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Forbes Maxime Didier

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Read the original article in French on Forbes.

“We think and we do”: that's the motto of  the Comdata Group, a European leader in the Customer Relationship outsourcing sector (50,000 employees, operating in more than 23 countries in Europe, the Indian Ocean, Africa, and Latin America, with sales of around 1 billion euros). We operate according to the subsidiarity principle, where the centre of gravity is as close as possible to the clients in the markets where the Group is present. The reason why Comdata delivers operational excellence every day is that it has the expertise to guide companies as they transform themselves and imagine the future of their Customer Relationship. There is no doubt that the key to Comdata's success lies in the development of its end-to-end solutions for all of the main customer management processes: acquisition, retention, customer service, technical support, and collection. Solutions built on a portfolio of world-class services, covering front office, client back office, consulting, and cutting-edge technologies. A special interview with Maxime Didier, CEO of Comdata France, who tells us how the company has handled the Covid-19 crisis and anticipated the “new normal”.

What is the scale of the Customer Relationship outsourcing sector in France?

The French market is worth 2.6 billion euros and employs a little over 100,000 people in France and the other French-speaking countries. Its annual growth has been around 4% for the last six years. The top seven players account for almost 70% of the market. Comdata is one of the three leaders, with turnover of more than 300 million in 2019 and nearly 10,000 employees spread across 25 sites in France, Morocco, and Madagascar.

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How are companies in your sector coping with the Covid-19 situation?

The Covid-19 crisis was unexpected and brutal for all the players in our sector. At Comdata, the health and social security of employees has been our top priority. We have applied and exceeded WHO and national authorities recommendations with regard to the precautionary measures and working conditions on each of our sites. We then worked with our clients to ensure continuity of service to their customers. We have maintained some of our activities on our sites, and our teams have accomplished extraordinary human, technical, and logistical feats to deploy more than 30,000 jobs working remotely all over the world in under a month. In view of the critical nature of the services provided by our main clients (energy, telecommunications, public sector, etc.), our teams have contributed to fighting the coronavirus so that economic and social activity would not stop.

All players in the French market obviously had access to the partial unemployment benefit mechanism implemented by the Government, for some of their employees and for periods of different lengths.

We are now entering a second phase, in which we are working closely with our clients to plan the best possible crisis exit strategy in the short term, and to imagine their future Customer Relationship (“new normal”) in the medium term.

What lessons have the last three months taught the Comdata Group about the internal operations of its organisation?

We have witnessed the unprecedented mobilisation and amazing ingenuity of all our teams in coping with the crisis. The use of agile and innovative methods showed that  we could make decisions more quickly and end up with incredible results that might previously have seemed impossible to achieve. This is a tremendous source of pride that we all share. We must clearly learn from this experience and permanently banish silos. This involves, for example, reinforcing community operation towards common and ambitious goals, the need to promote networking and to mobilise expertise, wherever in the organisation it might be found.

Next, even with an uncertain future, as a leader we must contribute to building the future of our sector, both in France and worldwide. There will probably be new administrative rules regulating work in our contact centres, and remote work will affirm its position as a component of our service offer. The crisis has been a powerful accelerator of digital transformation. We must increase the resilience of our organisation to face any future crises. We will continue to evaluate and anticipate the impacts on our business in the medium and long term. In other words, we will accelerate our transformation dynamic to consolidate our position as a leader.


What lessons does this crisis teach us about Customer Relationship Management to steer a course towards the “new normal”?

No matter which sectors and geographical regions you operate in, the world has changed and your company must adapt. We must remain humble, though; it's too early to claim to know what the “new normal” will look like, since different countries are at different stages of managing the pandemic and starting their economic recovery. Nevertheless, the studies and discussions we are carrying out at Comdata reveal a few trends.

“Consumers are sitting on a roller coaster.” Consumer behaviour seems to be polarised these days, with some wanting to make up for two months of lost spending opportunities, and others feeling inclined to remain in a mental bunker for months. Forecasting was already complicated, but now it is even more so. Versatility, changed attitudes, and polarisation will probably continue. Throughout the pandemic, companies observed that consumers were being more accommodating, but we also note higher anxiety levels. We must anticipate this versatility and cope with it.

“Social distancing accelerated the conversion from the physical to the remote.” According to Euromonitor, e-commerce should account for 60% of the total growth in retail sales worldwide in the coming years. Covid-19 will probably accelerate this change, and not only in the retail sector. Other sectors, from healthcare to education, could also undergo a major shift towards remote services. This increases the importance of the digital channels over the entire customer journey.

“The link between Global and Local is more crucial than ever.” Companies need service providers that can quickly supply expertise, tools, and resources to geographical zones where there is a gap or growing demand. That is the international dimension. But they also need the local dimension: Customer Relationship Management partners that understand the agreements on the new working methods, local expectations concerning service, and the attitude and habits of the local consumers.

“Service providers will become problem-solving partners.” We will undergo other shocks and disturbances, and we must be prepared for that. From now on, we must anticipate our clients’ issues and provide concrete solutions to their problems. To work intelligently, we must have access to the necessary teams, culture, and expertise to establish partnerships with our clients, adapt, provide services, and excel.

“We must re-think the concept of flexibility.” The need for operational flexibility is nothing new; it is something we have been doing for a long time in our daily Customer Relationship Management operations. We operate in a sector where every client has different needs, and we adapt to that. But we need to re-think the “new” flexibility in order, for example, to design and market new services in record time, or explore new commercial models with our clients based on risk sharing and value sharing.

All in all, many companies view the “new” flexibility in terms of securing business continuity. This is certainly part of it, but we think it goes much further.

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