Published: July 09, 2013 | Comments
Having worked in customer management for a very long time, I am certain that there comes a time in the evolution of every business when they feel the need to look outside of their own country. Whether it is to benefit from cheaper labor rates, to reduce delivery cost, or to take advantage of time-zones to “chase the sun”; every responsible business will consider its full range of strategic options, even if only for a moment. And if they decide to have a presence beyond their own shores, the next obvious question is: should we outsource it or do it ourselves?
While I am a strong believer that outsourcers have an important role in any customer facing company’s resourcing mix, let’s have a look at how to partner for success when setting up a captive out-of-country contact center.
Before getting into the technicalities let’s not forget that this is a people business and the quality of the people will be the acid test. I have no doubt, whatsoever, that success or failure depends on a strong, clear vision and consistent leadership that is true to that vision. Depending on the situation and the geography, a local general manager may be the best option or, in some situations, a legal requirement. Regardless of the nationality of the in-country leader, I would always advocate that experienced home country managers provide management presence, especially while the operation builds – they provide a direct link between the culture of the domestic operation, the vision for the new operation and the culture of the new geography.
So, what are the key partnerships needed to ensure success?
Getting into the country
The first step into new territory is an anxious one, even if the path is well trod. For example, India is a vast country so where would you locate there? Delhi – OK, still a massive metropolitan area – Delhi itself, or Gurgaon, or Noida? Regions within regions can have micro-economies that may or may not be attractive and in line with your strategic intent.
With a clear strategy, the country’s inward investment agencies can be your best friend. Whether you are considering the Philippines, South Africa, Columbia or Romania, the local inward investment agency can help you filter a huge geography to more specific locations. Whatever your requirements are – young, well-educated population, location close to a renowned university, high speed technology links, etc. – the agency will get you to the right locations for your needs more quickly.
In addition to inside knowledge of the country, the inward investment team can often unlock access to government funding either in the form of up-front subsidy, rent subsidy or subsequent tax relief. And often their political connections can speed up other government agencies, guide along telecom providers and help attract the best talent. They are a good friend indeed as you approach a new geography for the first time.
Staying on the right side of the law
Probably the trickiest technical part of setting up in a new region is navigating different laws. I have found myself in many debates with lawyers in countries as diverse as India, the Republic of Ireland and Italy about the interpretation of different legal requirements. Without a shadow of a doubt you need to partner with a legal counsel in the new region that understands your business – ideally your existing law firm will be able to do this search for you or introduce you to their local associate.
Property law, incorporation and company law all need specialist local advice but their impact on your business pales into insignificance when it comes to tax law. You need great advice on all kinds of taxes but, given that over 70% of your cost is likely to be labor costs, you need absolute certainty when it comes to employment taxes. Also, if you plan to implant people from your home geography into the new location you need to be really clear on expatriate tax provisions.
Laying down your footprint
A company that decides to set up a captive out-of country contact center has to build a physical presence - primarily property and technical infrastructure. The company only has two broad options to do this – do it yourself or get someone else to do it.
Anyone that has had to deal with overseas property agents and telecom companies will know that it is a slow painful process to build your own operation, and it is incredibly difficult to build fruitful relationships. My recommendation is to partner with someone who has already taken the pain – either an outsourcer with spare capacity or a hosted outsource operation who can rent you space on a per desk basis that you can hopefully plug your technology straight into.
This is a critical relationship for success – not only because this partner will control the quality of your real estate and your access to it, but they can also front the relationship with technology infrastructure vendors and can use their local influence to improve up-time and fault resolution.
Filling up with the right people
You have chosen the country, located a city, and secured premises wired up back to the mothership. So far, so good but the customer will never feel any of that – the rubber really hits the road with people. People talk to customers and people create customer experiences.
The partnership that will most influence the scorecard of your overseas operation is you recruitment partner. The selection process to get to the right recruitment partner has to be a perfect marriage of your vision, your cultural ambitions and your people requirements as well as the partner’s local knowledge of the marketplace, talent attraction strategy and labor rates. You have to provide your recruitment partner with really clear guidelines to empower them to find the best people for your operation.
Like any operation, a captive out-of-country call center will succeed or fail on the quality of its leadership and the clarity of its vision. The final piece of the jigsaw that will breathe the life into the overseas location is strong, trusting, knowledgeable local partnerships. To give your operation the best chance to thrive take the time to select the right partners and nurture those relationships.