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Operating a Successful BPO in the Midst of Uncertainty

happyThe contact center industry is an international field. Here we check in with the folks from the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID) about what it takes to succeed as a BPO hub in the midst of unique local challenges. This is what they shared. 

South Africa remains an attractive destination for business process outsourcing (BPO). The country has gained a reputation for call center employees who display high degrees of empathy

“Our Net Promoter Score, or the score related to customer experience, is one of the best, if not the best, in the world,” says Clayton Williams, CEO of Cape BPO.

South Africa’s BPO industry is succeeding despite economic uncertainty, amplified by power cuts stemming from a crisis at national power utility Eskom. Williams acknowledges “power is a big problem”, and international clients frequently ask for reassurance around supply, but the government is taking steps to allow private producers to meet this need.

Williams says when clients are seeking new offshore opportunities, referenceable capability with clients over a long period of time is a must.

“The first question new entrants ask any call center is which clients are serviced, and for how long. Most of the time business goes to the multinationals because they’ve got proven and global capability over a prolonged period of time.”

Cobus Crous, head of operations at contact center service company Capita, agrees.

“Most contracts are short-term and although this is commercially viable, the building and retention of tenure of staff suffers, and impacts the knowledge of aspects not always in training manuals,” Crous says. “I would say five-year contracts should be revisited as they allow the BPO industry to retain key talent and invest in the sector.”

Companies also look at market perception, with specific reference to the labor market. Certain brands favorably perceived by the labor market often attract the best talent.

Ian Ohlson, Director at Lufthansa InTouch, stresses that developing employees is essential. “This goes hand-in-hand with making sure you look after your talent,” he says.

To this end, entities like Cape BPO are offering incentives for businesses which target unemployed youth; these incentives can help provide a salary stipend over a period of 12 months.

But where there needs to be more focus is in developing leadership. While Cape BPO’s good relationship with the different spheres of government has allowed it to manage skills development programs to build the talent pipeline, relatively little attention has been paid to developing managers.

Williams points out South Africa’s Department of Trade and industry has set a target of employing 500,000 BPO workers. Working on the ratio of 15 staff to one team leader, it means more than 30,000 team leaders need to be identified and trained.

“Most of our programs are focused on entry-level capabilities,” he says.

A pleasing statistic for South Africa’s BPO sector is that annualized attrition across all company types has fallen to 40% from 80% previously, the upshot being that more UK and USA clients are looking at the country rather than to Asian BPO nations.

According to Rob Kane, chairman of the Cape Town Central City Improvement District (CCID), cities like Cape Town are moving to provide faster internet speeds and infrastructure components to enable the BPO sector to flourish as interest in South Africa grows.

Ohlson says BPO firms need to be able to “adapt, test and run” in an ever-changing world. “The sector needs to continuously monitor the market, review benchmarks, and consistently seek to reduce operating costs.”

Lastly, Williams says the digital transformation has changed the way call centers operate. Now when a customer can’t get a solution through self-service options, they are routed to a human.

“The human’s primary function is now to retain that customer and connect with them on a personal level, which obviously benefits the sector tremendously.”