The South African BPO industry is poised for further growth in 2015, with Business Process enabling South Africa (BPeSA) estimating that a further 7 627 jobs will be created within offshoring by March next year. BPeSA’s most recent barometer shows that the industry already employs more than 23 500 people in offshore contact centres, with the Western Cape maintaining its presence as the largest offshore market in the country.
According to Lisa Roos, business development director at Merchants, South Africa’s oldest and biggest offshore BPO player, 2015 will see a number of changes for the industry. “There will be an increase in the use of multi-media in the contact centre as we see customers move more and more toward digital and self-serve channels.” This trend was also highlighted in the 2013/14 Dimension Data Global Contact Centre Benchmarking Report which was released at the end of last year and is now coming to fruition. “There will also be an increased proportion of non-voice work.” As businesses focus more on resolution and ease of doing business, Roos expects that some of their work will shift towards preemptive action as opposed to reactive. “This, linked with the rise of social support where we are seeing customers support customers, will change what’s required from outsourced service centers,” she says.
While skills shortages are often cited as one of the biggest challenges facing the industry, Roos believes that it’s less about available resources and more about how they recruit and train. “35% of South Africa’s employable youth are unemployed which equates to 3.4 million young people,” she says. “We are still learning how to leverage the digital age to close the gaps in these young people’s education to ready them for service jobs and our education system has not equipped them with the skills they need.” This combined with convergence, which continues across all verticals, presents a challenge. “Our agents have to be smart, agile, persuasive, quick to learn and empathetic and all after just a couple of weeks of job specific training. We need to enable them better.”
Roos believes that South Africa is a very exciting place to be right now. “The local BPO industry has enough credible players to give potential clients considering offshoring to South Africa choice and the ability to pick a partner that fits their needs,” she says. South Africa’s big accessible labour pool and the available government grants are definitely a draw-card to potential clients. “Our world-class infrastructure and the exchange rate is also supporting the move to offshore to SA,” she says.
She adds that they are seeing a new breed of customer emerge. These customers understand the true cost to serve and is measuring the cost of customer dissatisfaction, the real impact of failure to resolve and mapping the end-to-end journey of an issue. “That’s exciting for us, because where South Africa has been perceived as expensive in the past, there is a level of realization that we may cost more for the interaction, but we are generating less follow-up calls and happier customers than many other territories.” She believes one of the reasons for this is the pervasive use of English in South Africa, with most agents being fluent even if it’s their second language. “When you are fluent in English it’s just easier to emotionally connect with a customer and identify the nuances in a conversation. Our culture and lifestyle also has strong similarities to the Western world which is where the bulk of the offshoring is being done from and again this makes the natural flow of conversation easier.”
She adds that the last area, which is software, but is evidenced by the significant number of expats in South Africa, is that people fall in love with the country. “Part of the offshoring process is sending some of your staff out to support the site,” says Roos. “This is significantly easier when they are going to a country that seems similar to home and even more so when it’s a top tourist destination such as Cape Town,” she concludes.