The Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically forced an emphasis on resilience across the customer service sector. It has become critical to create a customer service environment where your employees and customers are safe, but also where the processes have resilience from any future challenges – such as another wave of the virus – or even a new type of calamity.
Nobody expected a business continuity challenge like we have seen in 2020. Ask any business continuity planning manager and they will have plans prepared for power outages, earthquakes, public transport strikes, but almost nobody believed that there would be a situation where employees would all be locked down at home – all unable to visit the contact center or office.
I believe that every executive managing their customer service strategy will be reviewing several areas of change right now:
• WFH: more agents will need to work from home, or be able to work from home when required, to ensure there is no service interruption from any future medical emergency.
• Sites: it’s likely that companies using a single large contact center with all their agents in a one location may start exploring how to use a decentralized solution with fewer agents per site across a number of locations.
• Regions: the use of different geographies will be seen as a key part of a resilience strategy.
I think that this last point is going to be one of the most critical changes that takes place almost immediately. U.S. companies with no customer service function outside of the U.S. will immediately start exploring nearshore options and those with a nearshore solution may look to expand across more than a single nearshore geography to enhance service resilience. And those with too concentrated of a presence in one location (most notably the Philippines) really felt the painful pinch of an extended lockdown this year.
In my experience, in many ways, Guatemala cannot be beaten in the nearshore region and deserves strong consideration. One banking executive I spoke to just this week stressed that they’ve used suppliers throughout Latin America, and by far their strongest overall customer experience they had was in Guatemala. With the largest overall economy in Central America, the Guatemalan government has spent the last several years enhancing and prioritizing the use of English in schools, and they are seeing the talent pipeline expanding tremendously because of this. Research company ISG recently suggested that the pandemic will force U.S. companies to take nearshore options more seriously. In a recent paper ISG said: “Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica are among the stars in attracting outsourcing projects.”
It may seem like a surprising source of talent, but re-patrioted Central American immigrants coming the U.S. total about 250,000 per year. Most of these people are intelligent, hard-working and resourceful, except their legal status in the U.S. has expired or was never confirmed. By the time they return, many of them have worked in the US for several years, understand US culture, and can speak fluent English using a local accent – depending on where they lived. Many thousands of them return to Guatemala each year, and we have found this to be an incredible source of English-language talent. These people have a much stronger cultural tie to the US than contact center agents hired on the other side of the world because they know the U.S. in detail – often better than many Americans!
The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry in Guatemala showed the determination, agility, and innovation they possess by leading government efforts to help citizens during the pandemic. The BPO industry created the ability to deliver financial aid, food aid, and medical and psychological services. These neighborhood services were up and running only a few weeks after the start of the pandemic and are testament to the vision of the local service providers – including our own team at Nearsol.
I could talk all day about the benefits of working in Guatemala and you can read many of the more detailed statistics yourself at the Agexport website, but I do think that we are about to see a profound change in nearshore strategies as U.S. executives focus on resilience. Building customer service capacity in Guatemala makes sense because of the cultural affinity with the U.S., but also because the talent pool is one of the best in the nearshore area and technical infrastructure – such as international internet cables – is excellent.
I have no doubt that the focus on contact center resilience in 2021 will force executives to consider their regional nearshore options. I’d be delighted to offer more information on why I believe that Guatemala can be one component in this focus on post-Covid resilience. Feel free to leave a question in the comments or contact me directly via LinkedIn.