Nearshore Americas
talent attraction

Confronting Agent Attrition, Focus Moves to “More than a Paycheck”

The CX industry has a perception problem. Even in the Americas, where the industry has generated hundreds of thousands of jobs, the problem of attracting quality talent, who see the industry as a professional destination rather than a stopgap between better things, remains.

Those with knowledge of the call center or BPO industries will be familiar with long-term industry professionals explaining that they “fell into it”. Indeed, even Don Berrmany, Executive Vice President/Chief Commercial Officer for Transcom North America, told Nearshore Americas that he went to college intending to go into politics.

For the industry, which is currently figuring out issues like the return to the office and how to optimize onboarding processes, the need to become a professional destination rather than an interim paycheck, is more pressing than ever. 

Though technology is becoming more central to organizations’ operations, the base of success remains the human component, argues Hui Wu-Curtis, Chief Operating Officer at newly established impact sourcing BPO, supportU.

Hui Wu-Curtis
Hui Wu-Curtis, Chief Operating Officer at supportU

“The contact center industry has been around for over 30 years, but because it began as such a sweatshop, the perception of its undesirability has been difficult to change, even though the industry has,” she said.

“But what makes or breaks a good BPO is still human talent,” Wu-Curtis added.

Move Away From Labor Arbitrage

The traditional foundation of the Nearshore has been labor arbitrage, available only to those organizations willing to outsource back office procedures and customer service operations to a third party located in Latin America. Clearly, the labor arbitrage model has been successful. But in a changing world, the industry needs to move away from insistence on labor arbitrage in order to reshape industry perceptions and attract top bilingual talent. The needs of the client are paramount, but they should not come through the sacrifice of employees.

“While many organizations are moving away from labor arbitrage, the industry’s big players remain focused on it; cheap labor, people in seats answering calls,” said Wu-Curtis.

“But we have to be more than that. Clients now want more value from their BPO partners. We’re trying to focus on the people of the company. Lots of companies missed the boat on employee experience, but it’s vital that employees feel that there’s a future at a company, that they’re being heard and that they’re being invested in,” she added.

Define a Career Path

Jose Paz, CEO and founder of Startups Honduras

Jose Paz, CEO and founder of Startups Honduras, a HR-focused talent agency in Honduras, believes that for most new call center recruits, there is little understanding of how their career can develop within the industry. 

“When we talk about attraction to the industry, really what we mean is defining a career path for recruits. It’s vital that we talk about career development so that employees do understand that there is room to grow. Yes, most will begin as agents taking calls, but as they acquire skills and perform, they’ll be given more responsibility,” Paz argued.

And a great deal of this, he suggests, involves a relinquishing – to a certain degree – of the traditional rigid corporate structure that BPOs are often run under. Knowledge and understanding must be shared among staff, he believes.

“There is a real need to make sure agents understand why their team leader, supervisor or operational managers is asking a specific task of them, and why their KPIs focus on this and not on that,” said Paz. “By sharing that understanding people are better able to commit. If management lets agents understand why they’re being asked to do a particular task, the agents can then become involved in conversations with management and see that their opinion has meaning.”

Highlight Multifaceted Experience

A key differentiator of the call center industry is that employees really work within a variety of industries. From one project to another, an agent could move across the fintech sector to health insurance, or from brick-and-mortar retail to aviation. This overview of multiple industries provides a strength of depth for any professional, which Wu-Curtis believes, should be highlighted.

“A job isn’t just a paycheck any more. Call center agents can have a real impact on people’s lives and that must be emphasised.” — Jose Paz

“Often when an organization calls me in its because it need their call center fixed or want to take it to the next level. They think they’re calling in a call center person and nothing more. But because I’ve been involved in so many different verticals, on so many projects, what I bring is so much more than just call center operations. It’s understanding multiple industries, resource optimization strategies, leadership development. We don’t highlight these aspects enough,” she said.

Stop the “Stopgap” Notion

Though seasonal ramp ups when staff will be hired for temporary periods are an unavoidable part of the industry, organizations must make the long-term potential of a call center career clear, Paz believes.

“Call centers are seen as places of temporary work. Agents thought they’d be needed for six months and then leave, either because their project has finished or their hours are radically changed. But often the root is that expectations were not set at the start,” he said.

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Among the obvious benefits of higher-than-average wages, additional benefits – particularly those around study and education – should be offered to indicate to employees that the company is searching for a long-term professional relationship. A new generation of employees in the job market means that companies must adapt.

“A job isn’t just a paycheck any more. Call center agents can have a real impact on people’s lives and that must be emphasized,” said Paz.

Peter Appleby

Peter is former Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. Hailing from Liverpool, UK, he is now based in Mexico City. He has several years’ experience covering the business and energy markets in Mexico and the greater Latin American region. If you’d like to share any tips or story ideas, please reach out to him here.

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