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Merchants breaking the mould


To create unassailable competitive advantage by giving Merchants’ contact centre operations affordable access to world-leading telephony and highly functional contact centre technology on a pay-as-you-use basis.


Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS): A hosted telephony and technology platform that is now the foundation for Merchants’ client operations across more than 2,000 contact centre seats. CCaaS gives Merchants access to highly resilient and feature-rich contact centre applications on a pay-as-youuse basis, with the ability to scale in line with operational demand for seats and functionality. As a result, Merchants is able to deliver highly sophisticated multi-channel customer management services for its clients in South Africa and around the world.


  • Migration of 90% of Merchants clients to a hosted best in class technology platform
  • Up to 40% reduction in client IT delivery costs
  • 15% margin improvement
  • Significant new business wins based on technology advantage
  • Up to 60% reduction in technology deployment times
  • 45% reduction in corporate office telephony costs

Customer Management Outsourced Service Providers (OSPs) have often been castigated for their lack of technological innovation and an unwillingness to invest in evolving technologies ahead of client demand. This is hardly surprising. In an increasingly tight margin business, speculative investment represents a degree of risk few OSPs have the appetite for. As a result, OSPs – no less than their clients – often depend on outmoded, inflexible technological infrastructures that are expensive to maintain, uneconomical to change, and prohibit access to technological innovation.​

Merchants, already an established pioneer in customer management outsourcing, and with a strong understanding of technological advantage through its parent Dimension Data, decided to break the mould.

“As an outsourced service provider ourselves, we were aware of our clients’ growing hunger for new technology and innovation. We understood that they needed flexible and scalable access to it in order to deliver market-leading services to their customers. By responding to that hunger, we would set ourselves apart from our competitors,” says Richard Melrose, Technology Director, Merchants.​

In January 2011 the search began for a technology vendor that would make Merchants’ vision of a flexible, scalable, pay-as-you-use technology platform realisable. By July that year it had selected Avaya to design and supply the key technology architecture at the heart of the Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) platform, using its new Aura technology. “As the global leader in contact centre technology, Avaya was a natural choice, ”says Richard. “However, while our intention is that Avaya Aura will be at the heart of CCaaS, we will never be bound by a single vendor approach.”

The objective behind these changes in operations and business structure is to become a more customer-centric organisation that provides improved customer service and efficiencies, optimised use of data and enables growth through focus and simplification. ​

In order to meet TransUnion’s requirements for a full business process outsource, the team ensured they had an in-depth understanding of the complexity of the client’s operations, its business drivers and its strategic objectives.


Merchants recognises that for CCaaS to be truly successful, it will need to deliver rich functionality across a wide range of contact centre applications, and that is unlikely to be available from a single source. “We will constantly monitor the evolving technology landscape and introduce innovative applications from the best vendors as they emerge and are proven, ”confirms Richard. “The ability to provide full multitenancy in a flexible, scalable manner is at the heart of our endeavour, given the importance of customer security and segregation within a hosted environment.” ​

The implementation of the CCaaS platform was completed over the summer of 2011 and it was deployed for the first time in September of that year for Merchants’ client, TransUnion.

“Technology has been the vital stepping stone on our journey towards business transformation.”


The ability to deliver state-of-the-art technology on no-risk financial terms unlocked a seven year outsourcing contract for Merchants with this market leading credit bureau. CCaaS now supports all of TransUnion’s lines of business and has underpinned a fundamental restructure of the company’s business operations in South Africa. Merchants transferred 146 staff from four of the company’s in-house contact centres to a single outsourced location and implemented CCaaS within only four months.​

“Success with TransUnion clarified very quickly that CCaaS could not only unlock large scale projects with enhanced revenue streams for Merchants,” says Martin Dove, Dimension Data’s Group ES Principle Sales Director. “It also showed that it could be deployed very rapidly in an environment where time is money.”

“We trusted Merchants to specify, acquire and manage the technology environment on our behalf because they have such demonstrable experience, not just in executing large-scale technology deployments, but in managing ongoing contact centre operations, too.”


