BT is one of the world’s leading communications services companies. Engaged in the provision of fiber broadband, wifi, TV and fixed-line services, as well as networked IT services, the company has its headquarters in the U.K. and serves U.K. retail and wholesale customers, as well as other communications providers. BT also supplies managed networked IT services to multinational corporations and business customers.
BT has been transforming its operations to reduce its cost base and allow for investment in a number of areas, such as fiber and TV in the U.K. and fast-growing regions of the world. The approach is to reduce the cost of failure without compromising the quality of its customer service.
As a global company, BT decided to go with a mixed service model that included both U.K. and non-U.K.-based agents. Following a detailed review and tendering exercise, it was decided that a Philippines-based operation would meet BT’s criteria and help reduce the cost to serve, so the company made the decision to outsource.
“We felt that our customers would get a different voice experience in the Philippines than in India, and we were also keen on getting the best value for our money as we considered our final four or five candidates,” explains Neil Rowan, Head of Business Insight and Collaboration, BT Group Billing. “In the end, our decision was probably about flexibility. We have many tailored services across a wide range of customer types, and we needed a partner who had the adaptability to get us the right solution.”
BT ultimately identified Wipro Ltd.’s telecom industry expertise, as well as its proven track record in earlier engagements with BT, as important reasons for its selection. “But their overall value proposition and willingness to invest in the collaboration up front, as well as their operational expertise, were also significant criteria,” Rowan adds.
The relationship constructed by BT and Wipro features a mix of onshore operations in the U.K. and offshore sites in Cebu and Manila, the Philippines. Wipro’s call center manages the billing and collection environments, and the majority of its resources are spent on helping BT’s customers resolve customer billing inquiries and “chasing collections” from late-paying customers.
Now going on its sixth year, the BT-Wipro outsourcing contract has succeeded in accomplishing the goal of reducing operational costs. Rowan declares, “Wipro’s commitment to service delivery has succeeded in significantly driving down our non-paid consumer customer churn.”
“Working with Wipro has also enabled us to increase our focus on our core business and automate processes that were previously performed manually in-house,” says Rowan. “But they’ve proven themselves to be very flexible as challenges have arisen. They’re very willing to help us sort out problems and find solutions,” he adds. Rowan notes that throughout the duration of its contract with Wipro, BT hasn’t encountered the contractual rigidity usually seen in third-party relationships. “There’s not the usual focus on contract clauses; those sorts of barriers just aren’t there. In most instances, they happily help us resolve any challenges we run up against.”
Preparing for the worst brings out the best
As might be expected, the two teams did encounter obstacles of the usual variety during the transition from the previous vendor: various hiccups at that point included technology, security and union matters. Later, additional issues, such as high attrition, quality of agents and selection of knowledge management tools, reared their ugly heads and had to be resolved.
But nothing has tested the mettle of the BT-Wipro relationship more severely than Mother Nature. In the autumn of 2013, she came calling.
On October 13, 2013, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 on the Richter scale hit the Philippines. As luck would have it, the epicenter was at Cebu, the location of BT’s main billing site. Pressing on despite a series of 5.0+ aftershocks that followed the initial temblor, “Wipro led by example, rallying the team and maintaining efficient communications throughout the disaster recovery process,” says Rowan. “Amazingly, BT lost only half a day of operational resilience.”
Less than a month later, on November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan completely devastated parts of Southeast Asia, cutting a wide swath through the Philippines and wreaking havoc on people and property. Again, Wipro rose to the occasion; its team knew the projected time of landfall and was aware that BT’s Cebu billing site lay directly in the cyclone’s path. Five days in advance, Wipro arranged hotel accommodations within a 60-mile radius of the Cebu site for 200 of its advisors, with the twofold objective of ensuring their people’s safety and minimizing the negative impact for BT and its customers. Rowan stresses, “Wipro covered the agents’ accommodations at their own cost, and as a result, BT was fully operational the next day. As with the earthquake, their disaster recovery plan got us through.”
Rowan adds that in the aftermath of the storm, the BT and Wipro teams took their collaborative spirit out of the office and into the community. As residents of the Philippines struggled to cope with property devastation of 78 percent, BT and Wipro bonded in a spirit of teamwork, rebuilding a local school classroom—complete with fresh paint and other decorative interior touches—and creating a library for the school.
Creative brainstorms bring collaboration and continuous improvement
Citing strong communications as one of the keys to the relationship’s success, Rowan adds that the teams examine SLAs on a monthly basis and hold quarterly meetings to review mutually beneficial value opportunities, best practices and strategic opportunities for innovation. These candid exchanges have enabled the teams to merge new ideas with best practices in action plans that have consistently resulted in continuous business improvement, reduced costs and increased revenue growth for BT.
“Our relationship with Wipro throughout this engagement has enabled us to focus on measuring the right things,” Rowan remarks. “Normally, with BPO, you measure productivity, as in number of calls answered. But now we’re shifting to valuing quality over quantity”
Rowan explains that BT consists of teams located in multiple offices throughout the U.K., and Wipro has succeeded in creating a single site to optimize team performance and service by aligning processes. “They’ve helped us improve customer service during the past five years by finding synergies in work types,” Rowan says.
Quick to point out that no relationship is perfect, particularly in the outsourcing space, Rowan stresses that, overall, “BT’s collaboration with Wipro has been exceptional. We all stay focused on making things better, and I treat Wipro and my internal BT team exactly the same.”
BT had reasonable expectations for an outsourcing engagement: cost reductions, innovative ideas and revenue growth. But Wipro took commitment to a whole new level, helping to prevent BT’s call center from being blown away by a typhoon and keeping it on solid ground during an earthquake.
This amounts to “going above and beyond” in anybody’s book.