There's a group of more than 50 million people worldwide who have something in common. Through a branding strategy or product enhancement feature for various corporations where they are customers, they've each been given access to Prestige International's (Prestige) concierge services. It's a unique and highly effective outsourcing customer relationship management (CRM) program that definitely makes a strong impression on customers.
Started in 1986 in Japan, Prestige is the longest-established global concierge company. According to Sharon Barnett, senior vice president at Prestige, the specialist call center began the concierge service in response to a need for local telephone numbers for Japanese Visa/MasterCard issuers.
"It simply was not convenient for their traveling cardholders to call all the way back to Japan to report a lost/stolen card, arrange for an interpreter or get a restaurant recommendation," Barnett recalls. So Prestige established a network of call centers where customers could call free of charge, 24/7, and speak to someone in their native language.
Julio Lobo, product manager, Credit Cards, at National Bank of Kuwait, says, "Prestige enhances our loyalty program and helps us create value for our brand through quality and customer satisfaction."
Grand Central Station for Services
Although the concierge program has "endless" possibilities customized to each client's marketing pitch, standard services generally include car service/limo, flight and hotel reservations; flower and gift delivery; special event or attractions information and ticketing; referrals and reservations for 5,000 restaurants worldwide; golf course information and reservations; weather and currency exchange information; event planning, driving directions; and medical or legal referrals. All are complimentary to the customers of Prestige's corporate clients.
Personalized services (such as personal shopping, babysitting, pet care, beauty services, dry cleaning or secretarial services) are especially popular with U.S. customers, Barnett says. Such service providers are selected from reputable directories and screened. In addition, the company periodically visits providers in various major cities and provides quality checks of the establishments it recommends. Barnett says Prestige's policy is to maintain vendor neutrality. "We give callers a choice of three vendors and accept no liability for the caller's choice," she explains.
Prestige also arranges discounts and other special offers with car rental companies, restaurants and other businesses appropriate for the customer profiles of each of its client companies.
"Prestige has an extensive network," says Alice Droogan, vice president, Worldwide Cardholder Services, for MasterCard International. "They know how to get tickets to sold-out events, know who to call for different services in different places, and who NOT to refer our cardholders to. We don't have that expertise ourselves."
Headquartered in Tokyo, with contact center hubs also in Europe, San Francisco, and Australia, Prestige provides services in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Thai.
Droogan says the concierge program is a "wow" feature that is over and above the usual cardholder benefits. MasterCard, which requires its financial institutions to provide the concierge service to its premium (platinum) cardholders, found the extensive language capabilities of the Prestige representatives especially attractive.
Barnett says Prestige hires employees with a minimum of one year's experience in customer service. It hires native or near-native speakers, but all representatives receive education and go through in-depth role-playing for the national and corporate cultures of the clients to which they are assigned.
Perhaps their most important skill is being able to switch gears quickly. "Our concierge service employees must be flexible. There is no way this type of call center work can be scripted," says Barnett. "On one call, they may be asked to book a wedding in Las Vegas, and the next call may be a request to arrange a magician for a children's party. They never know what's coming next."
Most customer contacts still come via phone, but email requests are increasing. Although the company uses skills-based routing software to route contacts to the most appropriately skilled representative with the specific language or product knowledge, employees are cross-trained to handle any inquiry.
In addition to its concierge program, Prestige also provides help desk, order processing, billing support, inbound and outbound telemarketing (including advice on which type of merchandise might appeal in an up-sell campaign or a particular market). With its global network and multilingual capability, the outsourcer is uniquely capable of providing services not otherwise available internally to its customers around the world because of lack of resources or expertise.
Through its emergency response services for two leading international airlines, for example, Prestige provides operators trained in crisis management to field calls from the public if there is a plane crash. Barnett says airlines' reservations centers outside the U.S. don't have the resources to cope with the flood of calls in emergency situations.
In Japan, where foreign automobile companies don't have access to JAF (Japan's version of AAA), BMW and Harley Davidson are among the companies enhancing their brand and service image through Prestige's Japanese roadside assistance services. Through its 24-hour hotline, Prestige agents provide mechanical advice, arrange alternative transportation and accommodation reservations, and act as liaison with dealers and repair outlets.
The outsourcer's value-added orientation even provides spin-off solutions. One client wanted Prestige to create city guides of the 30-50 most desirable shops, restaurants and other establishments with negotiated special deals for the client's customers in the top travel destinations around the world. The guides are branded in the client's name and are an extension of the call center concierge service.
With its language and cultural expertise, Prestige was an obvious choice for a U.S. catalog client that sought a call center to service the Japanese market. "Our turnkey solution encompassed not only customer service and order processing," says Barnett, "but also yen processing, marketing support, return merchandise processing and even liquidation of return merchandise in-market to save our client the cost of having such merchandise shipped back to the U.S. warehouse."
Prestige's customers typically sign multi-year agreements, thus ensuring long-term customer loyalty. In fact, the concierge service is such an effective competitive differentiator among corporations that Prestige is now exploring the use of this service for its clients as an employee retention tool.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
- Outsourcing specialized services for branding or customer loyalty is especially popular in areas where a company has multinational customers and lacks resources or expertise in those countries.
- Call centers representatives who are native to a particular language are also more sensitive to cultural differences of the callers, thus providing more customer satisfaction.
- Even if the call center outsourcer uses skills-based routing software to route contacts to the most appropriately skilled representative, it's best to select an outsourcer that cross trains its employees to handle any inquiry.