Nearshore Americas
ramp up

Getting the Seasonal Ramp Up Right

Seasonal ramp-ups are part and parcel of providing customer experience at a BPO. Getting them right and addressing the needs of the client requires a multi-faceted approach that taps into existing talent pools, allows rapid onboarding and incentivizes take up of the offers.

A US-based eCommerce retailer that sells cards and stationery developed by independent artists looked to Collective Solution to provide CX services such as voice, email and chat, from Honduras, Jamaica, and the Philippines. This was the biggest ramp up for Collective Solution (CS) for the season. Client needs meant that CS had to increase its headcount in Honduras to 260 people and to about 150 each for the Philippines and Jamaica.

Planning for the ramp started in June to ensure that the company had the right foundation, while recruitment commenced in July and classes began in August. A rolling cycle of training classes meant that CS was able to account for differing group sizes to give room to recruitment in order for them to recruit more people.

Capitalising on Local Strengths

Cinthia Valladarez, Operations Manager for Honduras, says ramping up in Honduras is easier because Honduras has a solid history in BPO provision which means most of the talent pool already has many of the needed competencies and understands the BPO industry and its needed. Honduras also has a strong pool for bilingual talent, making for an attractive offer. Conversely this can mean that make a seasonal offer attractive to talent is tricky.

Incentives like hiring bonuses and referral bonuses as well as competitive salaries have been key to CS being able to support the stationery and art company in its ramp up. “We also attract people to the company by giving our own employees the opportunity to bring more people over, and they get an incentive for doing so,” she says.

Covid-19 has impacted on the approach to ramp up.

“It has benefitted us and challenged us as well,” says Valladarez. “It has been beneficial in that we can hire people from anywhere in the country. So that has been a great benefit because the possibility to work from home has given us that chance to be able to hire anyone. They can be working from Tegucigalpa or from any other city, which would not be possible without the pandemic.”

The Covid-19 Effect

But with this benefit also comes the main challenge of working from home. Agents without a stable Internet connection or power outages may suffer downtime, for example. “So, we need to plan even greater percentage for buffering per se; we need to have more people or a higher percentage for buffers because we know that we will struggle without it.”

Incentives like hiring bonuses and referral bonuses as well as competitive salaries have been key to CS being able to support the stationery and art company in its ramp up

In Jamaica this has meant that recruitment has had to focus on areas with stable internet connections. The deployment of needed systems for work from home, such as company devices, webcams and so on, in a timely manner has also been a challenge, according to Shenae Hanlan, Collective Solution’s OM in Jamaica.

“During the ramp-up period, we’re hiring 36 associates every week. The challenge is getting equipment to 36 different homes in time for the next week to deliver 36 again,” says Hanlan. There are 20 core associates in the team, and this was ramped up to 175 for peak.

Creating a New Learning Infrastructure

Training approaches also need to adapt to the current context. CS has rethought the way it approaches training for a large US-based roadside assistance company so that ramp up can be done quickly.

John Valencia, Collective Solution’s Director of Operations in the Philippines, explains: “We started training folks this April and added more layers at the start of July, so the growth was fast. In a matter of two months, we were able to grow from somewhere around 200 to a 600 billable headcount. In total, we do have 800 to 900, including the new classes that we’re anticipating using for this month of December.” 

One of the greatest challenges in terms of onboarding people in the current context has been transitioning from working on site to work from home. Valencia says that it is particularly difficult as in the case of the Philippines, in which you have 80% of your population working from home, and only 20% working on site – sometimes dipping even lower, depending on government guidelines.

One of the greatest challenges in terms of onboarding people in the current context has been transitioning from working on site to work from home

This has required a shift in the training approach to accommodate a more flexible training regimen to ensure that agents who have never been in a call center can quickly get up to speed. This has meant a shift from a purely synchronous classroom-based approach to the development of dynamic asynchronous materials with dynamic content and voiceovers, that would allow trainees to go back over material easily. 

“We’re building that learning infrastructure so we can get ahead of the situation, and we be able to support our people better.”

Virtual learning environments like Moodle can support the creation of such a learning infrastructure and offer flexible solutions.

Growing Leadership 

Valencia adds that leadership is also important during any ramp up.

“It’s really more of hiring leaders that will support the program. When you talk about fast growth, you also have to consider the needs for the leaders to manage the program, from a performance perspective, from an attendance perspective, and holistically, how you manage morale,” Valencia says, emphasizing that Covid-19 has re-enforced this need.

A supportive environment is also key so that when outliers are identified in terms of handle time, for example, this can be addressed through supportive interventions. “We’re able to address and focus on who’s part of the outlier group. It’s not about removing them from the program; it’s putting more attention and more focus on how they are being managed.”

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An engagement program that is about more than just certificates is also key to the success of a ramp up in a virtual or remote set up, particularly given the very real issues around mental health and wellbeing that have been highlighted through the pandemic. He adds: “So, aside from securing the performance, it’s also a matter of checking in and asking how are you? How is everything? Are you feeling okay?”

While ramp up is crucial, Valladarez says it is also important to think about downsizing needs, particularly if a ramp up precedes or accompanies growth. Every year that we have ramp, and we have had growth as well.”

This means that developing talent during ramp ups includes nurturing relationships that could translate into longer term careers.

Bianca Wright

Nearshore Americas Contributing Editor Bianca Wright has been published in a variety of magazines and online publications in the UK, the US and South Africa, including Global Telecoms Business, Office.com, SA Computer Magazine, M-Business, Discovery.com, Business Start-ups, Cosmopolitan and ComputorEdge. She holds a MPhil degree in Journalism from the University of Stellenbosch and a DPhil in Media Studies from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

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