Nearshore Americas

Searching for Skilled Multilingual Agents

By Jeff Pappas, Executive VP, Arledge Partners Real Estate Group
What is a “Multilingual Call center”? Well, one that provides services for various languages, apart from the global language, English. When a US based BPO requires a global presence, then it is pays to obtain services in different languages like Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, etc. Providing services in different languages will improve upon the service quality, expertise and experience of the contact center.
Many contact center services, including inbound, outbound, order fulfillment and other activities are provided by multilingual call centers as niche marketing.

A BPO could save upwards of 25% or more on the operating cost to run a Portuguese center outside of Brazil and Portugal.

Language Complexities
Successful BPOs provide services to their customers  in the language which is well-understood by them. Thus, it is difficult to establish a multilingual call center due to language complexities such as: accent neutralization, bi-culturalism and the potential use of slang phrases. This in turn may lead to a misunderstanding between consumer and agent.
Multilingual call centers can help clients increase sales revenue and create positive customer response. Highly trained executives, professional services and fluency in language are just a few qualities that make an efficient multilingual call center. While we all know that a customer support center needs man power that is well trained, well educated, and well versed in different languages. But what if a BPO searched for a cost alternative language outside the customary language within a certain country?
Searching Outside the Norm
For instance, supporting English and Portuguese outside of the two most common countries of Portugal and Brazil may seem to be a tough situation.  Portuguese (along with Spanish) is the fastest growing language in the world. Thus, the ability to tap into this market with cost competitiveness is vital. This brings us to the main reason to search outside of these two countries – cost savings.
A BPO could save upwards of 25% or more on the operating cost to run a Portuguese center outside of the two markets. This is even more true if the outsource call center is in another country with a favorable exchange rate or lower labor rate. A contact center must have the flexibility of serving their traditional English speaking markets while taking advantage of the rapidly evolving Spanish and Portuguese markets in the US and Central America.
We know that both Portugal and Brazil service the domestic Portuguese market quite heavily (Brazil call centers alone support approximately 90% domestic business). Thus bringing us to the biggest issue – where? What other countries would give us the ability to hire Portuguese agents, stay cost competitive and locate in close proximity to their United States based customers?
Road to El Salvador
Putting the focus on Central America is key.  Costs are significant less across the board in Central America as compared to India, Brazil, Europe and certaintly far lower than in the US or Canada.   The road to El Salvador is a lot shorter than the travel routes to Portugal or even Brazil. And the airfares are considerably cheaper and flights are much shorter to El Salvador, Honduras or Guatemala City than to Rio or Sao Paolo.
But, that’s just the beginning of why Central America is becoming the venue of choice for call center relocations. The region boasts many highly skilled workers and a strong domestic and international business culture. Many citizens have strong Spanish, English and, in many cases, Portuguese language skills, allowing companies to support the wide range of their customers from one location.
As Central America is known as a migration crossroads, the region’s confinement in the world economy and growing population assure that migration will continue to remain a feature of Central American life into the foreseeable future. Now, we are not talking about putting a 500 seat center in El Salvador, Guatemala or any other Central American country to support Portuguese.
But just having the opportunity to support a portion of your business in a market that has this ability is an added bonus. The key to supporting this portion is labor of course. Portuguese is the fastest growing second language in El Salvador after English. This is due to the fact that a fair number of immigrants from Brazil have migrated to Central America.  As of 2008, Central America and the Caribbean, has one of the largest in-migrations of Brazilians with 618,300 individuals. Of coursed, not all would be capable to work in a contact center, but enough to justify the notion of a contact center supporting Portuguese.  Again, this is just another way of a contact center adding value to itself and its clients.
Jeff Pappas is the Executive Vice President of Arledge Partners Real Estate Group, located in Dallas, Texas. Arledge Partners focuses on site selection, incentive negotiations and real estate identification and acquisition for the contact services/BPO industry.

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Kirk Laughlin

Kirk Laughlin is an award-winning editor and subject expert in information technology and offshore BPO/ contact center strategies.


  • Jeff interesting article, because I may have had a misconception on the subject.
    Labor availability, cost and quality, along security and a robust telecommunication infrastructure are the drivers that pull Call Centers into a country. Its access from other places is a nice-to-have not a must-have.
    A lot of people continue to immigrate to the US from El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico, so I am very surprised you point to these countries as drawing from immigrants.
    Can you share with us which companies are providing services in Portuguese and the number of seats they use on Portuguese?
    Do you have hard numbers on the number of immigrants from Brasil into El Salvador?

  • Manfred,
    Though my project is still ongoing, companies such as Atento and ACC can offer Portuguese support. My research is till ongoing, but I should have some hard numbers shortly.