Dave Palmer, president of global BPO Everise, believes that the many cries of the demise of the Philippines’ as the globe’s outright BPO champion (described as a ‘meltdown’ on these very pages) were both overstated and premature.
For Palmer’s company, which has almost 3,000 of its 13,000-person global workforce located in the Philippines, the difficulties that the country experienced in moving approximately 1.2 million BPO employees to work from home, were much the same as anywhere. It was the volume that made the difference.
“I think it got more attention than it deserved,” Palmer told Nearshore Americas recently. “In the US there were also many companies struggling to move people to work from home, and to successfully deliver from that – it was certainly not only in the Philippines. But the number of Filipino workers servicing US companies illustrated the impact of the pandemic. And the Philippines was the first domino to fall.”
That’s not to say that moving a few thousand employees from city-center locations to their homes was easy for Everise nor any other BPO players. Some companies were forced to house their employees in hotels after stringent government restrictions made travelling back to their homes difficult. The move was smoother in other geos, Palmers suggests.
“The Philippines government was more draconian around lockdown procedures. This is versus a country like Guatemala where we were allowed to deploy equipment more effectively from a logistics standpoint,” he said.
Moving a Global Workforce
Around 90% of Everise’s workforce still works from home. With locations in the Philippines, Guatemala, Malaysia, Ireland, Japan and the US, the company can affix no wholesale return-to-the-office plan for the company’s global personnel. The company is sourcing vaccines for its workers in locations that vaccinations are not yet readily available. But the crisis – or not – that beset the world’s BPO powerhouse did open the space for a reconsideration of operational risk for Everise and its competitors.
“The situation created an opportunity for companies to review if they’re diversifying their risk appropriately. If a company had 90% of its business in the Philippines, was this really an appropriate idea?” Palmer asked.
“Nearshore will be a beneficiary of business continuity planning and risk management planning that companies are now engaging in to diversify their workforce globally” — Dave Palmer
Concentration risk is a trending concern in light of how the pandemic has forced a shift in work processes. Digital infrastructure and cybersecurity are increasingly becoming a point of focus for risk assessors in the work-from-home environment.
Palmer credits Everise’s foresight in helping the company side-step issues like these, and simple logistical problems, when moving its workforce out of offices and back to homes. A few years ago, the company adopted a customized learning management system (LMS), named ‘Home Fix’, where inter-company communication, sourcing and recruitment, as well as interviewing, training, and other vital processes take place.
“This is not unique to industry by any stretch of the imagination, but we had invested in this a couple of years prior to the pandemic and we’ve been able to architect the platform and the processes that go around it,” he said.
Guatemala BPO Expansion
Home Fix was never intended to be used outside of the US, Palmer explains. But the nature of the last year has forced Everise to adapt, and like most other BPOs, Everise has seen an increased demand on its services as customer service (CX) requirements climb in the face of a global digital transformation. The past year has opened new opportunities for the company, and one of them is the expansion of its Guatemala footprint.
“We’re adding another site in Guatemala City,” said Palmer. “We expect that to open within six months, doubling down on our investment in the city, and the people and culture we found there. Our experience in Guatemala has been so positive, and the population can support additional growth. We’ll grow from about 2,000 agents to 4,000 agents over the next few months.”
Guatemala’s value proposition as a BPO location is clear, though Palmer, who is nearing three decades in the CX industry, accepts this wasn’t always the case.
“When I was looking at outsourcing destinations ten years ago, I wouldn’t have even considered Guatemala due to the instability of the government and the crime rate,” he said.
Though safety can still give pause for thought for first-time outsourcers, the country’s young and educated population provide a sound work pool for Everise into the future. The company is comfortable with its Guatemala bet.
“If a company had 90% of its business in the Philippines, was this really an appropriate idea?” — Dave Palmer
“About 70% of the population is under 40. That bodes well for us for moving into the future considering the types of clients and verticals we’re serving from Guatemala, primarily healthcare and logistics,” he said.
The strong cultural affinity that the country has with the US is another obvious benefit to outsourcers, as is the understanding of the large Latino population in the US. Those companies looking to de-risk other geographies could do worse than look at Guatemala, he suggests.
“We’re growing 60% in Guatemala, and I believe Nearshore will be a beneficiary of business continuity planning and risk management planning that companies are now engaging in to diversify their workforce globally,” Palmer said.