Mindpearl: An extraordinary source – William Pattison

Since outsourcing first became popular, locations such as the Philippines and India have dominated the market with promises of low rates and reduced operational costs. But some say this focus on cost comes at a price: many businesses have had their contracts retracted as a result of a string of qualitative issues.

This has provided the space for other countries, such as South Africa, to move into the market. And with the government backing the industry as a driver of job creation and economic growth, the private sector is likely to expand its current range of business process outsourcing (BPO) services.

South Africa: a well-connected continent

Of course, it wasn't always that way. In 2001, when Mindpearl first began trading in Cape Town, telecommunications costs were prohibitive and only a few rival outsourcers existed. But the government has worked hard over the last decade to deregulate the industry and bring costs down to a level that is considered competitive.

"South Africa has since established itself as a central destination for international businesses."

South Africa has since established itself as a central destination for international businesses. Its prices may not be quite as cheap as India or the Philippines, but its cultural affinities with Western Europe and the US have helped draw in clients, which has helped to shape its success.

"What South Africa offers over India or the Philippines is cultural similarity," says Mindpearl CEO William Pattison. "This allows businesses to do non-scripting, which is very important. If you're looking for someone to sell or market your product, you're going to need people who are comfortable in whatever language you are speaking and able to move away from the scripted environment."

South Africa's historical links to various European countries put it in a strong position to do precisely that. The country has large second-generation French, German and Italian populations that migrated during the last century.

"Many of the people working at Mindpearl are second-generation Europeans," Pattison says. "They have grown up here and gone through the education system, but still speak their native language. It's more than likely that they've travelled to Europe and still have relatives there - so the continent isn't an unknown quantity with our staff."

Varied communication

Business outsourcing has moved on hugely in a relatively short space of time. Five years ago, people looked at the different components separately, but today's customers want cross-utilised components. That means using different types of communication, such as Skype and web chat, as well as email and telephone.

"Part of Mindpearl’s success lies in the relationships it has built with clients."

"A mixture is certainly important," Pattison says. "In the course of a single sale, a customer may want two or three different forms of interaction. That needs to be catered for."

Mindpearl started as a subsidiary of Swissair {now SWISS) in 1999, opening centres in Western Europe, the US and South Africa before going through a downsizing phase. The company now has offices across the globe in Barcelona, Cape Town, Dubai, Brisbane and Fiji. The company is now majority owned by management.

Part of the company's success lies in the relationships it has built with clients. Failure to communicate properly after an outsourcing contract has been concluded is a common mistake in the industry.

Such a slip-up can have potentially serious consequences. If a company has a new way of doing business or a new strategy that they're spending money on marketing, it is imperative that they communicate this to the hundreds of people who are speaking to their customers every hour of the day.

The Mindpearl way

"At Mindpearl, we automatically appoint an account manager and team that form a perpetual link to the customer," Pattison says. "They will maintain daily contact with the client to ensure that whatever we are selling or saying is precisely what they want."

South Africa's low attrition rate goes some way towards proving the value it has over the traditional outsourcing hubs of India and the Philippines. Mindpearl's motivational incentives certainly help that process - as does having a strong labour force sensitive to the needs of European and US business.


William Pattison is CEO of Mindpearl.