“We’re now selling an approach and not just a service.” Interview with Massimo Canturi, CEO of Comdata Group
A sound Italian foundation, a pioneering innovator, and global market leader: that is the Comdata story. The Italian-based BPO provider has striven to offer customer service solutions that are not only unique but bring uncompromising value to each and every customer. An opportunity that the company capitalized upon also thanks to its CEO Massimo Canturi, a local, Italian champion with strategic, global vision.
You have a rich professional background with major Italian (Olivetti) and American (Cisco) companies. How your Italian background and the American approach combine today?
In my long career, I have largely been exposed to several companies in telecom infrastructure and have rich experience with CISCO and Olivetti. My experience with CISCO was very important as I was able to work in an area of innovation, but most importantly, effectively understand how you innovate- and I developed a discipline that comes with the process. This allowed me to nurture what innovation really meant, which is something I was able to bring to Olivetti, a significantly different business as a printer manufacturer, and continue to apply this kind of development. When I shifted to the service business with Comdata, I quickly realized that service businesses were behind the curve in effectively incorporating innovative methodologies, which represented a challenge, but great opportunity, to integrate my learnings here in a truly significant way.
What are some of Comdata’s key figures today?
3 years ago, we recorded revenues of €300 million, and today, we have reached €1 billion in revenue and 50,000 employees and operations in 22 countries. Following the acquisition by Carlyle Group our plan was to build a platform to serve more global customers that stemmed from the success of the Italian market.
In 2009, what were your motivations for joining an Italian family business?
The first motivation was the strong alignment I felt with the family business. Where they already had a strong entrepreneurial drive, there was a shift to managerial entrepreneurship, which was highly relevant for me. Second, I was highly driven by the opportunity to prove that integrating innovation into the traditional service model could help Comdata flourish and outperform the market.
How did you reinvent the business model to outperform the market?
We consciously decided to go against the standard approach that would go into building a service business- and this was particularly true with the relationship we held with customers. In Italy, we took advantage of the fact that Comdata was already a business that combining pure services with some technology solutions, which we built upon and significantly expanded our portfolio, as a result we became a one-stop-shop for our customers. This positioned Comdata for market growth while simultaneously changing the way the customer works with us. In the past, the customer would ask for service hours, but this shifted into the request for tasks and technology solutions to help optimize task management. This was incredibly disruptive as our customers started looking to Comdata as a trusted partner and advisor. We combined the capability to re-engineer BPO, creating more standardized output, more quality, and more efficiency. We also opened up Comdata’s to our competition and various industries, which was a critical component to this strategy as well, we were now selling an approach and not just a service.
What was your strategy to position Comdata one of the top European players in Customer Management BPO today? What were the main stages of its growth?
In 2016, we grew outside of Italy with targeted M&A and when Carlyle Group joined us as a shareholder, we developed an aggressive plan to position Comdata as an international platform. One important strategy was to enter a market with strength and develop plans that would position us as a leader. We always aimed to be #1, #2 or #3 in every market- and not to simply ‘enter’ it without aggressive goals. Today, we command the #1 position in Italy and the Czech Republic, we are #2 in France, #3 in Spain and Turkey. The end game for us is to continue driving global adoption at scale. We want to pursue the capability we built in Italy and bring it to the other countries. There isn’t an ‘easy button’ to do this -- as it certainly takes time and requires an intimate level of educating across Comdata leadership and its customers.Today, we also leverage our newly formed Comdata Digital unit, which is a digital think tank that possesses the know-how, processes, and solutions to develop new solutions with emerging technologies. It is our ongoing commitment to innovation.
How do you continue to strengthen your leadership position in the Italian market while continuing to develop your capabilities?
Our approach is very simple. If we stay ahead of the curve, or on top of the trend wave, there’s a huge opportunity for us -- the reason is that we want to play the role of accelerating technology adoption for our customer.We want to be able to be seen like a technology partner that is not developing pure technology, but providing best-of-breed innovative services, while investing in new capabilities. We tend to see ourselves as a system integrator that allows our customer to accelerate the base of their adoption. We have seen that our customer buys technology, but the utilization is low. However, when they source processes, the adoption rate accelerates. This creates a secondary effect which becomes more important. When a customer sees an acceleration, they will increase the level of outsourcing. Today, our market today is 25-30% outsourced, 70% insourced. As a result, we will see an acceleration of outsourced work. We will continue to help our customers determine what is core to their business versus needs that are contest -- and source the relevant provider who can meet those goals.
Comdata Group has become international with the center of gravity remaining Italy. What would you say are the benefits of a multi-cultural management team?
Our multi-cultural management team includes thought leaders across Italian, German, Israeli, French, and Spanish markets.The challenge here is the fact that the service business is very localized -- and it requires a very active presence. That challenge, however, creates a significant opportunity as there is an invaluable exchange of ideas and areas of improvement for our managing employees across these markets. Because we want to continue to grow by external M&A, we are also building our own process of integrating the various companies across Comdata Group, it’s a lite integration model as our business is very localized but is highly beneficial from a process and technology adoption standpoint in addition to our customer approach.
In conclusion, you support your customers in taking the digital shift and finding a better combination of people, processes and technologies. With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), what will the human role look like customer relations continues to evolve?
Our idea here is very clear.We have several ongoing projects, but notably, we are going to leverage AI and predictive analytics in order support our agents and empower them with next-generation technology capabilities. This modernized agent will have the ability to access instruments, solutions, and software to help them in a job that continues to increase in complexity. This will enable the agent to face problems in a totally different and more efficient way while empowering them through the use of AI. Combining these capabilities will result in seamless customer experiences.