Lufthansa InTouch, the customer service network of the Lufthansa Group, has marked a 20-year milestone in South Africa. Acting as a central touchpoint between airlines, passengers and aviation businesses, the Cape Town office was one of the first international business process outsourcing (BPO) companies in the country.

The service centre took advantage of South Africa’s relatively stable political landscape in 1999, which was conducive to an attractive business environment.

Tobias Vögtlin, CEO for Lufthansa InTouch and head of customer servicing operations for the Lufthansa Group, says that South Africa’s business growth has not been without its challenges. “What has kept us rooted here and given us an opportunity to thrive is that Cape Town has an enormous pool of qualified professional talent. The country’s pricing is competitive, it’s in the same time zone as Europe, and there are cultural similarities along with a solid telecommunication infrastructure.”

BPO is a business practice in which one organisation hires another company to perform a task that the hiring organisation requires for its own business to operate successfully. The Western Cape’s BPO sector has cornered just over 60% of the country’s international BPO market share, with over 54 000 people employed. Travel, after financial services, retail and telecoms, makes up the fourth-largest component of BPO clients.

Lufthansa InTouch Cape Town operates a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week service centre, employing more than 260 Customer Service Consultants in its local office. They offer services in English, French, German, Swiss German, Dutch and Hebrew. It’s part of a seven-centre, seven-country international network, which is home to over 2 000 travel consultants, offering 200 services in more than 30 languages. They take care of all requests by passengers flying with the Lufthansa Group airlines.

Staff training and growth

The cornerstone of Lufthansa InTouch Cape Town’s 20-year success, says Site Operations Manager Ian Ohlson, is flexibility in how the local operation has adapted to an ever-changing aviation business environment. Other factors include access to the latest customer service technology, continuous staff development, and a growing innovative product offering. “Two years after we launched the centre, we had more than 150 staff members. Three years after that, our call volumes had doubled, increasing turnover and providing room for more hires. In the same period, we won the T-Systems Innovation Awards at the SACCOM National Awards, singled out from 120 entries.”

People are the backbone of this thriving business, with the company placing tremendous importance on professional development of its staff. Lufthansa InTouch offers world-class airline training as well as soft-skills training courses. Staff members can benefit from employee programmes such as exchange opportunities within the global network and international airport visits. Due to its international standing, the company is able to offer its people great career opportunities.

Mindful of local challenges, Lufthansa InTouch offers tailored benefits such as safe transport for employees working at night, and an employee wellness programme. A sense of purpose is ensured by investment in a local corporate social responsibility project called iThemba, a school in Capricorn which provides first class education to children from impoverished communities.

“We remain highly positive about and committed to our operations in South Africa”, says Vögtlin. “Our aim is to increase our staff complement by a further 20% in the next five years, and to branch out and work with more airlines that would like to outsource their customer service operations. We hope that this, along with our philosophy of delivering world-class outcomes, will play a meaningful role in South Africa’s socioeconomic rebound.”

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