Latin America has become a protagonist in the new world scenario. The economics of the region and its undeniable potential, among other factors, make it quite attractive for investment and business. Latin American leaders are working hard in order to get important foreign investment, with the hope that development will transform society. Governments are committed to providing a legal framework to facilitate that investment, and are working on long-term regulations in order to guarantee results for investors.
Traditionally, this region has been a provider of raw materials as well as goods and services with low added value. Thanks to the richness of the land, many major companies have succeeded by exploiting the natural resources.
That situation has been changing, with information technology and globalization. Optical fiber, high-speed networks, global carriers, IP communications, and cutting-edge telephony technology are now more available to set up new businesses with relatively easy access, limited in most cases only by cost of investment. The number of skilled people being trained for these kinds of industries has grown as well. Throughout the region there are more and more professionals capable of performing the high-level duties that new businesses demand.
Nevertheless, the region is still far from the position it could occupy in the global market. For BPO and ITO services, high-level skills are necessary, and it takes more than basic training to provide outstanding customer service. Technology and regulations are not enough either.
Cultural diversity goes beyond the folklore: It is not a matter of Tango versus Cumbia, Samba or Mariachi
One Region, Many Cultures
According to findings by AT Kearney, cultural affinity is one of the key attributes of the region in terms of nearshoring for US-based companies. But cultural factors are at the same time the main challenge on a strategic, managerial, and operational level.
While companies address budgets to optimize costs and infrastructure, and focus on operational training, they often overlook cross-cultural training and guidelines. It is true that most of Latin America speaks Spanish, but it is also true that idioms and other language subtleties create boundaries and barriers that are not visible to foreigners. Spanish is quite different from Mexico to Argentina. Neutral Spanish training is not enough to address these differences; behind the language and the idioms there are cultural factors that — when taken into account — can increase customer satisfaction levels in businesses like contact centers, for example.
In the same way, setting up multicultural teams in a managerial and operational level must consider motivation, benefits, and compensation, among other elements. I have seen managers from big global companies arrive in the region with the attitude that “The right way is my way” — and dismissing local talent, local knowledge, and local behavior. At same time, I have seen teams quite resistant to foreign intervention — and I am not talking about capital investment. Employees and managers do not typically care who owns the hardware, but they do care about who is writing the workplace policies.
The wide diversity of the region is a challenge and a huge opportunity for companies to create value. Cultural diversity goes beyond the folklore: It is not a matter of Tango versus Cumbia, Samba or Mariachi, and neither is it a matter of Tacos, Beef, Ceviche, or Empanadas. It is a deeper and more serious issue to be taken into account when foreign investment, joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions are being analyzed.
Can Latin America compete with India, Canada, Asia, and other main BPO providers? Of course it can. But the region needs to take a stronger and more ambitious approach to the world scenario, by considering not only the USA and Spain as potential customers, and by not being limited by geographical proximity and language.
On the contrary, Latin America has to promote the region with offers that merge and integrate the best of each destination. Instead of selling just a country, Latin American providers need to sell the whole region, with its huge unified potential.
It is not about saying, “Come and see that our people are the best, enthusiastic and skilled.” It is about saying, “Come and see: Our people are capable of providing world-class services because they are world-class-mindful.”
Invisible boundaries properly understood can be a trigger for a BPO or ITO company’s success on the global stage.
Reach Maryori Vivas, a Colombia-based business consultant, at firstname.lastname@example.org.