As the pandemic tore through the Americas in March and April of 2020, some Nearshore providers were accused of being caught flat-footed. In particular, Alorica found itself on the defensive amid heavy criticism, with the press in Jamaica and Guatemala claiming that the company hadn’t done enough to protect its workers. Nearshore Americas takes stock with Brian Delaney, president of Alorica’s Latin America & Caribbean Operations. (This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity)
Q: You joined Alorica in late February, 2020, overseeing 15,000 employees across seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. You had barely met your team, when the pandemic hit. What was it like?
Delaney: It was tragic, and incredibly stressful at the beginning. The information at the early stage of the pandemic was pretty fluid. We had to develop an understanding of the situation. It was very important to build trust. We had a good strategy. Right out the gate, whenever we had a positive case, we communicated with the entire staff.
However, clearly this has affected our employees and their families. We have had employees who lost loved ones and some that have even lost their lives. It’s hit home. I can say one thing: in six months I got to know people really well. In other companies, and other circumstances, it would have taken years to develop those relationships.
Q: What lessons have you learned about managing during a crisis like this, and what challenges did you face?
Delaney: I benefited from working with Cisco when I was with a previous company – Cisco was always sending out whitepapers promoting video, saying that people could build trust that way. I quicky pivoted to video, and was happy to discover that the infrastructure in Latin America and the Caribbean was a lot stronger than many thought, with people able to handle video at home. I’m pretty sure we surprised a lot of people with how quickly we migrated our team.
One distinct challenge was our need to support the diverse platforms that our clients use. Our team had to launch multiple versions, depending on the client.
Another challenge was making the shift with our employees. I love the social aspects of the cultures in Latin America and the Caribbean – people like to be together – but we had to move quickly to get our employees working from home, and at times it wasn’t possible.
Q: Can you explain more about Alorica’s communications strategy?
Delaney: If anything, we were over-communicating as we rolled out our intensive safety program. We frequently communicated with employees, telling them that a virus can happen at home – can happen anywhere. Whenever there was a positive case, an automated email would go to the global health and safety team, and there would be immediate conference calls to ensure contact tracing and to go through all the proper steps to ensure employee safety. Almost all of our efforts were directed at keeping our employees safe. After that, we focused on how to provide them with an environment to ensure that they can be successful.
We are determined to be the employer of choice in every geography
Q: What have your clients learned from the pandemic experience?
Delaney: Well, our clients learned that in terms of getting employees to work from home – something that might otherwise take several years – it could be accomplished in a month or so. So, they quickly learned the viability of the work from home model. The excellent performance, low attrition, the caliber of the interactions that our employees were providing – was a great lesson both for us and for our client base.
Q: Have you improved upon any processes?
Delaney: The biggest thing that we’ve improved on is the transition from training to nesting. We’ve also improved our employees’ confidence when they enter the production environment. That transition from nesting to production is important. We’ve been collecting a lot of data from having our work-at-home employees score us. The Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) helps us improve the quality of coaching in terms of speed and proficiency. If it’s the same client, we can see if one trainer is better than another. We get scored multiple times over 90 days, including the first 30 days of production. We’ve accumulated a massive amount of data in terms of our internal eNPS, which we can then slice and dice and share across LatAm, and to other regions. The good news is that our employee satisfaction is up dramatically year over year, and our attrition rate has gone down.
Q: This is a tight market. Margins are not what they used to be, and attrition is always an issue. How do you differentiate yourself?
Delaney: First, we are determined to be the employer of choice in every geography. We have to be attentive to slight variances, such as the fact that the gig economy might be better supported by younger agents, and a higher age bracket might suit other verticals. And second, if we accomplish our first objective, we can layer opportunity for employees with client success. If we innovate to create value, good things will happen in our region – and across the entire company.
Q: Where are you seeing market growth?
Delaney: For Nearshore, our strongest industries have traditionally been technology, telecom, and retail. These are still very healthy for us, but we are seeing increased activity and interest from healthcare, financial services, and the gig economy, which is promising. In the last 45 days, we’ve had wins in both healthcare and financial services. With regard to the gig economy, a lot of people are ordering in food from multiple providers. It’s been important during the pandemic, and I think it will have legs. Overall, the LatAm pipeline has never been stronger, but I don’t want to characterize that as a migration from one market to another.
Q: What does the future look like in terms of geographic delivery?
Delaney: Though our operations centers will not go away, a significant percentage of our workforce will continue to work from home. The pandemic has resulted in companies evaluating real estate. We have permanently closed the Portmore site in Jamaica, though we still have an unbelievable site in Kingston that we can build out.
We are in the process of opening a site in Cali, Colombia, which we are super excited about. It’s a great market. There are a number of captives there, and the English-language ability is excellent. A high percentage of the population of three million people is between 18 and 35, and a huge chunk of that demographic has been studying ESL since high school. There is scalability to go big. It’s a nice addition to our portfolio.