Merchants has a long standing reputation for delivering on-premise technology infrastructures for many of its clients, either as a component of a broader outsourcing deal, or in isolation. A natural first step was to migrate those operations whose infrastructures were approaching end of life, or where new functionality was in demand, to the new CCaaS platform. One of the first to make this move was Hollard, South Africa’s largest private insurance company, which had previously sourced technology to support its in-house operations from Merchants.

Merchants’ ability to offer Hollard an escape from the limitations of its outdated legacy technologies, without capital investment on its part, proved the catalyst for a transformation of the in-house sales operation for this leading insurer.

In less than three months Hollard transferred its operation from several disparate and aging centres to a single state-of-the-art contact centre building in Johannesburg. In this case, Merchants was able to provide both the technology and the building, which is now managed by Merchants on a managed service basis.​

Ninety percent of Merchants’ existing client operations have now transferred onto CCaaS including Asda, Vodacom, FSB and Hollard. Merchants’ European-based joint venture partner, TSYS Managed Services (TMS), has also adopted CCaaS to support its growth in the financial services customer management and payment card processing market. In every case the ability to unlock service innovation through technology has created additional business opportunities for Merchants.​

“We know that technology is a major headache for customer management operations that are struggling to keep pace with customer expectations in an adverse financial climate,” says Richard. “In the past, outsourcers like Merchants have been able to do little to help. Today, we can unlock transformational change rapidly, providing access to advanced contact centre technology on demand and on a pay-as-you-use basis.”


Merchants appreciates that CCaaS has put it in a strong position not only to maximise potential within its existing client base, but to uncover otherwise hidden business opportunities. “CCaaS has been a key factor in the majority of the new business deals that we have won in the past 18 months,” confirms Martin.

“It has also allowed us to secure key contract renewals, thanks to the ability it gives us to offer ‘more’ for ‘less’.”

Merchants’ conviction that CCaaS gives it a compelling competitive advantage stems from its knowledge that, for today’s customer management operations, an ability to bring new technology on-stream is recognised as a primary advantage. By the same token, the inability to do so represents significant business risk.​

Customer management decision makers questioned in the 2012 Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report say they see technological innovation, especially in the area of analytics and multi-channel service delivery, as the greatest source of potential benefit for their businesses. However, at a time when technological innovation is most desirable, companies feel least able to achieve it.

Further research carried out by Merchants in the UK confirms that almost half of the country’s organisations believe their customer management technology infrastructures will fail to keep pace with demands placed upon them by customers within the next three years. Nine percent say they are already failing. ​

Despite this, almost half have no technology strategy and 72% of those who feel their infrastructures are most at risk, have not been able to allocate budget to finance the investments they envisage will be needed.

“In this environment the ability to offer flexible access to advanced functionality is a trump card for any outsourced provider,” says Martin. “And, because that functionality is sourced from a fully resilient hosted platform, we – and our clients – pay only for what is needed, when it’s needed. As an outsourced service provider, we’re able to scale our business up and down at will without financial penalty.”​


Merchants figures that what’s good for its clients is good for its own business, too. Today, the telephony and technology infrastructure that supports Merchants’ corporate functions in its offices around the world is sourced via the CCaaS platform, delivering a substantial reduction in operating cost. This is not only because licencing and support costs have disappeared, but because the whole of Merchants’ global estate now operates as a single telephony network, bypassing third party telcos. Calls between Merchants employees, in their offices or on the move, are effectively, internal calls infrastructure,” concludes Martin.​

We’ve seen a 45% reduction in operating costs across our corporate telephony, “That makes Contact Centre as a Service a winner on both sides of the balance sheet!”

“We believe Contact Centre as a Service is a game-changing proposition with the potential to transform forever the way outsourcing businesses like ours deliver solutions to clients. It gives us a distinct commercial and competitive advantage as we grow our business, allowing us to provide innovative solutions based on the best technologies available.”​​

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