With its stable infrastructure, diverse and educated talent pool and excellent geographic location, Trinidad and Tobago has emerged as a serious contender in supporting the work-from-home (WFH) model for BPO. In a post-Covid world, working from home seems set to be more of a staple for businesses than an exception. Getting it right, of course, is the paramount issue.
While not every aspect of a business and not every type of role is suited to an out-of-office approach, the one good thing about the current situation has been that more companies have been able to transition successfully to a model which sees at least part of delivery occurring off-site, something which for BPO providers is nothing new. Trinidad and Tobago is ideally positioned to support delivery of BPO and other outsourced services in a fully or partial WFH model.
Making the Case for Work-from-Home
For DirecOne, a homegrown omnichannel contact center operator, the move to WFH has been five years in development and deployment, something that made the additional requirements of the Covid-19 pandemic easier to manage. Their background in medical transcription was useful, as much of that work was done by home workers.
“It was a natural thing for us to look at how we could provide the same services that we do today from our center [with] workers at home,” says DirecOne’s Peter Gillette. The company’s move to a cloud-based technology platform three to five years ago made the WFH option viable.
Gillette admits that initially they did have to fight perceptions that perhaps WFH would not be as productive. “In crafting our SOPs for moving agents home, a lot of thought was put into first of all who we would allow to WFH, qualifying them through their tenure with the company and that demonstration of reliability,” he says. “Then was management KPIs and the tools that we would use to ensure we could deliver the level of quality and productivity that our customers had come to expect from us.”
After an initial pilot project and monitoring the quality of the experience across several roll-out phases, and managing and watching the productivity KPIs, in particular the NPS trends and SAT scores, it was clear that agents could do as good or even better a job at home. “We were pleasantly surprised. That is the honest answer,” he says.
“And I think this pandemic gave us that opportunity to execute on plans that had been put in place for some time and to do so fairly flawlessly and with great results. We transitioned about [half] of our work in the offices in the call center to home,” Gillette adds.
The Infrastructure Equation
He points to the existing infrastructure in Trinidad and Tobago as a core enabler, describing it as fairly robust throughout the islands. Most of the company’s agents can reliably obtain internet speeds in excess of 50 megabits in their homes.
Liam Donnelly, General Manager at Digicel Business, a telecommunications and business solutions company spanning 31 markets in the Caribbean, Central America and Asia Pacific, affirms the importance of infrastructure in the transition to WFH. He describes the infrastructure as very strong, with large fiber networks, including Digicel’s own, and an LTE network that provides coverage to 98 percent of the two islands.
“I would rate Trinidad and Tobago at the very higher end of the good infrastructure. There is also a hunger towards cloud – with banks, insurance, retail all trying to embrace cloud technologies,” he adds. Cloud platforms are crucial to WFH provision in BPO and related sectors and, of course, reliable infrastructure is an important part of that. Donnelly explains that the government released additional spectrum to all the carriers, allowing them to increase speeds on their mobile network during the past few months.
Gillette says that in addition to the infrastructure to agents’ homes, there is another side to the equation: the standard control center base. This encompasses the applications, the firewalls and the VPN that permit you to have access securely, particularly given the kind of data – such as credit card data – that DirecOne processes. To have the highest level of security requires that infrastructure must be well thought out, well-planned and redundant in the event of failures.
These infrastructures, both country and company-specific, coupled with the fact that many agents had technology at home such as PCs that were compliant, made the transition relatively simple for DirecOne.
DirecOne was founded in 2001 and started off mostly in outbound telemarketing to North American companies with two centers, one in Chaguanas, and one in Port of Spain where they are now located. DirecOne employs about 400 people at the center and has diversified into inbound customer care, BPO work for insurance companies and back office work for banks.
Before the 2008 financial crisis, DirecOne was entirely focused on international business, but after some of that business dried up they started focusing regionally and shifting the mix of their business. Now they have quite a substantial portion of domestic and regional business with a smaller portion of international business. The agility and resilience allowed them to transition to WFH with relatively little friction.
Digicel also moved many of its agents to WFH due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The company already had an existing remote working culture in some parts of the business, and they were able to move their physical contact center with 400 agents to home working in a 48-hour period. Donnelly explains that Trinidad and Tobago is set up to support this. There are three data centers, and there are very large corporations like Digicel which have a call center infrastructure and support, even supporting other islands across the Caribbean.
Donnelly is quick to caution that while WFH is attractive and certainly part of the larger post-Covid ecosystem, there are challenges to face, notably the issues of cybersecurity. But he believes that there will be a greater transition to WFH in the future and that Trinidad and Tobago is an ideal proposition for such a BPO set up. He points to the workforce, the infrastructure and the geographic location of Trinidad and Tobago outside the hurricane belt as being key attractors for such business.