Aegis: From Balance Process Outsourcing to Balance Sheet Partnering – Aparup Sengupta

Aegis is a global leader in managing, enabling and extending customer experience, with over two decades of domain expertise in customer lifecycle management. The company is present in 42 locations across ten countries and has more than 39,000 employees. Managing director and global CEO Aparup Sengupta tells Rod James about the firm's evolution from service vendor to business partner.

With globalisation in full flow, the benefits of vertical integration are being stretched to compete in global markets. Many large, vertically integrated firms have been shown up as sluggish, unable to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions and customer service expectations. It is becoming prohibitively expensive for companies to keep all operations in-house because it requires agility, scalability, training and technology that could be better employed elsewhere. This business environment is just right for business process outsourcing (BPO) organisations such as Aegis.

"It is proven that companies that outsource are also more efficient," Aegis Global CEO Aparup Sengupta says. "There can be a 20-30% reduction in costs without having to change shores."

The requirements from BPO organisations have changed as well. Companies that choose to outsource no longer want to deal with a number of vendors across a long and complex supply chain. They want a flexible yet comprehensive service from a hands-on partner that can carefully judge a firm's outsourcing requirements and tailor its package accordingly.

These days companies look for partners who add value rather than just execute certain transaction. In Sengupta's words, they want to benefit from a complete "customer experience."

"We are not just involved in transaction processing. We diagnose a company's critical pains and focus on the points that need immediate attention," he explains. "Tomorrow's world is going to be the world of experience. That will be the competitive advantage and the sustainable differentiator."

Aegis has acquired 14 businesses in just 40 months, allowing it to formulate a package of solutions that offers scope and value to the customer. The company operates across the customer and supply chain lifecycle, from management and BPO to engineering and technology, and is armed with the competencies and capabilities it needs to meet a broad range of user requirements.

These demands are varied and will only grow in number as businesses expand and operations become increasingly geographically dispersed. Companies are therefore required to be more nimble in their reaction to products and competitive pursuits. They also have to increase customer engagement and improve value, all the while managing an efficient cost structure.

"Sometimes a customer pays a fixed price, turns to us and says, 'I might suffer from reduced revenues, but I don't want to miss out on the experience you can provide'," Sengupta explains. "We have different service models for a customer to choose from. We have designed a company that does what you need, rather than what it can."

"We are not just involved in transaction processing. We diagnose a company's critical pains and focus on the points that need immediate attention."

Technology has done much to enable this adaptability and, according to Sengupta, will continue to be at the forefront of Aegis' development. From a front-end perspective, the CEO sees video technology revolutionising the way customers interact with a product and creating a clear line of communication between end-user and service provider.

"Let's talk about travel," he theorises. "One day you will be able to have a look at what your airplane seat looks like, get a feel for the destination and even have a virtual tour of the hotel while you have a simultaneous discussion with the airline staff over the phone. This technology creates higher brand equity for the client and so we are investing significantly."

Technology will also play a significant role on a broader, structural level. Customers tend to think of companies as standing firm behind a unifying brand, and are rarely aware of how separate the different components of an organisation can be. This lack of cohesion leads to less effective customer service and the formation of operational branches with insular, inflexible outlooks.

"Organisations have based themselves in functional silos," Sengupta says. "Today, with all this technology at our disposal, we are trying to stitch all these pieces together and create a unified body for the customer." This inter-departmental disconnect also leads to important pieces of knowledge not being disbursed throughout the company, hindering the ability to make strategic shifts based on customer experience of all the stakeholders. This is a particular problem with operational branches that have no public voice or personae, such as research and development (R&D) departments.

"Let's say you buy a product and it doesn't work," Sengupta explains. "You contact the call centre and the customer service agent is not authorised to help. You are given a paintechnical ticket and someone gets back to you later. In this situation, the sales and R&D centres are not in sync with each other. Important truths get captured and remain as unpolished diamonds, misunderstood and not fed back into the organisation."

This fear of fragmentation or ideological disharmony is one of the biggest concerns companies have in deciding whether or not to outsource services. A huge amount of tribal knowledge is created, building up to become a set of unstated truths. These ideas would be challenged in an external environment and could potentially put the outsourced wing out of step with the rest of an organisation.

"When customers try to outsource processes which had been managed internally, the fundamental concern is letting go," Sengupta explains. "Also, when a process moves from under your nose to somewhere else, the US, the Philippines or Costa Rica, for example, there is a degree of separation anxiety."

To combat this, Aegis looks to combine a global delivery model with a strong local flavour. This results in a seamless yet cost-effective customer experience.

"It's like Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days," Sengupta explains. "But we are now going around the world in eight minutes. Let's say there is a large retailer opening a store in Oklahoma. He contacts the call centre and the call is handled by a woman in Joplin, Missouri, working for us on behalf of the telephone company. She takes the order and moves the whole transaction to Bangalore, where a political science graduate does the groundwork and back-end work, and pops up a task order to a representative in Irving, Texas, who calls up the feet on the street who go and set up the jumper connections in the retailer's backyard."

This method chooses the best aspects of multiple geographies and brings them together. The telephone company, by combining US customer service with Indian provisioning, has produced a culturally aligned ultimately American experience, with a significant discount, reducing costs from $30 an hour in the US and $15 in India to a total of $19.

This also defies commonly held critical views on offshore outsourcing: that it always costs jobs in the host country, a political sentiment that is particularly strong in the US. In fact such efficiencies help generate more jobs through economic growth spared by selling to layer global market.

"We had about 700 people in the US, now we have about 5,000," Sengupta explains. "It's a contrarian view of what you hear in the US, but we have actually enhanced our American workforce by almost seven times."

Providing customers with a local flavour is all part of Aegis' attempts to provide a complete user experience and its financial muscle, combined with organisational nimbleness, give it the ideal base from which to do this.

"We are a large company with a balance sheet of more than $15bn, yet we provide the entrepreneurial style, agility and flexibility that clients require," Sengupta explains. "We are one of the few players to offer a full lifecycle, end-to-end experience. At Aegis our mantra is: 'experience, we make it easy'."