Nearshore Americas

Exclusive: Inside Blackhawk Network’s Captive Launch in El Salvador

Drawn by the low costs of labor and real estate, Safeway Inc. subsidiary Blackhawk Network is launching in-house operations in El Salvador where it will hire over 375 staff.

Based in Pleasanton, California, Blackhawk Network is a worldwide gift card distribution network responsible for the sales and activation of prepaid gift cards, credit cards and debit cards.

The decision to go in-house was driven by a desire to reduce costs and maintain close control over customer service, Blackhawk’s Senior Director of Customer Service, Lisa Wong, told Nearshore Americas, although the firm declined to reveal how much it is investing in its operations in El Salvador.

Nearshore Americas: Why did Blackhawk Network decide on El Salvador as a nearshore destination?

Lisa Wong: We compared data from all the Central American countries, such as population and bilingual labor force, crime, the competition in the call center industry, labor wages, real estate availability and cost, and also infrastructure such as roads and technology. We ranked each country on a score card and El Salvador turned out to be the most favorable choice. Costa Rica came out towards the top as well so we actually visited both countries.

NSAM: What are the main advantages that El Salvador has to offer?

Wong: Probably the labor wages and the real estate costs. And the people in El Salvador who have been very supportive in helping us start our business. They have welcomed us into their country and are assisting us through the entire process.

NSAM: And is there any reason why you only considered Central America and not South America or the Caribbean for example?

Wong: We didn’t consider South America because it is quite far for us to travel to from our base in California. We were trying to keep travel below eight hours. The same goes for the Caribbean, but the size of the population is also important to us and that counted against the Caribbean.

NSAM: Where in El Salvador is the new center going to be and how many staff will be working there?

Wong: It’s in San Salvador. We’re building a 375-seat call center and then we’ll also have full support and management staff who will also be hired locally.

NSAM: How will you go about recruiting in El Salvador?

Wong: It’s going to be a combination of us hiring our own HR staff as well as using a recruiting company to help us with our initial round.

NSAM: What services or business processes will be handled there?

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Wong: They will be answering inbound calls from customers in the US and Canada, as well as our business partners in Mexico. But the majority of the calls will come from customers in the US and Canada about their pre-paid gift and GPR (general purpose reloadable) Visa cards.

NSAM: What was behind the decision to go in-house rather than outsourcing?

Wong: It’s important to us to maintain ownership of service and have control over the customer experience and the direct input and feedback about our products. Cost was also a factor. We’ve gathered and analyzed data comparing in-house and outsourcing and with our growth and our size it made sense to bring in in-house.

Duncan Tucker

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