US Owners Shift Dutch Call Center to Internet

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Since Nashville-based ClientLogic bought Cordena call centers last year, the shift from phone to Internet has accelerated to the point where 70 percent of its business is Web-related, up from 15 percent 18 months ago.


Cordena was a two-year-old operation when ClientLogic bought it. Jules Kortenhorst launched the venture in 1997 after he bought Hulsink Direct Marketing, a Dutch firm based near the German border.


Kortenhorst moved quickly to buy and start call center operations across Europe to the point where he was active in Scandinavia, Spain, France, the UK, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.


The acquisition left him as ClientLogic's CEO for international operations and gave him access to "a significant amount of capital" that allowed expansion of capacity and installation of new technology.


"This is a client-driven operation," he said. "We go where our clients want us to. We opened in Australia because one of our customers was launching in three months and said, 'Gosh, guys, what about it?'"


ClientLogic's top 10 clients -- all global companies, predominantly American but including a Japanese and a few Europeans -- grew an average 80 percent last year and speed has become paramount.


"I've seen sales cycles shrink from nine to six months to three months with implementation that once took months taking a matter of weeks." Clients have become "incredibly demanding" on the speed issue, he said.


At the same time speed is "an enormous advantage for us because if a company wants to deploy quickly, working with a single vendor who has integrated capabilities across a number of countries is a big plus for them."


So, he added, is "our ability to integrate a broad base of products -- CRM, contact management, fulfillment, transaction processes and database marketing services."


A different philosophic outlook also helps set ClientLogic apart from its competitors, Kortenhorst said.


"From the beginning ClientLogic has acted as a global company as opposed to a US company with overseas operations. They have been very sensitive to the uniqueness, differences and challenges of Europe as compared to the US," he said.


"We are very tightly integrated around the world. We operate on the same methodology, the same technological platform, and to the same reporting standards. We work on a global basis but act in a local manner.


"Where clients need local support we are on the ground with local management to put into place the type of service a client needs for a local market. We combine consistency and central coordination with a local touch and a feel for individual markets."


Kortenhorst was among the first European call center operators to champion a deregulated approach to telemarketing services. He put headquarters in the Netherlands for central management functions.


But he had local call centers in individual countries rather than pan-European facilities able to launch multilingual campaigns from one site. It is still the approach he favors but he has become less dogmatic about it.


That's largely a function of ClientLogic's European properties before they bought Cordena. It had a large multilingual facility in Dublin and a small center in Watford outside London.


Both are still running and now Kortenhorst says that the multilingual approach works for smaller campaigns and other targets of opportunity.


Finding good people is a problem, he conceded, especially given the different requirements and skill levels for those handling Internet contact -- the ability to write clearly, for one.


"Having said that we do use a number of tools that reduce the difficulty of getting the right words," he said. "We use knowledge based systems that get you a long way there."
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