Q: Can you give us a sketch of Comdata’s activities in Czech Republic?
Jan: We’ve been operating here for over 20 years, so we’re very embedded. We’re in the top two leading business, and we’re still growing fast. In 2021, we saw 40% growth year on year and we’re in line for 15-20% growth this year as well.
Pleasingly, that growth is coming both from new business wins and from doing more for existing customers. To grow on both axes shows we’re doing something right!
Size-wise, we have over 1500 staff and 9 locations, ranging from small hubs to large contact centers with 300+ staff. We also have people working at home, since we’re now using Comdata SmartHub for our hybrid model of work@home and work@office.
And your main sectors, client types, activities?
As a market leader, Comdata is well established across all the main sectors here: retail, telco, utilities, logistics, banking and insurance. Many clients here are multinationals, which we help to expand successfully into the Czech Republic and neighboring countries like Hungary and Slovakia. Activities for them include inbound care-to-sales, telesales, back-office, technical support, and so on.
We support other sectors and business types too. For example, during Covid we supported the Czech government on information hotlines and vaccination appointments.
And last year we launched our Care24 service for small and medium e-commerce businesses and start-ups. It’s a fully automated, self-serviced customer care solution that won first prize in the ABSL Diamonds 2021 awards, in the Business Innovation category.
So, moving to the wider Czech market, what are the big developments we are seeing in 2022?
As I mentioned already, the migration to hybrid working is a big story here.
Secondly, we’re seeing multilingual customer management activity rise strongly. Czech Republic is an attractive place to work, so we’re onboarding more and more Polish, German, Slovak, Spanish, Hungarian and English speakers, and supporting clients on multilingual projects.
The other major story of 2022 (and the past couple of years) is to expect the unexpected. We had Covid, and then, at the end of last year, the hike in utility prices. And now, tragically, we have the situation in Ukraine.
What do these ‘events’ entail for customer management providers?
They require extraordinary levels of flexibility and agility. For example, in a so-called ‘normal’ year, a brand might expect to receive – let’s say, 30,000 calls a month. But anything like Covid or the energy situation creates massive unpredictability. Calls could double or halve – brands don’t know what’s round the corner, so they need providers who can scale up or down quickly or offer new types of support. As an organization, agility is in our DNA, so we are excellent at helping our clients manage the unexpected.
For example, in the utilities / energy sector, the end of 2021 saw calls skyrocket as energy prices rose. We immediately put agents onto crisis lines to help providers communicate with end-customers effectively.
And this year, when the Ukraine conflict began, we very quickly set up dedicated Ukrainian lines for clients in sectors like telco, banking and retail so they could support displaced Ukrainians coming to Czech Republic.
And what about digital – what are the trends on that in Czech Republic?
I would say we’re seeing similar trends on digital as in other countries. Brands want to migrate simpler tasks to self-service channels – using IVR, bots, webpages etc – and use specialized, digitally-enabled agents to deal with more complex interactions.
Like elsewhere, consumers started to expect omnichannel access to brands during the pandemic, so we’re supporting bigger brands on this. And the Care24 customer service solution for smaller and mid-sized companies allows them to communicate with customers through calls, email, chat and chatbot.
However, even though there is a trend towards digital in the Czech Republic, it’s also the case that historically consumers here expect a high level of service, and voice communication is still the preferred option.
Are there any other specificities in the Czech market?
Another important ‘difference’ is that we have a very strict legal framework around data privacy, especially for outbound campaigns, which goes far beyond the EU GDPR regulations. Brands can’t just come to the Czech market and expect their compliance approaches from elsewhere to meet the requirements. That’s another good example of where our local understanding is very valuable to them.
How important is ESG in the Czech market – are employees, clients and end-customers very engaged with CSR?
Yes, very much. It’s very important for us, and we try to be creative and innovative in our ESG activities.
For example, we work with prisons and prisoners to reintegrate them back into the workforce. We are now partnering with two prisons and have around 100 prisoners working on 5 projects. Based on the results of that, we’re also looking to add a second level to this program, providing jobs for prisoners after their release – again, in full collaboration with our clients and the relevant authorities.
Another activity we’re very proud of is Comdata PRO, our own social enterprise, which supports the employment of people with disabilities and health issues. Comdata PRO now has around 150 people working on a growing range of projects and levels of responsibility. We adjust the work environment and the workspace, help to find suitable jobs, respect the individual needs of our colleagues, and it’s been inspirational in terms of helping employers, the general public and others to understand how much is possible if you overcome prejudice.
We’ve also got a range of other ESG activity underway. Currently, with the Ukraine situation, we have four Comdata Czech colleagues on full-time volunteering activities. We’re paying them as usual, but they’re helping Ukrainians at the border. And we have ongoing programs like supporting the Wheelchair League in different sports and introducing environmental initiatives in our Czech locations.
We also have a Comdata Czech Kindergarten because we wanted to help parents with childcare, making it easier for them to balance work and family life. Setting it up turned out to be a regulatory labyrinth, but we persevered and opened our first kindergarten in 2020. As a result, dozens of parents have been able to return to the labor market.
Final question, Jan, you’ll no doubt continue with rolling out new ESG initiatives in 2022; what other achievements can we expect in the next year or so?
Firstly, I hope for continuous growth – from Comdata Czech and also from Comdata Hungary, which we manage from here and set up around a year ago. We now have almost 100 colleagues in Hungary, serving multinational brand.
Secondly, we’ll stick with the hybrid working model. Some companies are starting to push people back to their offices, but we see that it attracts and retains talent and delivers quality for clients, so we are sticking with it.
Thirdly, we will focus on complex, multinational customer care projects. We know that multinationals are looking to set up and expand here, and we know that we can support them with the right blend of people, processes and technology. That’s definitely the way forward.