Uber opened its Latin America Center of Excellence in 2016 in Costa Rica. Now, just over three years later, Karla Webb, a well-respected Costa Rican business leader who grew to operations head at Concentrix Costa Rica during the last several years, has just been named Head of Uber’s Centers of Excellence in the region.
She brings with her a mindset around supporting Uber’s commitment to first being a ‘technology company’, by testing new products, leveraging analytical capabilities, and continuing to make Uber Costa Rica a choice employer.
Webb provided Nearshore Americas with a glimpse into the dynamics of operating the region’s two locations – Costa Rica and Brazil – and how she plans to drive procedures and efficiencies between them.
Uber’s Center of Excellence in Costa Rica is the second biggest of the 12 centers the company operates globally. It has more than 700 employees in Costa Rica, and 80% of its operations are in Spanish, focused on solving issues for app users and drivers throughout the region.
“We like to say that here is where the magic behind the app happens,” said Webb to Nearshore Americas. “We employ people with an analytical and inquisitive profile, with strong empathy competencies to deal with support to passengers and drivers in delicate issues, such as safety and accidents.”
Costa Rica’s site supports all Spanish-speaking Latin American countries, except Costa Rica. The firm is subjected to this restriction for two reasons: 1) companies that operate in free trade zones in Costa Rica cannot offer services inside the country, and 2) Uber’s transportation service is still not regulated in Costa Rica. Tickets from Costa Rica are handled by the Brazilian Center of Excellence, which mostly focuses on the Brazilian market.
Uber Costa Rica As An Incubator Center
Beyond the usual contact center support, Webb explained that Costa Rica’s site is also an incubator for new products and processes that Uber plans to release to the Latin American market. “Uber is always working on new products, and they first come here, to the Center of Excellence, where we incubate them, we mature the processes, the support logics and the metrics,” Webb said.
“Once the process is mature enough and requires volume, and it no longer needs a specialized workforce nor a sensitive treatment from the organization. Then we generally transfer that volume to our partner outsourced service centers,” she added.
An example of a product that followed that path is JUMP, a service of electric bikes and scooters that Uber launched in Latin America last year. “We also work in improving processes. With the feedback that we receive from our agents, we propose new support and processes logics,” Webb said.
Last year, Uber shelved its plan to invest $40 million in Colombia to create a Center of Excellence that would mirror the Costa Rica site. The decision came just weeks before Colombia banned Uber’s ride-hailing operation in the country.
Uber’s regulatory framework in Costa Rica has yet to be decided. After three years of working in the country with good results, the thought of departing Costa Rica if regulations change is not on the table.
“I think that Uber’s (transport) operation in the country is completely apart from the Center of Excellence. We are not supporting Costa Rica from here, and the need would continue to support the rest of Latin America,” Webb said.
“We have had high quality standards in the support that we have given in the past three years. All of our clients, internal and external, are very satisfied with the service,” she added.
Talent Is Not a Problem Here
In 2016, Uber decided that it needed to open a Latin America Center of Excellence since the volume of app users was booming in the region. Webb says that Costa Rica was chosen for its more than 25 years of experience in the global services industry, the conditions for foreign investment, and the quality of education, including English skills.
“We are a technology company, our business is not running contact centers,” Webb said. “So, Costa Rica was attractive because it already had experts in the industry that would help us to accelerate the launch of the Center of Excellence,” she added.
Moreover, talent has not been a problem. Since 80% of support is in Spanish, finding well-qualified agents has been relatively easy. Webb notes that the company offers compensation and benefits that are designed to keep a lid on attrition.
The average age of Uber Center of Excellence employees in Costa Rica is 24, and 54% of them are women. The Brazilian Center of Excellence employs 550 people, and it is located in São Paulo.
“Most of our hirings come from referrals. This means that our employees are referring their friends and family because they love working here. Our monthly turnover is less than 2%. This means that we don’t need to be constantly hiring new people,” Webb said.
For the future, Webb says there are no immediate plans to increase operations in the region. Much of her energy will be devoted to standardizing services and improving the metrics that underlie operational success.