Onshore, Nearshore, Offshore: Lessons Businesses Should Learn From Coronavirus
In the past few months, the world has changed as we know it. Coronavirus has been the catalyst for businesses to rethink their stance on home working, in many cases, and businesses are reaping the benefits of having their associates working from home.
A work from home model has become far more than simply a temporary measure to support the mitigation of disruption during the global pandemic. Working from home – and keeping their people home – has become a long-term strategy for businesses, especially when it comes to their outsourcing needs.
The coronavirus global pandemic has forever changed how organizations will choose to outsource their business processes – the solutions that build resilient operations are also the solutions that have the potential to produce a new standard of exceptional customer experience (CX).
The stability and continuity of delivery that leading BPO players, like Sitel Group, provide across their global contact centers has meant that the primary deciding factor for many clients considering where to position its outsourced services has been cost-related. However, in a marketplace where customer experience is today the primary differentiator, is leading your CX strategy with a cost-based approach the best for your customers?
By choosing an offshore location, such as India or the Philippines, companies have benefitted from significantly lower labor costs creating the greatest potential for labor-related cost efficiencies. The tradeoff has been having your business processes performed in faraway places.
Offshore or onshore?
Opting for an onshore solution eliminates any potential for cultural or linguistic misunderstanding. It also ensures continuity and convenience of business hours while still providing some cost efficiency, as sites are often located in tier-two cities where recruitment and operational costs are lower.
First-time outsourcers, unfamiliar with the industry and therefore more risk-averse, as well as those operating in highly regulated industries are more likely to choose onshore solutions, while large enterprises with a history of partnering with other companies for service delivery tend towards offshore.
However, for many companies, COVID-19 has highlighted that an outsourcing strategy focused purely on costs could be a false economy. The organizations that have successfully maintained their operations and upheld connections with their customers even as the pandemic progressed are those that have outsourced CX operations spread across multiple sites and multiple territories – onshore, offshore and nearshore – mitigating risk.
For example, a client with a provision in both the Philippines and the U.S. would have been able to rely on the U.S.-based team to continue service when the government in the Philippines implemented an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) at short notice, which impacted on the operation of all businesses nationwide, including contact centers.
When you have agents working across multiple geographies on your service provision they are already trained and are there to work to support each other when the unexpected strikes. They can be relied on to offer additional support in a crisis, and, because a team is already in place, recruitment and ramp-up of additional members can be implemented faster and more effectively.
However, as the subsequent enactment of social distancing measures highlighted, spreading provision of service across locations in several countries is not enough unless those operations can also be supported by a network of remote agents when physical sites are forced to close or revert to a skeleton staff.
Sitel at Home
Our own remote agent network, Sitel at Home, has been part of our offering focused predominantly on the U.S. since 2007. With an international geographical spread and with no need to visit brick and mortar locations, our work at home agents are more insulated from any type of local disruption. Yet, thanks to technology that creates virtual teams and facilitates virtual meetings and team huddles, our associates are not isolated from the business. All of this makes Sitel at Home a key ingredient in a recipe for enhanced business resiliency.
Because the platform, training and infrastructure are both proven and firmly in place, as soon as COVID-19 posed a threat to our people, as well as pushing our existing network to the fore, we were able to mobilize our teams and transition our agents working on-site to home working too. We moved 80% of our U.S. contact center employees to the existing Sitel at Home network in less than three weeks, ensuring the remaining 20% on site are able to work in line with the strictest health guidelines and with minimal disruption for our clients’ customers. Today, more than 55% of our global workforce is working from home across more than 20 countries supporting 300+ clients.
It’s worth noting that our clients who were already using Sitel at Home as part of their day-to-day service delivery provision are the clients who experienced the least disruption to service as a result of COVID-19.
Infrastructure risks to business continuity
A country’s wider infrastructure may not seem like a potential risk to business continuity when choosing where to outsource services. However, when any type of disaster strikes that leads to buildings or even entire cities being inaccessible, if all of your services are concentrated in that one country, the only way to continue operations may be via remote working.
Fortunately, because we operate in 28 countries, with over 100 locations and more than 80,000 associates around the world, we were able to address this disparity across regions, ramping up virtual agent provision in every country where the infrastructure permitted rapid migration.
In those countries where the network or infrastructure presents challenges for effective home working, and in situations where our associates’ home environments were not ideal, we have been inspired by the ingenuity of our operations teams who moved quickly to implement forward-thinking answers, such as collaborating with internet service providers and rolling out noise cancelling solutions. This agile approach has enabled us to deploy work at home teams in regions we had previously not considered, including 85% of our people working at home in Colombia, 80% in Brazil and 25% in the Philippines and Morocco.
But again, those clients who already had agents operating in markets where Sitel at Home was already in place were at an advantage because they had trained staff and systems and tools in place ready for ramp-up. Transitioning support from region to region necessitates training new teams and recruiting new agents, which adds time to any transition.
Time to rethink outsourcing
The COVID-19 pandemic should be encouraging many businesses to reconsider how they weigh up the benefits of the various BPO delivery models available.
