Nearshore Americas

Rise of Chief Human Resources Officer Reflects Crucial Need for BPO Talent Leadership

While human resources has always been a necessary component of any BPO firm, it has not always been prioritized or recognized as absolutely critical to the success of the business. But this has begun to change in recent years, with the rise of the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) reflecting the importance of human capital to what is fundamentally a “people business”.

The ability to attract, develop and retain talent within a constantly evolving environment is fundamental to the success of any outsourcing provider. Likewise, failure to invest in human resources will bring grave consequences.

The CHRO Mandate

“Our responsibility has changed from being a service provider to being a strategic partner in order to achieve the goals of the organization, said Alejandro Hernandez, Teleperformance’s CHRO for the nearshore region that includes Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Colombia. CHROs must be pragmatic and flexible, he added, noting that there are different ways to find and develop the talent within each city, region or country.

“My mandate is to develop talent within the organization and to handle recruitment and selection using best practices and the most effective ways of attracting talent,” explained Hernandez, who is responsible for almost 25,000 employees at 25 contact centers across the nearshore region. “I’m also responsible for ensuring employee satisfaction. It has become a specific strategic mandate from the CEO and the board of directors to do as much as possible to have the best satisfaction scores that we can achieve.”

“The CHRO title, by definition, carries more weight in a company like ours that focuses globally on human capital management (HCM),” added Dermot O’Brien, Corporate Vice President and CHRO at American business outsourcing provider ADP.

“CHROs are a key target demographic for our business, particularly for our larger clients. In fact, we’re seeing more and more involvement of C-suite executives in HCM decisions. This is not just payroll anymore – these are critical needs that businesses have to care for their most important assets, their people,” Dermot O’Brien said. “I think companies are seeing more and more that effective CHROs can make business connections and improve both organizational and business results. HR is no longer just a ‘soft’ function within companies. CHROs are required to provide strategic counsel to help empower and engage organizations to deliver on business success (and) to line up behind company goals and execute. Of course, in our world, we are selling our clients ‘people solutions’ so we need to ensure that our own house is in order and that we are communicating our capabilities from a credible position.”

Recruiting the Right People

In today’s competitive labor market, the need for contact center agents with specific skills means recruitment is more important aspect of human resources than ever. “Companies are now starting to look at customer care as something that can be a strategic differentiator, and employees have a great deal to do with that. Many now understand that employee satisfaction has a big impact on customer satisfaction and the customer’s overall experience,” said Melissa O’Brien, Customer Care and Contact Center Services Analyst at IDC. “I think some of this change began during the recession when companies were really challenged to do more with less. Improving your ability to recruit and retain talent is one way to deal with that.”

She added: “The challenge for outsourcers is to make sure that their agents have the appropriate level of skills. Overall, customer interactions are more advanced now. The need to train agents appropriately to be able to handle that is definitely impacting the industry and that puts pressure on outsourcers to be able to have really strong talent that are savvy in all of the various communication channels.”

Hernandez told Nearshore Americas that he is responsible for organizing job fairs and analyzing the labor pool whenever Teleperformance moves into a new market. This includes assessing not only the level of talent but also salary and benefit expectations. It is a more specialized and strategic than the approach such companies used to follow and Hernandez believes it is crucial “because if you go to a new market and don’t make the correct analysis of the available talent then that can have a very bad impact on your operations.” He added, “If the recruitment process is not providing the correct talent then you can have all the processes, systems and the technology that you want but if you don’t have the people of the right profile then you have a big problem.”

Finding New Talent Pools

As the market and clients’ needs develop and mutate, so must human resources departments find new sources of talent, Hernandez said. In Mexico and Central America, for example, Telepeformance has begun tapping into the thousands of immigrants that are deported from the United States each year. “These are great assets with great human capital potential,” he said.

“Sometimes these people have lived in the United States since they were five or 10 years old. They speak English and they’re essentially American. They know the culture, they lived, worked and studied there. And all of a sudden they’re reported to Mexico or Central America, but they have a difficulty adapting because they don’t always speak Spanish,” Hernandez explained. “The responsibility we have as an employer is to help society and our communities by providing jobs and providing wealth. So what we’re doing right now is say to governments, ‘we’re going to help you to integrate these people into society, if you can help us by doing background checks’ on them.”

Hernandez continued: “The other thing that is critical and that I think is changing is the need to develop a relationship with universities and work with local, state and federal governments because we need workers and they need people to have jobs. So we work with governments to develop programs in order to attract and develop talent. For example, we’ve worked with some cities, states and national governments in Mexico and Central America in order to develop English-speaking talent.”

The Social Media Factor

The emergence of new channels such as social media has meant that agents have to be savvier in terms of how they interact with customers. This has also impacted recruitment and development of human talent, as new recruits must either be more highly skilled or they will require adequate training in fields such as social media or caller analytics.

“Human resources professionals now have to look at redefining hiring profiles and training programs specifically to address this shift that’s happening with the digitization of customer service and new and emerging channels,” Melissa O’Brien said. “Because the lines between sales, marketing and customer services are being blurred now there’s more of a need to look at the customer experience from a holistic view. So it’s much more strategic in terms of the overall company’s business plan.”

In order to keep up with these game-changing trends, Teleperformance created a social media department within human resources and appointed a social media manager almost two years ago, Hernandez revealed. “We need to be constantly evolving in the way that we attract talent. We need to be understanding and foreseeing what is happening in each location,” he said.

Minimizing Attrition

Contact center work has traditionally been viewed as a short-term job in which young people can earn quick cash and gain professional experience, with few agents considering it as the beginning of a career path. Unsurprisingly, this has meant high levels of attrition are the norm. “It’s a tough industry to find the right talent in. The jobs can be difficult and one of the important elements for outsourcers to recruit and retain talent is to have really good career development programs so that people see more of a future and a career,” Melissa O’Brien said.

“There’s still relatively high attrition in contact center roles but I do think that’s changing and evolving as a result of some of this emphasis that’s being put on career paths, training and development within BPO organizations combined with the changes in customer expectations and emerging channels,” the IDC analyst added. “I think there will be many more changes to come in the way that careers in the industry are approached and perceived. It really has to change in order to meet customer expectations in the future.”

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Hernandez believes an essential aspect of human resources is to examine attrition very closely and perform exit interviews to understand the reasons why employees leave the company. “We have internal programs and … we’re constantly reviewing people’s experience in the workplace,” he said. “When someone leaves we always carry out exit interviews to find out why they are leaving, because sometimes we make mistakes that need to be corrected and it’s our responsibility in human resources to get feedback.”

Risks of Not Investing

If BPO firms do not invest in human resources “they will have tons of problems,” Hernandez warned. “Our industry is about people. It’s like in IT. If you do not invest in technology in an industry where you need to be cutting edge will end up losing your company,” he explained. “Companies in this industry that do not invest in any strategic partners in terms of recruitment and human resources are going to succumb. I guarantee it.”

Melissa O’Brien agreed, noting that “all of the leading customer care BPO firms are placing emphasis on this because it is ultimately one of the most important things to their business. Customer service is a people business, it’s very highly dependent on the people who are doing the work and interacting with customers. BPOs are often the voice of their clients’ business so it would be a critical mistake to overlook employee strategy, particularly the training and development aspect.”

Melissa’s namesake at ADP also concurred. “We like to think of ourselves as an incubator for enhancing the performance of our people, versus a centralized HR function fighting for scarce budget dollars,” said Dermot O’Brien. “Being a ‘cost center,’ without contributing to the strategic and financial success of the business, is not a winning place to be.”

Duncan Tucker

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