Responses by Mr. Belson Coutinho, Chief Marketing Officer, VFS Global
1.You are in the first 100 days of the job as global CMO for VFS Global. What would you say were the marketing assets of the organization?
No doubt the brand and our people top the list of our marketing assets. Of course, VFS Global is the pioneer and a leader in visa, passport, identity management and citizen services for client governments and it’s a huge advantage for us to leverage. Also, our strong focus on customer care backed by our innovative services leveraging technology gives us a unique advantage.
I must mention that our business and services have been constantly evolving, keeping pace with the changing needs of our customers and client governments and this is a key to any business success.
- VFS Global is the clear market leader in the visa processing space. What are some of the initiatives that have helped to keep it ahead?
As outbound travel continues to grow, we see a new segment of consumers who expect and appreciate more agility and convenience across our services, even in the closely regulated visa process. A global trend we are seeing is that services that are highly customised and personalised in nature tend to be very well received.
To cater to this demand, we have investedin developing innovations that enhance customer experience at every touchpoint. Whether it is having Premium Lounges at our centres to offer personalised assistance, or Visa At Your Doorstep services that reach every corner of the country or keeping centres open to service outside the regular business hours or even mobile visa application vans – these innovative and convenient optional products and services offered in an unrestrained manner across over 3000 of our centres globally helps us lead the space.
The bar is raised with each of these industry-first innovations and we continue to push the boundaries. Besides these services, mobile apps, e-visa solutions, ‘paperless’ processing solutions for our client governments, and biometric enrolments for millions of applicants that come through our centres annually, are some of the tech-enabled solutions we have integrated into the traditional visa process. All these efforts are all aimed at making the process seamless for the modern traveller who prefers speed, convenience and comfort at every step of his travel process.
I must add here that alongside these service innovations, the mainstay of our business remains the continuous and rigorous effort we put into running highly reliable operations and maintaining the overall security and integrity of the visa process, which are very important aspects in this sensitive business.
- Customers i.e. visa applicants must use your services. Yet VFS Global has worked hard to transform the customer experience. How did you go about the process of transformation?
When VFS Global first pioneered the concept of visa process outsourcing in 2001, the company aimed to ease the administrative burden on the embassies, streamline the process for applicants, and increase convenience and accessibility to the visa application process. For applicants, this meant centres were open for longer hours, a multi-fold expansion in network of these centres, and a host of other conveniences such as application to multiple countries under one roof, personalised service, convenient waiting areas, etc.
With the onset of the digital age, we have managed to effectively remain in step with the paradigm shift in customer expectations with regards to more efficient and personalisedservices. We owe our ability to adapt, in large part, to our attitude and culture of continuously seeking to improve customer service in every aspect.
Future-proofing is an ongoing business objective – we anticipate customer requirements effectively and develop new products on a continuous basis. A great example of this is a game-changing solution we introduced for speedy processing of applications by client governments – a digital product called LIDPro™ or Location Independent Document Processing™, a solution developed in collaboration with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (MFA). With this solution, the MFA was been able to reduce the number of visa officers involved in visa processing in St. Petersburg, Russia, from over 100 during peak seasons to less than 20! A resounding success led by a digital solution.
As we serve 63 client governments across our vast network in 147 countries and have processed over 26 million applications last year, our visa services have evolved significantly from the customer experience perspective and we continue our strong focus on customer care. In fact, as I speak, our customer care strategy is evolving even further with an omni-channel approach leveraging digital and social media to actively listen and respond to our customers.
Customer service and care is an ongoing process and we endeavour to create positive experiences starting with our Visa Application Centres which will lead to a joyful travel for our customers.
4. Which are some of the key elements of your marketing strategy?
Leveraging data, analytics and marketing technology (martech) tops my list. Another important element of our marketing plan is integration of our customer care plan leveraging technology with best-in-class listening and response strategy. Of course, building a stronger brand globally across all key segments, including internally is a key focus area.
- You’ve joined VFS Global after a 25-year stint with your previous organization. What advice would you give others who start a second innings?
Firstly, start with an open mind and respect the space because no two businesses and work places will be exactly the same.
Secondly, start building relationships and collaborate with colleagues across the organisation as this speeds up the learning curve and the ability to execute better.
Finally, be conscious of not going with the tide – bring in a fresh, outside perspective, your learning and experience into play to add value to the business.
However I wish there was a magic recipe, but the above seems to work for me!