Firm Offers Payment, Other DM Services to U.S. Telcos
IMS offers telcos and other high-tech companies in the United States interested in entering Europe integrated marketing services out of its pan-European call center in Dublin.
Outsourcing billing and customer care is a well developed concept in the U.S., but one that is only beginning to spread in Europe. "Right now that's an unmet market area need," said Grant Ferguson, co-founder and executive vice president of IMS.
And it is one any company looking to launch telco services in Europe needs to have, he added, explaining that billing capabilities can be acquired through startup, acquisition or use of service bureaus.
Few bureaus, however, are able to offer billing modalities, ranging from multi-currency payments and customer care from Web-based solutions to multilingual handling of e-mail or telephone queries from customers.
IMS is close to agreement with a payments bureau in the United Kingdom that will allow it to fill that market niche, and it plans to make the formal announcement at the Geneva exhibit.
The new service will break down lump sum payments delivered by wholesalers into "recurring or monthly bills to customers that make sense" and provide other back-office billing support, Ferguson said.
IMS is a 2-year-old startup whose sales effort and corporate headquarters are located in Denver, while its operational end is based in Ireland where the company just moved into a new 120-seat center in Sword, located outside Dublin.
It has about 40 agents and plans to expand beyond 60 by yearend. "We moved from zero customers in 1997 to 18 or 19 today, so we know the demand is out there and that you can support a pan-European campaign from one location."
Ferguson and his partner, IMS president Eamon O'Brien, founded the company in August 1997, just as the European call center boom began to develop a full head of steam.
The two veterans of MCI Worldcom saw three opportunities - EU telco deregulation, the advent of the euro and a direct-marketing growth rate four times higher than that in the US.
IMS, they decided, would focus on telcos and high-tech companies. After scouting other European sites, they picked Ireland because of the quality, availability and cost of labor, and the lower cost of doing business.
Government incentives, Ferguson insisted, "did not play a part in our decision. They are always going to be only the frosting on the cake. The location had to make objective business sense."
The company focused on operators who could speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian to cover the major European markets. Ferguson insisted they had no trouble finding qualified native speakers in every language but German.
He conceded that IMS ran in-country ads and recruited Germans to Ireland, but said bringing Germans to Dublin assured loyalty and reduced the churn "incredibly."
In setting up the company, the two principals realized that "you cannot set up a call center in a vacuum. For a U.S. company launching a DM initiative in Europe, a call center is only one element. You need some level of agency support, data, list brokers, fulfillment houses, some legal counsel, product location support, PR and whatever else it takes for the whole one shop concept."
IMS provides those services through a network of strategic partners. The company has an arrangement with the Interdirect network of European DM agencies (Interdirect members write regular columns for DM News International), taps into the resources of the Federation of European Direct Marketing (FDMA) and "targeted businesses we need to partner with."
IMS hopes to go beyond telemarketing to provide e-services for clients.
"We're in the customer contact business," Ferguson said. "The area we're growing is multilingual e-service where you don't just outsource customer e-mail but the whole interactive aspect of a Web site."
Clients reflect that focus. They include Nextlink, Craig McCaw's new telco for whom IMS handles response from 27 countries, pushing the company beyond Europe for the first time.
Others are USA.net, Frontier Communications, Newtel, a startup U.S. telco active in France, Germany and Ireland, Alias Wavefront, a division of Silicon Graphics, Viatel, an independent European telco, and BT Cellnet, a mobile phone subsidiary of British Telecom.