Ireland’s long heritage in call centres, its position as a global technology hub, and its highly supportive customer experience ecosystem, places it at the leading edge of the rapidly transforming business process outsourcing (BPO) and global business services sector.
Today, more than 60,000 people are employed by over 250 business process outsourcing providers in Ireland. They provide global customers with a range of complex, high-value services, including multilingual customer support, regulated foreign exchange transactions, insurance claim handling, pre-sales and sales functions, social media monitoring, technical support, and healthcare management.
Ireland’s track record in the industry stretches back almost 40 decades to the 1980s when the strong communications skills and interpersonal strengths of its people helped to establish the country as one of the world’s first call centre hubs. Indeed, by the mid-1990s Ireland was recognised as Europe’s undisputed contact centre capital.
Contact centres have grown in scale and scope since then and now provide a wide variety of customer support services through phone calls as well as an array of channels ranging from social media to web chat. This omnichannel customer engagement is now referred to as customer experience or CX.
That combination of technology and the natural interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence of the Irish people has seen the industry here move from dealing with relatively simple issues to solving highly complex problems for customers around the world.
In today’s intensely competitive world, the most valuable part of many businesses is their brand, and customer experience is a key contributor to brand value. The fact that many of the world’s leading companies have chosen to entrust that customer experience to Irish partners is an indication of the regard in which the industry is held internationally.
The industry in Ireland is now characterised by the large cohort of multinational companies that have a presence here, as well as the strength of its indigenous CX sector. Leading multinationals in the sector include PayPal with its major customer experience centre in Dundalk and Voxpro.
Originally founded in Cork, Voxpro is an international business process outsourcing specialist with Irish operations in Dublin and Cork, as well as centres of excellence in North and Central America, Europe and Asia. This highly innovative company was acquired by TELUS International in 2017 and now employs over 34,000 people.
CarTrawler is the world’s largest online marketplace for car hire, processing over 900 million hires per year across the globe. It employs 450 people, including 42 different nationalities, and covers 20 languages. In the past number of years, it has transformed itself from a call centre operation to a digital contact centre.
This critical mass of technologically advanced global business services and customer experience companies is backed by an equally advanced support ecosystem which includes Ireland’s internationally renowned research capability. Support in areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and advanced data analytics is provided by the Adapt and Insight Science Foundation Ireland Research Centres, while the Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland-backed CeADAR Technology Centre works with CX companies in areas such as customer, text, social media, location-based, and sentiment analytics.
The close collaboration between research and industry has propelled the Irish CX and business process outsourcing sector to the front rank internationally when it comes to the application of leading-edge technologies.
Ireland’s status as a global technology hub, with all of the major technology giants including Google, Amazon, Facebook and so on located here, has given the global business services sector an inside line on the latest customer experience technologies.
That technological advantage is overlaid by a skills base unrivalled internationally when it comes to depth and quality. The country’s education system is ranked in the top 10 globally for quality and relevance to industry. Ireland’s IT specialists are among the best educated in the EU, with 82% having a third-level qualification – compared with an EU average of 62%. In addition, 56% of 30–34 year-olds have a third-level qualification, as opposed to 40% in the EU.
In addition, Skillnet Ireland, a specialist in workforce learning, has created a number of industry-led programmes for the sector right up to master’s degree level. The strength of this unique ecosystem is why the Global Innovation Index ranks Ireland 10th in the world.
That ecosystem is rounded off by support from Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland. Around 90% of the firms in the sector are now engaged in some form of technology or process innovation with Enterprise Ireland support. This includes firms of every size and stage of development.
The industry is also highly proactive when it comes to promotion and development initiatives. The Customer Contact Management Association (CCMA) works to ensure that Ireland continues to lead the way in CX development, while Crios, a group of long-established and experienced global services providers, facilitates the continued growth of the industry by offering international customers a single access point for a highly professional partnering solution for their customer contact needs. Service offerings from Crios members cover all major sectors, including finance, public sector, technology, utility and communication.
The inherent strengths of the Irish industry place it in an ideal position to be one of the winners from the wave of disruption that will result from the increasing use of AI, machine learning, chatbots and natural language processing.
The Irish industry has consistently moved towards higher-value activities over the years and despite increasing automation, employment has continued to grow. Ireland’s highly educated workforce is ideally suited to solving very complex problems for customers. Robotic process automation and other technologies facilitate them by freeing up time to spend on delivering those solutions.
The same technologies also make the industry uniquely suited to the new world of work being created by the Covid-19 pandemic. The great majority of roles can be performed remotely with no impact on quality or productivity. This in turn makes companies in the industry more attractive as employers and more capable of retaining key talent.
The stars are aligning perfectly, giving Ireland a unique opportunity to strengthen its position as the location of choice for companies looking for global business services partners or to expand their own customer experience operations. Ireland’s workforce is continuing to upskill into higher-value roles, and this is helping to position Ireland as a globally recognised location where complex customer interaction and experience intersects with technology.