Last year, consumers picked up their smart phones and opened their wallets to e-commerce. Under lockdown and with brick-and-mortar stores temporarily shuttered, millions stepped into the world of online retail for the very first time. Millions of others, already familiar with buying bits online, turned to digital retail for their everyday needs. The purchase of groceries, healthcare and home entertainment digitally went through the roof. E-commerce boomed and so did the demand on BPOs and contact centers.
“The past year was extraordinary. I’ve never experienced anything like it in my entire life,” Matt Nyren, President and CEO of global BPO company Ubiquity, which has operations in El Salvador, told Nearshore Americas.
E-commerce Growth Like Never Before
According to the U.S. Commerce Department, sales in online retail in 2020 grew by 44% on 2019, hitting a value of US$861 billion last year compared to US$598 billion the year before. Meanwhile, Canada registered a hike of 72.7% in online spending – excluding foodservice and catering purchases – making it the fastest growing e-commerce market on the planet.
E-commerce grew by 27.6% globally in 2020, “reaching well over US$4 trillion” in value found a recent report by consumer insight platform E-marketer. Though the report predicts a deceleration in growth this year as worldwide vaccination efforts kick in and physical retail sites recover, e-commerce will continue to expand and reach approach US$5 trillion in value while to solidify its position as essential long-term alternative to the brick-and-mortar store.
In other words, the pace of growth was momentous. And while e-commerce has firmly taken centerstage for many contact centers, other verticals within the so-called digital economy have swelled in stature, value and potential too.
New Digital Economy Goes Mainstream
For Latin America-based OneLink BPO, clients from the world of online retail and the new digital economy quite literally doubled in importance. Meanwhile, the company’s client pipeline for the rest 2021 is focused on largely digital-only clients.
“These new digital verticals – e-commerce, Fintech, emerging tech, gaming – were 15% – 20% of our client base four years ago. For 2020, they represent almost 40% of our client base,” said Daniela Acevedo, Financial Planning Manager at OneLink. “These clients are growing exponentially when compared to those from traditional verticals,” she added.
The parallel increase in demand on BPOs from thriving e-commerce clients caused companies to elevate their recruitment strategies. Though OneLink’s successive growth metrics meant that large-scale recruitment was always in its plans, the success of digital economy clients expanded these intentions significantly. “Last year we recruited a total of just under 11,000 employees across our Latin America footprint,” said Rick Strub, Vice President of Operations at OneLink.
Industry-wide recruitment jumped due to the significant hike in call center interactions. At the start of the start of the global pandemic, customers on voice calls were enduring hold times 34 percent longer than they would have done just months earlier, Harvard Business Review reported. At the same time, those interactions that scored as “difficult” doubled from 10% to 20% as the chaos of the pandemic’s early days and the deep anxiety entire populations felt was laid bare.
“As customer reliance on digital channels increases, the Latin American BPO market will need to deliver the same level of acumen on projects requiring multilingual writing skills” – Matt Nyren
These findings tally well with the belief of Sebastian Menutti, Industry Principal Argentina at research and management consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan, that 2020 was “split more or less down the middle”. The first half of the year, said Menutti, was “a bit of a mess” as BPOs tried to adapt to the crisis and work from home model, before recovering in the second half to pivot from adaption to production and record KPIs very similar to those achieved before the pandemic arrived.
Full Omnichannel Leveraged
To stay on top of rising call volumes and help reduce dissatisfaction, other areas of the BPO omnichannel were leveraged. Text-based communication and the support of AI including chatbot technologies became even more vital.
“BPOs leaned a lot on call deflection, automation and AI. Many customers who did not previously leverage those tools began to in 2020 driven by necessity. We have seen a large increase in the demand for bots, intelligent virtual assistants and RPA because they were fundamental in helping BPOs deal with the brisk increase in interactions,” explained Menutti. “We’re also seeing a lot of growth in chat, social media and WhatsApp. These channels had been outgrowing others for a few years already, but in 2020 with the pandemic, they have shown considerable acceleration and became strategic for most companies.”
However, the upswing in non-verbal channels was not only been driven by the pandemic, says Matt Nyren. In his view, voice calls generate slightly higher CSAT scores, meaning they are broadly more efficient and achieve higher satisfaction for customers. Despite that, clients are increasingly turning towards communication through written channels. While a renewed focus on the speed of client problem resolutions has arrived with the uptick in demand, simple economics and a changing demographic are also also tilting the balance in favor of the written word. This is growth market that the region’s BPO players would be wise to take advantage of, he believes.
“We’ve learned that there is no better place than Latin America when it comes to delivering a great customer experience over the phone,” said Nyren. “But as customer reliance on digital channels increases, the Latin American BPO market will need to deliver the same level of acumen on projects requiring multilingual writing skills. We’re achieving this by leveraging training and technology to assure the quality of interactions taking place via chat, email or social media, each of which are growing dramatically. More and more businesses are prioritizing the more customer-friendly and less expensive digital options, which are particularly popular among younger users,” he added.