For Spanish contact center giant Atento, dominance in Spanish-speaking markets has come naturally – but gaining market share in the United States has been an entirely different game.
“Atento hasn’t paid enough attention to the US market in the past, so I intend to change that and turn it into a larger area of expansion for us,” the company’s new CEO, Carlos López-Abadía, tells Nearshore Americas. “We are reinforcing our sales team in the U.S. and making operational improvements to centers where we are likely to expand our coverage of the market, such as Colombia, Central America, and Mexico.”
Although there is nothing specific on the table right now, the company is continuously looking at bolstering its presence in the U.S. market and adding new capabilities through acquisitions. “The US might be one of the few places where I would consider a potential acquisition to speed up growth in the market,” says López-Abadía. “The question now is how we increase the attractiveness of our Nearshore offerings and general go-to-market strategy in the region.”
If these strategies pay off then Atento’s next stab at the U.S. may prove successful but based on previous attempts to gain a foothold, it’s likely this will be a long-term endeavor.
This isn’t the first time the company has been vocal about its plans to make a splash in the U.S.
In 2014, the provider told Nearshore Americas about its strategy to meet U.S. standards, highlighting efforts to reinforce its managerial teams and regulatory compliance in Nearshore locations to achieve that goal.
At that time, the company was making good strides towards its objective, serving companies like AT&T and Motorola, which allowed it to quickly fill new centers to capacity in El Salvador and Guatemala. Today, only a handful of the company’s 150,000 agents are serving U.S. customers, so what caused that momentum to slow down?
The issue, according to a source who spoke to Nearshore Americas anonymously, was a complete lack of English-speaking managers in Atento’s Latin American sites.
“Without serious long-term investment and a much higher focus on English speakers at the executive and managerial levels, Atento is unlikely to become a formidable force in the United States,” the source said. “After 10 or 12 years of barking up the same tree, this is like Groundhog Day for the fourth or fifth time.”
The company’s European, Spanish-speaking heritage can be off-putting for some U.S. clients, who expect high standards of English capabilities and high-quality call centers. López-Abadía is aware of this perception and is actively trying to change it, starting with the recruitment of a new head of sales for the country.
Even if this new recruit can generate business on U.S. soil, the high standard that clients expect make BPO a capital intensive business for Nearshore vendors, and, with Atento’s stock dropping from $15 to $3 since going public in 2014, capital is running short.
“After the company went public, it pushed investment into legacy sites that were designed to draw local market clients,” our source revealed, highlighting that there wasn’t much left in the coffers to focus on attacking the U.S. market. “Domestic clients pay around $7-8 per hour, per seat, while U.S. clients pay double that—from Atento’s point of view, that’s why the market is so attractive.”
Nearshore Importance Moving Forward
Despite the company’s historic efforts to take aim at the U.S., López-Abadía considers the Nearshore industry as an important, fast-growing sector for the company, primarily due to the attractiveness of the world’s largest market.
Coming from a technology background, López-Abadía was pleasantly surprised by the
technology and innovation found in the Nearshore region when he joined the company. His hope is that Atento can now communicate the benefits of that to the U.S. market, and globally.
He claims that the company is running one of the largest robotics projects in this industry, as well as using AI analytics technologies to double sales for some clients. The plan is to export these capabilities to multiple locations, which could strengthen Atento’s efforts to penetrate the U.S. market.
“Innovation and technology don’t happen where you expect, so we want to focus our labs and innovation centers on detecting innovation across our geographies, in other industries, and across the customer base,” said López-Abadía.
Sustaining Domestic Growth in LatAm
The U.S. market may be attractive for Atento, but its domestic growth in Latin America has always taken precedence. Atento’s Latin American footprint is already vast, but its new CEO is bullish about expanding that even further. The company already leverages its strong foundation of Spanish-speaking talent to support the growing Hispanic population in the U.S., which was one of the reasons Atento decided to enter the U.S. market in the first place, according to a 2013 interview with the company’s SVP of Operations and Client Services for the US and Nearshore.
Last year, the company opened new sites in Brazil, Chile, and Puerto Rico, with 3,500, 500, and 620 seats in each, respectively, according to Site Selection Group. With Puerto Rico being a U.S. territory, this could represent an opportune point of entry for the company, and López-Abadía agrees.
Atento’s previous CEO, Alejandro Reynal, steered the company toward remarkable growth over the space of seven years. Under Reynal’s leadership, Atento is now the absolute leader in Latin America with a regional market share of 16.7% more than its closest competitor, Teleperformance.
If López-Abadía hopes to surpass Reynal’s legacy, ending more than a decade of stasis in U.S. market penetration is a surefire way to do it.