Nearshore Americas

The Most Common Mistakes Placing Work in the Caribbean

Choosing the Caribbean to engage third parties for services and support often makes a lot of sense.  The region is a great option because of inherent cultural similarities, wide availability of native English speakers (north of six million in twelve countries), generally great air-lift from the U.S. and Canada, and increasingly well-aligned investment-promotion policies aimed at sustaining global technology exporters, which in turn becomes a positive for the end-user customer.

But with so many providers moving in to cities like Santo Domingo and Kingston, it is natural to question whether the typical “ramp-up” goes as smoothly as some would make it seem. Nearshore Americas spoke to a number of Caribbean-basin services experts to expose the most common mistakes, and how those mistakes can be avoided.

Going for the lowest cost at all cost

By far, the most common mistake customers make happens in the very first stages of location and partner review and that is the sin of chasing savings instead of chasing quality. Of course, cost arbitrage is one of the main justifications in leveraging the Nearshore model. But the ultimate goal should be around producing a type of service delivery that reflects a conscious, long term effort to invest in quality and thus gain quality in return. Going for the cheapest option without assessing other crucial factors leaves room for failure. Pursuit of the lowest cost option yields lower quality agents and having to deal with brutally difficult recruiting environments. Do what’s prudent and steer clear of penny-pinching expedience.

Not carefully observing the culture on the floor 

This one may seem obvious but it’s surprisingly common – spending more time in meeting rooms with the provider’s leadership than on the floor assessing KPIs and the work-culture of the agent environment. Spending time getting to know agents allows for better insight of servicing the needs of clients in real-time. It is not uncommon for providers to resist deep scrutiny of their operating environment because of confidentiality and standing NDAs. While that is true, there are many work-arounds to obtaining the insights you really need – including random selection of agents for one-to-one discussions to meeting training leaders for candid talks. Getting at the heart of the operating culture is an exercise that will be worth your time.

Not preparing a training manual

Too often customers are so hell-bent on ramping up at maximum speed and the collateral damage to that aggressive approach is an under-trained resource. Some operators do little more than hand a script to their agents –  thinking because of their knowledge of English they ‘get it.’ Campaigns are growing more sophisticated and the responsibility is on senior leadership to ensure there is consistent and cogent training processes. Preparing  a training manual for agents laying out important instructions as well as company policies, is a key part of that process.

Verifying security and data protection practices 

Security measures such as PCI compliance, the short-code name for a comprehensive set of rules that govern how credit card handlers should protect card information and the privacy of cardholders, is something customers have to observe first-hand and verify that procedures are properly followed.

Sometimes providers are PCI compliant, meaning they are doing everything required to be secure, but they aren’t actually certified. Prospective clients should ask to see a certificate demonstrating PCI compliance. Should fraudulent activity occur inside the delivery center, there will be close examination of what allowed the breach to occur and the parties responsible. Proper due diligence will reduce the red-face embarrassment of noticing that there were gaps in the review of PCI readiness. Also crucial is testing whether this is actually a culture that understands the importance of protecting the client’s IP.

Not fully grasping local laws 

Client organizations should be just as sharp on the complexities of local law as their outsourced partner. One such example is the rules established through Free Trade Zone  regimes. Historically, there are examples of operators selecting a location based entirely on the existence of a free trade zone, and then expecting to be exempt of all taxes. They often are in for a shock when they learn they are also responsible for employee taxes, and in some cases, duties related to the importation of goods.  Along those lines, spending time with a well-informed local attorney will go a long way in strengthening policies around managing your workforce. When problems then arise, the Ministry of Labor won’t look kindly on providers who have been sloppy in their hiring and firing practices.

Mathew Di Salvo

Mathew Di Salvo is a contributing writer and editor at Nearshore Americas, based in Colombia.

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