Up until last year, Vinicio Rodas was responsible for Atento Centroamérica, overseeing 4,000 employees with operations in four different countries –Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Panama. At the end of the year the company’s director for the Americas offered him a promotion by asking if he was willing to move to Venezuela.
After ten years at Atento – which operates in 17 countries and currently is one of the world’s leading Contact Center and BPO providers – Rodas realized immediately that he little room to maneuver.
“This is like one of those buses that takes you from one Latin American town to another. You never know when the next one will come or whether you will find a seat, so you just jump in,” he explains with characteristic humility. Settled in Caracas since January 2010 as General Manager of Atento Venezuela, Rodas spoke with Nearshore Americas about the challenge of running a business in today’s Venezuela. “Since the 2006 election Mr Chávez has nationalized the main telecoms, steel and cement companies, the Caracas electricity distributor, and a string of oil-service and food companies”, The Economist magazine recently reported.
Rodas acknowledges that the business environment in Venezuela has, in some way, been affected by the economic polices and the expropriations that the government has undertaken in vital sectors of the economy. Nevertheless, he also argues that in regard to Atento he has not faced major difficulties. “I’ve had the opportunity to do businesses in Panama, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and the United States, and honestly, doing business in Venezuela is exactly the same,” says Rodas, who oversees 6,000 staff members serving 30 international clients.
On the other hand, he also considers that it is not possible to disregard the interventionist risks because even though contact centers and BPOs are not a strategic sector at the moment, they might become one in the future if you take into account the volume of workers employed in the industry.
Workers Lack Passion
One of the issues that is of most concern to Rodas is the citizenry’s general apathy which for Atento Venezuela translates into high levels of absenteeism and rotation. “Our numbers are well above the median of Grupo Atento, even above the median in Central America, levels to which I was used to. This generates a lot of inefficiency,” Rodas explains. Agents are employed to perform telesales, tech support, credit, risk and collection, back office, and service desk.
From his perspective, absences could be partly explained by problems in transit and the difficulties in moving from one place to the other (“the transportation system seems to have collapsed,” he says). The high levels of rotation, meanwhile are connected to people’s lack of commitment, which is also associated to a generalized sloth seen in large sectors of society, says Rodas. He also thinks that the social safety net promoted by the government appears to many people like an alternative to regular employment.
In this context, hiring talented people is of vital importance for the company to be effective: “We have a very tight planning and a very well formed human resources area to attract employment force from different channels –publications, fairs, phone calls, visits, so that people get to know us and also visit us. It is difficult but the team is prepared to provide answers to the demands of our main clients from now and until three months from today based on need.”
Atento also faces power shortage issues mainly because of Chávez’s decision to ration electricity; although in Atento’s case – the company operates its own electrical generators. The shortage of materials (“sometimes we have to learn how to operate without paper”) and the variation in prices are other challenges faced in the daily operations (“postponing purchases by a week could mean that they will become more expensive”).
In regard to his relationship with political authorities, Rodas affirms that he never had any problems or ill treatment. Nevertheless, he wishes he could have more official information from agencies that collect data on consumer satisfaction in areas of interest to his company. “This type of information is difficult to get in the short-term,” Rodas points out.