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Webhelp’s Aggressive Mexico Expansion Begins in Mérida

The Merida sun shines strong and bright against the crystal structure of Torre Indico, Webhelp’s latest project in the city and the first step in what aims to be an agressive plan of expansión in the Mexican market.

Opened in late November, Webhelp’s newest site in Mexico aims to strengthen the French company’s capacity in the country. Executives described their newest offices as “phase one” of a wider project. A second building, anexed to the recently innaugurated one, is expected to launch soon as part of the Torre Indico project.

The number are ambitious. With Indico, Webhelp plans to add a thousand people to its headcount in Yucatan — the southeastern Mexican state where Merida is located— this year, a quantity that would double in 2023. Investment would double too. Manuel Aparicio, CEO of Webhelp LATAM operations, claimed that the company invested US$5 million in Mérida. By next year, that number is meant to reach US$10 million.

Why Merida, though? The city, known mostly as a tourist town, is seldom regarded as a hotspot for BPO investment, but Webhelp executives are wholeheartedly sold on their choice.

“Our choice to open doors in Merida was definately the best. We found opimal conditions for investment, first-rate infrastructure, stability, security and great human capital,” stated Francisco Robert Campos, VP of Webelp’s Operations in Mexico.

Webhelp executives and local government officials cutting the ribbon at Torre Indico

Merida is speedily gaining traction among investors as one of Mexico’s hidden gems. It is one of the safest major cities in the country, with a tropical weather, little to no traffic and a comfortable living standard at the fraction of the cost of more popular sites, like Mexico City, Monterrey and Guadalajara. It is also expanding rapidly. The skeletons of office buildings can be seen sprouting all over town, promising prime real estate for those in need of it.

One has to wonder if Merida’s shine will remain hidden for long. Once the name gains traction, competitors will begin to set up shop in the city, bringing with them a tougher job market and, most probably, cost increases across the board. Nevertheless, Webhelp trusts in the advantages of being first to land.

“We believe Yucatán could offer all of this, and that competition has yet to discover the site. We’re creating an industry in this city,” said Manuel Aparicio. “We’re the first here, and we can use that advantage to grow faster”.

The Struggle for Talent

A qualified and deep pool of talent remains the defining factor in site-hunting. The job market tightened over the past couple years, complicating the landscape for an industry that already deals with alarmingly high turnover rates.

Webhelp hopes to leverage the human resources available in Merida and surrounding cities, deploying several strategies to retain its young employees. Most of them are students juggling the responsibilities of employment and school, so the company knows that flexibility and the option of working remotely are key.

Webhelp is also betting on the attractiveness of its new instalations. With its four-stories of crystal and steel, Torre Indico is a pretty looking piece of architecture that holds all the amenities of a “campus-style” office building: from open social areas to comfy dining halls. The site looks like anything but a call center.

Webhelp agents on site

But the company’s strongest bet is on benefits offered to employees: health insurance for minor and major medical expenses, food coupons and other perks beyond what’s guaranteed by Mexican law. Francisco Roberts told NSAM that, even thogh their salaries are competitive, benefits have turned out to be the key to retain talent. He assured that attrition levels have gone down by 25% thanks to this strategy.

Even then, the realities of the job market keep the pressure high. Francisco recognized that talent is still hard to find and even harder to retain

The Challenge of Language

One of the major challenges that Webhelp faces in Merida is finding agents with strong English skills, a fact recognized even by local authorities.

“We realized that our college students were graduating with deficient levels of English, which should be sharpened”, stated Yucatan governor Mauricio Vila in his speech during Indico’s opening ceremony. “We are synchronizing efforts with educational institutions to build a plan of action, which is on the works now.”

English proficiency remains one of the biggest challenges for Latin America’s hopes to become a top BPO hub. Though bilingual talent can be found in the region, the numbers and quality are still shy of what’s offered in India and the Phillipines, where the market is much more mature.

“That lack of English skills, which we’re trying to fix each and every day, keeps LATAM a step behind the other hubs [in India and the Phillipines] in our capacity for growth,” explained Manuel Aparicio.

Local authorities in Yucatán hope to sharpen English proficiency in the state with college exchange programs. A total of 170 students where sent to US and Canadian universities in 2022; the number is expected to increase to 340 in 2023 and to 500 in 2024.

Agents working at Webhelp’s new Torre Indico offices

The Next Phase

Webhelp’s plans for expansion in Mexico go beyond Merida. The company is gearing up for a follow-up in the city of Queretaro, located in the central region of the country. 

“We realized that demand from our client climbs and keeps climbing. That’s why we’re thinking about expanding to Queretaro, which would allow us to be in strategic points within the country,” explained Francisco Roberts.

Queretaro is a relatively small city, with barely a million inhabitants. But, like Merida –inhabited by less than 900,000 people–, it is growing fast. Plus, it is surrounded by other expanding cities. Webhelp estimates that casting a wide net from Queretaro will grant them access to a talent pool of more than 40 million.

“For us, population size is key for talent, because we do massive recruitment. [Querétaro] is a place that offers optimal conditions; it is safe, modern, with a bilingual talent pool and a high volume of people within range [for recruitment], which works great for us,” said Francisco. 

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Once Webhelp opes shop in Queretaro and consolidates operations in Yucatan, the company will have presence in Mexico’s three main regions: the north, operating from Sonora; the south, from Yucatan; and the center, from Queretaro.

Webhelp is located in more than 50 countries worldwide. It operates in 8 countries in Latin America, with over 33,000 agents under its banner in the region.

Cesar Cantu

Cesar is the Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. He's a journalist based in Mexico City, with experience covering foreign trade policy, agribusiness and the food industry in Mexico and Latin America.

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