The people are really what makes a company successful and when it comes to customer service, a high level of engagement and in-depth knowledge of sports and betting can really help gambling operators engage and retain their customers. That’s according to Paul Swainson (pictured, right), Group Corporate Director of Durban-based contact centre Synergy.
With more than 10 years of experience in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry, Swainson first became acquainted with Synergy CEO Derek Warner in 2011. He began discussions by reflecting on his career, touching briefly upon his time in the gaming sector.
“Prior to working in the BPO sector, I actually spent three years working for Ladbrokes. I first met Derek when I came out to South Africa in 2011 – we worked together for a number of years at another contact centre.
“We’re really proud of what we have established here at Synergy. It’s very much a growing company which is akin to a family, which is really what attracted me to working here.”
With a team of more than 1500 agents, Synergy has its feet firmly rooted in the retail and energy sector, however the company has already set out ambitious plans to offer its customer services to the betting and gaming sector.
Swainson said: “As a contact centre, we predominantly interact with customers over the phone. Essentially, we have just over 1500 employees who are speaking to people in the UK every single day. We work across all different elements of the customer journey – from queries to onboarding, making sure that individuals are happy.
“We work across a number of industries, including energy and retail. It’s a very exciting industry and a great, great business to be a part of – we’re very excited to be making our mark in the betting sector.”
The key to creating a stand-out offering is creating a ‘synergy’ between its people and the technology it uses, according to Swainson, who added that the employees are at the heart of what the company is all about.
“Ultimately, I think that any business in the contact centre world will be a combination of people and technology,” Swainson continued. “The thing that really stands out for us is our workforce. And when I say our people, we have the real benefit of working in South Africa.
“South African people really have the ability to build a rapport, and culturally, are very aligned with many Europeans. Everyone’s a football fan, and are all avid followers of sports. In our office, for example, everyone has a Premier League team that they support. So if you mix that cultural affinity with a love for sports, it’s a great combination.
“Whilst we recruit people differently, we also train people differently because we place a huge focus on engagement. We currently perform four times better than the average contact centre in relation to retaining our employees, and I believe that that is because we keep our staff engaged and they are happy to come to work.”
Employees’ affinity for sports positions Synergy as a player in the betting and gaming industry as staff are “able to have that interaction” with bettors.
“I really want to reiterate that cultural affinity. Betting is all about having an opinion and as the consumer, i.e. the individual placing the bets, you’re never wrong because you will always have an opinion and you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is in relation to that.
“Our team is able to have that interaction with bettors and understand what the consumer is talking about because they are all big football fans. I can’t say I agree with anyone supporting Liverpool or Manchester United, but what I can say is everyone is so enthralled with their own teams.
“If you can understand that market, you can have a greater interaction with consumers and really build a great rapport. That, in turn, can be hugely beneficial for companies.
“While I understand that countries such as India and the Philippines have great customer service companies, they largely place a focus on the transactional side of things. At Synergy, however, we are more about the interaction.”
So what is it about South Africa the ideal location for Synergy? For the Group Corporate Director, the answer to this question largely lies in the USP for the company.
Countries such as India and the Philippines have previously become associated with outsourced customer services but according to Swainson, the South African market is much more aligned with UK audiences.
“As I previously explained, the average contact centre is a combination of people and technology. We think we’ve got something really special with our employees and we’ve already got a great technology stack too.
“As a market, South Africa is so well positioned for that. And specifically, we are well positioned to deal with a UK customer base due to the timezones. When you link that together with the great people, South Africa really is the place to be.”
Synergy deploys a number of different technology solutions, including voice, web chat and email – all available for both inbound and outbound communications.
Currently, the majority of contact is made via inbound telephone calls whereby Synergy will handle any queries made by their partners’ customers. However, Swainson noted that there has been a considerable increase in omnichannel interactions.
“Now more so than ever, we’re seeing a combination of communication methods. You’ve got email, WhatsApp, text messaging to name a few. It’s a whole omnichannel process where an agent can interact with the same consumer through a variety of different channels.
“Through our customer services, we offer all of those different mechanisms. At Synergy, we are across a number of different industries – working with brands like EDF, O2 and OVO Energy – so we understand the importance of offering these different channels of communication. We have a strong understanding of the peaks and troughs of business too.”
Discussions soon turned towards the role that contact centres can play in both onboarding and retaining bettors, and the significance of delivering a more personalised experience.
By deploying an omnichannel approach to customer communications, Swainson said that there are “different elements and executions” that can be carried out at the various stages of the customer journey to prioritise engagement and retention. For the betting industry, the Synergy team will establish how an operator wants to execute a particular communication strategy.
“When working with any company, the overall customer journey is really important. There are a number of different elements to consider – has the customer transacted but become dormant? Do we need to re-engage you?
“If I come back to the ability to have that conversation, it means that we can also flag where we have to focus on in terms of customer engagement, where we’ve also got the propensity to understand what it is the customer requires, but also whether they are a high-risk customer in relation to churn. Then we need to assess how we approach that individual.
“In relation to gambling, we as the contact centre wouldn’t necessarily say that we’re going to offer free bets. That is up to our betting partner. What we focus on is making sure that individuals have access to the relevant information about our betting partner. We’ll find out what is most relevant through that interaction, which allows us to categorise individuals.”
Company culture has clearly been placed front and centre of Synergy’s operations, and this was made particularly apparent when Swainson discussed the company’s recent decisions to support those affected by the flooding in Durban.
Shining a spotlight the workforce at Synergy, he concluded: “I think what the team has built here is phenomenal. To give you an example, KZN has recently been affected by severe flooding in which a number of our staff were affected. We wanted to support our team by giving out 1,500 food hampers as a token gesture, just to show our support for those impacted by the disaster.
“We have also carried out a variety of engagement activities for our staff, including going to the Polo in Cape Town. Staff went to visit the vineyards, and take part in experiences that they wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do.
“At Synergy, we really want to make sure that we look after our staff. Every month we have something new going on. We also place a huge focus on the way in which we lead our business – there is the old adage that people leave their leaders, not their company – so we want to ensure that our leadership team has a strong relationship with our wider staff.
“We pride ourselves on our training and development opportunities, made possible through our Strive Academy which allows our staff to expand their skill set and kickstart their careers at Synergy. By equipping our staff with the right tools and knowledge, they feel more confident in their role and ultimately are more engaged.”
Synergy is now expanding into customer service provision for the betting and gaming industry. They have recruited David Brown (former Group Trading Director at William Hill, Coral and Ladbrokes Coral) and Sam Foulkes (Gambing industry expert with significant global B2B and new sportsbook set up experience).