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Europe is the biggest market that outsources contact centers following North America. It occupied a market share of 25.05% in 2018; with the average annual growth of almost 5.8% it is expected to reach a value of €33 billion in 2025.
However, Europe has some specific characteristics which sets it apart from other markets. In this post, we are discussing these features and why Virtual Assistants are particularly well positioned to assist European contact centers.
1. Time zone concerns
According to the Netherlands’ Centre for Promotion of Imports, one of the top reasons European businesses outsource their contact centers is because they want to focus on their core offering. Businesses do not want to worry about hiring and training staff or purchasing equipment, and outsourcing relieves them of this burden.
However, they mostly prefer to reach out to nearby countries because of language and cultural similarities as well as similar time zones. Eastern Europe makes up for many contact centers with head offices in major economies. Nonetheless, companies offering 24x7 service may prefer to have their support teams in distant countries to cover their out-of-office hours.
In such a scenario, AI-powered virtual assistants could be ideal since they are not designed for time zones. Their omnipresent approach can instantly engage with consumers at all times and reduce wait times. This not only addresses time zone related concerns but also induces a feeling of being valued for the customer.
The ongoing pandemic has given impetus to reassessment of fixed costs, especially contact centers.This rebalancing has been a primary reason for the outsourcing of contact centers.
Assessing wages for contact center agents across the region gives us a peek into why agent costs are under the scanner. While the price of an agent is approximately €6,436 per year in Central and Eastern Europe, it can go as high as €22,200 in Nordic countries.
In this sense, virtual assistants are incomparable to live agents, as their costs are significantly lower. Moreover, they can automatically engage with clients and resolve queries in 50% of the cases, equal to the work of several operators. According to the Harvard Business Review, “live service interactions cost more than $7 for B2C and $13 for B2B companies while do-it-yourself transactions cost pennies.”
3. Cultural differences
People in different countries have disparate preferences for reaching out to contact centers, as substantiated by GlobeNewswire. For instance, people in Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark tend to rely more on social media and web chat and less on email, as opposed to customers in Western Europe, the UK, and Central and Eastern Europe.
The advantage of virtual assistants is that it can offer an omnichannel support platform, where customers can engage with the company on any channel they prefer. Moreover, the system can remember conversations and follow up where it left off even if the user has switched to a separate channel.
4. Language preferences
While more than half of Europeans can speak in a foreign language (according to a 2012 Eurobarometer survey and 25% can speak at least two additional languages) customers would prefer to receive support in their native language. This could be particularly true for France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
With the aid of AI and natural language processing, virtual assistants can easily assist in this regard, as they can detect the language of the user as well as switch to the conversation flow in the respective language. The VA can even remember this setting and reach out to the user in the same language for future engagements. It is much easier to set up a virtual assistant than it is to train customer service representatives in every potential language users may choose to speak in. Kore.ai not only supports French, German, Italian and Spanish, it supports other European languages such as Finnish as well. Some languages that are spoken by minorities, including expats, such as Chinese or Arabic are also available.
Increasingly, European companies are turning to self-service solutions which encourage customers to obtain information through websites or IVR applications, as they both lower the load on call centers and are more readily available to customers. They are also much more cost effective. The key though, is to make sure the available self-service channels work efficiently and deliver a great customer experience - many callers simply keep pressing the zero button to skip an IVR and connect to a live agent because of previous bad experiences.
Virtual assistants are uniquely positioned to help, particularly during the transition: they feel like talking to an agent but come with the same benefits of self-service. Unlike chatbots, VAs use Natural Language Processing which aids intelligent conversations. There is flexibility in the conversations, which aims to negate the use of individual human agents for basic queries or transactional inquiries. VAs are able to scour for information quickly and draw up a quick response from multiple sources aiding self-service systems for consumers. In some cases, VAs are superior to agents as they can respond faster and offer links, pictures and interactive content in their replies - something much more difficult for an agent to put up.
While the outsourcing contact center market in Europe is growing, cultural, language and time zone differences could curtail growth. Virtual assistants are uniquely positioned to assist businesses in changing scenarios as they can be easily tweaked to work in various communication channels, in different languages and at any time. Moreover, it is possible to do so without degrading the customer experience, at a fraction of the cost of human operators. Human operators can then handle more sensitive and complex queries that will require human interaction