sector practice is devising a commercial approach focused on proximity, and is evangelizing solutions by sub-segment.

Webhelp's French Public Sector practice is planning to share its best practices with other public sector units across target Webhelp markets to benefit from great experiences and establish benchmarks in public sector CX.

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