By Patrick HallerIf call center operators want to offer BPO services either in addition to, or instead of, what they are currently doing, they need to understand what they may come up against. At the outset this may seem to be a relatively easy transition, but the reality is often very different, and it goes far beyond just flicking the switch from taking and making calls to offering a range of complex services. In order to understand some of the challenges a call center will face, we spoke with Esteban Reyes, Managing Partner at Miami based VSI Nearshore Outsourcing, a provider of IT and BPO services.
Call Centers and BPO: Different Worlds
When considering running a BPO operation, the first thing call center executives should know, says Reyes, is that even though it falls into a similar category being that both involve “business processes,” BPO is a totally different world. BPO is built more around productivity and meeting Key Performance Indicators (KPI) as opposed to monitoring calls and other parameters within the call center operations. This requires a “different lens in how you are looking at your operations and a totally different approach” Reyes advises.
With BPO the provider is essentially telling the client that they can run at least parts of the client’s business better than they can, while at the same time offering top quality at low costs. “Generally,” observes Reyes, “call center operations are a little plain vanilla.” A key differentiator between the two is that, “In a call center you have to scope out what role you will be playing in the customer’s process, such as taking calls and offering customer care or tech support. In the end it is about communication rather than finding the skill set. BPO gets more into the client’s operation requiring a more intimate knowledge of clients business.”
Understand the Market and Adapt
One big question needs to be “How relevant is my call center to a specific industry?” Before a call center can begin offering BPO services, they need to get a good understanding of which market they think they have capability providing BPO to. Reyes offers as an example if the center already provides support to the Financial Services industry, and they know that market well, they could potentially offer more complex Finance and Accounting (F&A) services. This knowledge is obtained over time and can be capitalized on, but the center must adopt tools and methodologies such as Six Sigma. “Explore business process management systems and understand how they can be leveraged to help clients improve their operations,” Reyes advises. It is important that the provider gains an understanding of how they can leverage technology in order to have an advanced offering.
Reyes recommends cross leveraging the talent that the center already employs instead of having to build a new staff. “It’s a conundrum: What comes first the client or the staff?”
“Assuming it is a mature call center, it is not trivial but it is doable,” says Reyes in regard to the difficulty a call center will face when transitioning to BPO. “The most important thing is that the call center understands what capability they have,” he stresses, “Or, if they are going horizontally, what can they offer that no one else does?” Given the fact that BPO is an extremely broad field, a lot depends on what kind of services such as F&A, Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), Administrative, Legal, Medical or Transaction Processing, will be offered.
There also has to be an understanding of how the talent pool can meet the needs of the client, and ensuring that the competencies will be adequate for the services. Reyes recommends cross leveraging the talent that the center already employs instead of having to build a new staff. “It’s a conundrum: What comes first the client or the staff?”
Vision and Approach
If the call center doesn’t have a clear vision of how to become a BPO provider, it will encounter additional challenges with trial and error and self-discovery. This is especially true if the owners decide to start a BPO operation from ground-up, as opposed to transitioning the existing call center. Reyes suggests in that case, the provider should find a client who will trust them as a new provider or one that doesn’t recognize them as a new provider, and they can build out from there.
Another approach would be to start offering BPO on a more consultative fashion to existing clients. This will enable the operators to understand what the workflow is, what the endpoints are, and then they can determine if there any opportunities to offer complex BPO services. “In our case it has been a bit of the inverse,” explains Reyes, “We built a couple of mortgage transaction platforms in the US and they asked if we could do the tech support or customer care. We told them that we can try to find the right talent. It is more that our call center and BPO offerings have developed from the technology that we have created.”
In conclusion, Reyes suggests that call centers transitioning to BPO focus on smaller businesses that can’t afford the big players. “The premise of our offering is that we automate processes, make them more efficient, and can offer services based around that technology.”