Philips Turns to Sitel for Call Handling

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Aiming to raise the profile of its brand through call center operations, Royal Philips Electronics has inked a $200 million, five-year deal with Sitel Corp., which will handled the more than 16 million calls the electronics giant receives annually.


Philips manufactures more than 100 products, including consumer electronics, medical equipment, cellular phones, lighting and a range of component parts. Previously the company handled calls via 11 call centers throughout Europe, North America, South America, and Asia Pacific. But Philips, based in Amsterdam, opted to hand off the operations as part of an overall strategy to strengthen the brand through improved service.


"The Philips brand is our most important asset, and a guiding principle in everything we do," said Cor Boonstra, president of Philips, in a statement. "As such, Philips must deliver the highest levels of service. Dealing with Philips must be a pleasant and rewarding experience. This cooperation is going to help us achieve that."


The pact calls for Sitel, based in Baltimore, to operate two call centers staffed by 1,100 agents by mid-1999. An estimated 750 Philips agents will be displaced to Sitel. While some existing sites may be merged with some of Sitel's locations, the companies may also continue to operate existing Philips sites that will be managed by Sitel. Data generated through calls will be managed, owned and stored by Philips.


"Before, calls were handled country by country ," said Robert Scott Moncrieff, Sitel's vice president of marketing, "Now service and delivery will be the same, and we will be able to reflect their brand consistently around the world."


The centers will handle all inbound consumer calls for pre-sale information, product sales, and after-sales service requests and questions, as well as Internet inquiries. Systems will incorporate advanced computer telephony integration systems for support and service, among them proprietary and licensed computer software, automated call distributors, predictive dialers, digital switches and the Internet.


The centers will be dedicated to Philips on a geographical basis. Philips issues a country-by-country listing of customer service phone numbers through its packaging and product guides; there is no centralized global number. The respective numbers will be linked directly to the various call centers.


"This is one of a number of areas [in which we're] trying to bring more management structure in place, and it's easier to do that with outside reporting," said Jeremy Cohen, manager media relations, for Philips.


Although the company would not cite specific objectives regarding cost controls or a shift in call center strategies, Cohen did say those objectives will evolve based on reports by Sitel.


"One of the reasons we are going under one umbrella is to start keeping records and to discuss the types of topics raised by customers to improve our services," Cohen said. "We wanted the opportunity for Sitel to coordinate everything and to report to us so we can see more clearly where we can improve. We expect them to bring many ideas from their experience in operations on how to do things better."


The deal fits with Sitel's strategy to build business through long-term partnerships; Sitel already is a provider for a roster of clients, including First USA, General Motors, Microsoft and American Express.


"This is a dream for us in terms of the way we want to go," said Sitel's Moncrieff. "We want to deliver long-term strategic solutions for companies around the world. "


Furthering that goal is Sitel's recent acquisition of SA Intuiparc, a Paris-based teleservices provider that handles a number of French and international companies spanning various industries. SA Intuiparc, which operates as IPA, handles information technology sales and after-sale technical support on inbound and outbound programs.


"This acquisition is a strategic fit for Sitel and affords Sitel Europe an opportunity to expand its capacity, client relationships and coverage of the European Continent," said Phillip A. Clough, Sitel's president and chief executive. "Combining IPA with Sitel's Toulouse center, which opened in 1997, considerable strengthens our presence in France, which has one of the fastest growing teleservices industries in Europe."


Sitel already operates more than 12,900 workstations in 70 centers in 18 countries throughout North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific. It can address 25 languages and dialects.
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