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Evolving a CMS Client Relationship: A Sutherland Case Example

Increasing emphasis on improved customer experience is driving customer management services (CMS) outsourcing deals to evolve, with vendors providing domain expertize, analytical insights, transformational capabilities, and access to new channels/technology across the entire contract duration. On the client side, this translates into working with fewer vendors sourcing multiple functions and geographies, and committing to longer contract terms. In our recent visit to Sutherland’s Chennai contact center, we put this trend in context by discussing the company’s long-standing relationship with a global security software client and how it has progressed over the years.

Expanding the business scope

Sutherland began to support the security software manufacturer in 2004, starting with 35 technical support representatives in a single site. Currently, it has more than 1.4k support staff for this account, operating out of Chennai and Cochin, India, with a total of over 900 people, as well as from Bulgaria, Philippines, Colombia and the U.S. Starting with voice technical support in English, Sutherland now offers services in 16 languages across most global client markets. It engages with free and paid end users over voice, email, chat, remote assist, and social media. In 2010, the client moved from a multivendor model with eight providers to Sutherland as the sole support partner (with the exception of certain APAC markets).

The expansion of the business scope came on the back of deeper involvement by Sutherland in more and more processes, starting with customer care and technical support, adding sales social media engagement, and graduating to premium technical support, product testing, research, issue reporting and finally retention. 

Integrating technical support into product development

In an internet security environment challenged by increasing malware and regular operating system releases, the customer facing operations often serve as the first source of information for the product development team. Sutherland embraced this role and set up a virus removal research team. For the last five years it has submitted more than 117k malware samples to the client quality department, improving the effectiveness and stability of the product.

The level of expertise within Sutherland spurred the creation of a ‘2.5 technical support’ team for escalations which also assists the client’s other vendor operating in Asia. Since 2008, this team, together with core team members across geographies, participates in alpha and beta testing for product releases, offers recommendations on new features, handles issues unresolved by levels 1 and 2, and creates knowledge articles for both internal use and external forums. The 2.5 team shares a common issues log with the client development department and organizes training and upskilling sessions with QA specialists. Sutherland Chennai also serves as an issue verification function across geographies and monitors and reports volume spikes and customer experience KPIs for the enterprise business as well.

For example, during the release of Windows 10 in July 2015, Sutherland’s support team had early access to the OS and tested the product behavior, logged and resolved issues and prepared solution articles, user guides, and tutorials. Together with the product testing, this process helped manage the volume fluctuations.

Using its growing domain knowledge and integration with the client’s product development, Sutherland has increased its resolution rate by over seven percent to its current 93%.

From support to revenue generation

For the last year, Sutherland has piloted a dedicated inbound retention desk helping customers requesting refunds and new purchases. The aim was to increase revenue, and also provide greater flexibility to customers who are auto-renewed. Sutherland focused on improving employee sales skills through continuous training and self-learning video tutorials. As a result, the team has doubled purchases to 88% while decreasing the discount rate.   

Vendor-driven innovation: premium tech support

In 2011, Sutherland identified a commercial opportunity by closing the loop on technical support for out-of-scope issues due to malware, adware, hardware, or ISP-related problems. Close to 24% of all interactions fell into this category. Another target group was out-of-warranty customers. Sutherland developed a technical platform for issue diagnostics, a knowledge base with solution articles, plus the payment gateway. It also created the lead generation process and customer acquisition models.

For example, when an out-of-warranty or out-of-scope customer inquiry reaches first level support, the tech support rep runs the diagnostic tool, identifies if the issue requires more advanced support, and if it is within Sutherland’s remit. Then the rep redirects the issue to a sales desk where a sales rep explains the USPs, assists in the selection of a product package (either ‘incident’ or ‘subscription’), and completes the sale, while assigning a follow-up call to the 100-member tier 2 team to remotely access and fix the problematic hardware. Approximately 17% of the annual out-of-scope traffic is transferred for retention, with over 25% conversion rate. 

This premium support is branded by the client and Sutherland operates it on a gain-share basis.

Looking ahead

In the area of online security, mobility is a key growth area, and both the client and Sutherland are dedicating their efforts to address this market need.

Sutherland has also recently launched its online support for the client, offering level 1 services for issues with Google Play and Apple Store, publishing the answers on the public forums for the product. It is now looking to expand to social media level 1 support on Facebook and Twitter.

Sutherland is also aiming to expand its support for the client into APAC markets currently supported by the other vendor.

In a 12 year-long relationship with the client, Sutherland continues to seek new ways of improving the customer experience while expanding its business footprint.

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