For instance, traditional offshore locations have arguably seen the greatest disruption to service as a result of the virus – some of the attributes that make them enviable locations from a cost-efficiency perspective also make them higher risk locations when it comes to unexpected disruptions.
Nevertheless, offshore still has an important role to play as the pandemic recedes, but businesses hoping to build resilience into their CX programs now recognize they need a blended approach. Combining a greater mix of onshore, offshore and nearshore service provision and including both at home and traditional brick and mortar agents will enable more resiliency. This is the only way to create a network strong and flexible enough to accommodate regional challenges as they occur.
The next disruption
COVID-19 will eventually be contained as a vaccine is identified and made available, but there will inevitably be other crises, events and disruptions to prepare for.
For now, to ensure the safety and well-being of our people and to provide the consistency of service that our clients have come to expect from us, our work at home solution will remain in place and will continue to lead the charge.
We foresee this reality of working amid the threat of coronavirus will drive a requirement for the majority of agents to work from home for the next 12 months as the virus is contained and then reemerges, causing stay at home orders to be lifted and then reinstated locally around the world.
In this new environment, the role of the brick and mortar contact center must be reimagined, pushing the boundaries of what was thought possible and creating the opportunity to design a better experience for agents, clients and customers alike.
Work at Home will be business as usual
When we move beyond the pandemic, where businesses processes are deemed business-critical we recommend to our clients that at minimum 40% of their service provision is delivered as business as usual through at home agents, creating a highly resilient core to service provision that is able to ramp up quickly should a crisis emerge.
Blending onshore, offshore and nearshore delivery with a combination of brick and mortar and at home agents creates a resilient CX program that leverages cost efficiencies, building flexibility into the day-to-day business delivery. This new way of work, built around our core commitment to experience, both for our people and our clients, and with the direct input of our associates via Sitel MAX (My Associate Experience), our MAXhubs are revolutionizing the traditional contact center. MAXhubs, grounded in the communities in which we live and work, connect our associates whether they work from home or office by offering innovative facilities that enrich the work experience and support employees as they grow, develop and connect.
But, beyond that approach which is built on today’s realities, at Sitel Group we are working to create a new future that leaps beyond the traditional. I believe that work from home, and associated to a hub, is the future, a future where agents enjoy a more positive experience with no time spent commuting, no travel expenses and more time to invest in their personal lives; a future where clients reap the benefits of lower absenteeism and less attrition; a future where customers interact with engaged agents delivering best-in-class CX.
More fundamentally, when you consider the very nature of our industry you see that at its center lies connections. Unlike manufacturers, we do not create products. We build experiences, experiences that create connections between brands and their consumers.
Technology creates new opportunities to build powerful connections. Digital solutions create new ways to connect with consumers, while new technologies also make it possible to build a new agent experience, one in which connections are built and nurtured in their own homes.
Technology gives us the freedom to reimagine the role of the contact center. Stepping beyond the outdated image, we have the ability to create a vibrant hub for the local community. More than simply a place where work is done, our hubs will be the beating heart of Sitel Group. A place where inspiration comes to life through training and development and where our associates collaborate, practice, operate on a rotational basis, inspire and innovate. A place where we equip our people with the tools and skills they will need to thrive as a virtual workforce. A place where we build a management control center to upskill our managers working with our Sitel at Home agents. But more than this, we add value by reaching beyond the boundaries of our workforce, beyond the boundaries of our sites, and create opportunities for our local communities. These are our new MAXhubs; hubs built around our core commitment to experience, both for our people and our clients, and with the direct input of our associates via Sitel MAX (My Associate Experience). Our MAXhubs are revolutionizing the traditional contact center.
I believe we have a unique opportunity to support access to information and education, especially in countries like Morocco, Colombia and the Philippines where the country’s infrastructure does not support easy home internet access today. In these regions, where we equip the associate with the tools they need to successfully work at home, we are giving the agent and their family access to a computer and an internet connection. The associate uses these tools for their work, but he/she and their family are also encouraged to make use of these tools out of hours to study and learn, turning work into an opportunity that delivers so much more than simply an income.
We believe the employee experience is the customer experience, and we are reimagining the traditional approach to CX management with this philosophy at its heart. Today, work at home is necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, tomorrow it will be the solution of choice because it delivers a better experience.
We also believe that this crisis has opened the door for conversations with our clients for even deeper transformation for their business. With our grounded approach, we map out customers’ pain points through speech analytics solutions and continuous improvement efforts. Then, we bring timely solutions to reduce the customer effort, enhance the operating model and improve customer satisfaction. The expertise our group brings – from Sitel Insights and Digital services to Learning Tribes and innso – helps build the right tailored solutions for our clients. And, as we adjust to new ways of working, the need for our support to our clients in adapting and transforming their business continues to accelerate in response to coronavirus, acting as a catalyst for change.
Sitel Group is an expert at building CX programs that are ready to meet the challenge of the unexpected. Vist https://www.sitel.com/business-continuity-management/ to find out more about how we are supporting our clients through the COVID-19 pandemic. To discuss how we can support your business contact us.