There is no doubt the call center industry holds the current record for being the country’s "sunshine industry." The momentum which industry pioneers and leaders have built in the past seven years has successfully positioned the Philippines as a global player in call center services as well as in other fields related to business process outsourcing (BPO) and information communication technology (ICT). Even with the pressure in the US congress to keep American jobs from going overseas, the place of the call center business in the country is secure and promises continuous development in the coming years.
It can’t be helped, not even in the US. A reality check on both the cost benefits and the caliber of Filipino knowledge workers shows how prudent it is for American companies to outsource to the Philippines. Filipino knowledge workers have been consistently rated as "world class" by international business CEOs and analysts in both BPO and ICT. Complemented with our capacity for good English and affinity with the American culture, Filipinos working as call center representatives may indeed be considered world-class.
As the latest industry and government projections demonstrate, the Philippines is slowly but surely becoming a serious global competitor and may be expected to become the world’s call center capital in a few years.
There are, however, some concerns which the industry needs to address to ensure that such projections are attained and sustained for the long term. I name and discuss a few in what follows.
Expansion Of Educational Programs
One of the most important concerns is the need to make the Filipino workforce more proficient in both spoken and written English as well as in analytical and critical thinking. This is especially true for those who have just graduated from college and plan to apply for jobs in the call center industry where employment demands presently number by the thousands. Their command of English have to be superior if they are to make themselves competitive in an industry that is becoming more and more selective in its job recruitment.
Efforts to address this concern are well on their way as call center companies begin to invest resources to set up their own training centers wherein new recruits may receive English enhancement courses and additional instruction on customer related skills. There are also similar efforts initiated by some universities and colleges by including elective courses that prepare students for professional work in the industry. Accredited institutes and academies have also sprung up wherein the aspiring and the newly hires may receive training before they begin work.
Still, much room remains for expansion especially in making such courses and learning more available to as many aspirants as possible. They should be established not only in key cities in the country, but even in provincial towns and municipalities to make sure that potential candidates , through enhancement training and better preparation, may have equal opportunities regardless of educational background and social standing.
There is also the need to align course content and training programs with actual industry job requirements. Call centers are quite specific in their selection criteria, oftentimes accepting only those applicants who demonstrate capabilities in multi-tasking and lateral thinking, and who possess a multi-disciplinary background. As such, it is important to build better coordination between industry players and training organizations to make sure that aspirants and new recruits are trained for the right skills and that the industry improves on its job matching performance.
Mustering Industry Growth
Another important concern is the need for the industry to effectively manage its own rapid growth so as to protect itself from certain backlashes usually associated with over expansion. Efforts must be exerted to ensure that what we are now enjoying becomes sustainable and progressive.
To address this, call center companies need to monitor and document the quality of their customer care programs in view of periodic benchmarking. There should be no place for guess work and intuitive assessments of how their services rate vis-a-vis actual customer satisfaction. Numbers and statistics from empirical research will have to be recorded, noted, analyzed and exploited for the sake of providing internal controls that could anchor the whole industry.
Industry players also need to consolidate, by way of federations and associations, for the sake of maintaining industry standards through knowledge management and sharing. This will require the strengthening of industry collaboration whereby big and small players are able to share business data, strategies, and methodologies with fluidity. Coupled with stronger partnership with government ICT and BPO agencies and adequate infrastructure improvements, such collaborative efforts can make for a more equitable industry with regards resources, capabilities, and knowledge.
The principle behind this is, of course, the building up of an entire industry, not just of individual companies, as a global competitor capable of standing up to other world players. It’s the "together we stand" dictum that motivates it.
Linkages With Other Outsourcers
Integration should not only take place among call center players but must carry over to companies involved in other kinds of business outsourcing. This means that call centers will have to link up with other companies that offer other forms of customer contact services such as e-mail, chats, and cellphone text messaging or SMS.
The idea of to build a business network with a structure that easily allows for both the sharing of technology and the exchange of manpower.
The industry then becomes interconnected and synergy becomes possible. Different companies and industries would come to function as parts of a whole rather than isolated silos operating for their own survival.
There will also be the widening and deepening of job opportunities as employees from one industry find that career choices are also available to them in parallel or complimentary industries. The know-how they have gained from their previous employment is not thrown away as they move on to the next job, but instead serves as bridge for either vertical or horizontal job mobility.
Again, it’s the "together we stand" philosophy which is actually logical and to be expected given that the very business of outsourcing exists only thanks to a highly interconnected technology —— the Internet. Simply put, the industry must interconnect to survive and to prosper.
Global & Generative Leadership
There is also the need to build up a strong internal leadership that can push industry players to become more aggressive in meeting market needs and in creating business opportunities, innovations, and landmarks. Such leadership will be responsible for taking on the reigns of the industry and guiding it through a course that is steep in global competition and challenges.
It is a leadership that understands the dynamics of globalization vis-a-vis domestic policies and is capable of handling the growing interdependence among national economies. It must be able to open up opportunities for the country through active promotion and must be capable of responding to the demands of the global market through well projected developments in technological infrastructure and services.
This kind of leadership can generate new landmarks for the industry because it understand the relationship between domestic policy and the needs of the global market. It can position the Philippines higher up the global BPO and ICT hierarchy by leveraging the country’s inherent strengths and by maximizing value-added services. Above all, it can build on the country’s newfound credibility and capitalize on the foundation that has just been created through sound policy formation and implementation.
Hope For The Future
The economic expectations that have been pinned on the call center industry are realistic and potent. They come from concrete performance ratings and carefully assessed projections that represent what call centers are doing for the country’s economy. Indeed, the industry gives many Filipinos much reason for encouragement and optimism; it gives a sure sign that the Philippines can really make it big in the global stage.
But as the industry builds on to make the Philippines the e-services hub of the world, it needs to realize that periods of rapid growth should also be times for taking stock. It needs to understand more assuredly the importance of strengthening its foundations in order to become better prepared for future growth. In addressing important concerns while the going is good, the Philippine call center industry can truly become all that it promises to be —— a beacon of hope for all of us.
(The author is a pioneer in the call center industry as well as a leading consultant in human resource development for BPO and ICT companies in the country. She serves as government adviser in ICT matters and currently heads a committee dedicated to the promotion of the outsourcing business here and abroad. — Ed.)
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