Sears Canada has announced an affiliation with SBS Corp. through which Sears will open up its customer contact centres to third party businesses.

Under the agreement, management

company SBS has taken over sales and marketing of Sears Canada’s three major contact centres (Montreal, Regina and Belleville) along with their 3400 trained staff and is selling that capacity to businesses and government agencies.

According to Sebastien Ruest, IDC Canada vice-president of services research, one of the greatest challenges facing any retail-oriented contact centre is the seasonal peak and valley nature of the business that leave them underutilized for large periods of time.

“Traditional companies like Sears have an obligation to run these kinds of centres,” said Ruest. “But they are usually cost centres, with very low margins.”

This strategic shift on Sears’ part will see that additional capacity sold to other organizations that require skilled contact centre services, but don’t have the wherewithal to manage such centres themselves, he added.

“We’ll certainly be able to level out those peaks,” said Dorothy Millman, president of SBS Corporation, adding that major, multi-million dollar corporations are already taking advantage of the opportunity. “We can take over (an organization’s) customer services, support, sales, order taking, disaster recovery, e-mail response, Web enquiries and telemarketing – any kind of communication that needs to be done. We can also work with an internal organization in partnership or take over those functions entirely.”

Millman believes the investment Sears Canada has made in training its contact centre staff and equipping them with state of the art technologies, such as CRM and database systems, offers a highly attractive opportunity for third party organizations.

“It’s a new model,” said Millman. “Traditionally, an outsourcer would use its own facilities and would not have the breadth and depth of resources behind it that SBS picks up by using Sears’ existing staff and equipment.”

According to Vincent Power, Sears Canada spokesperson, contact centres are a vital part of preserving a high quality relationship with customers and maintaining an appropriate level of service is critical to achieving that. That’s why Sears has invested so much in training and equipment.

The investment Sears has made in training and equipment reflects this value and is considered part of Sears’ operational costs, he added. However, turning this cost centre into a revenue generating part of the business is highly attractive, Power said.

The relationship is also attractive for call centre staff who now have a chance for full time work and career advancement in the field, Millman said.

“They have a tremendous amount of skills to offer business and government clients,” she said. “So from a customer service point of view and a sales point of view we have excellent people to offer, and processes that have been developed and perfected over decades.”


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