Qualfon’s CEO: Social Media’s Slow Simmer, Educating on A.I., and Where Costa Rica Fits

Mike Marrow, CEO of Qualfon, explains how client demands determine the company’s Nearshore strategy, as well as how social media is lagging far behind its potential.

mike marrow qualfon

Hot on the heels of its recent acquisition of Dialog Direct, Global BPO provider Qualfon has been satiating client demands by growing its Nearshore presence. But, while next-gen service technologies are a hot topic, the company’s leadership is noticing a surprising gap in the need for social media support channels.

We sat down with Mike Marrow, CEO of Qualfon, to discuss how changes in the market are determining the company’s Nearshore expansion strategy, as well as how demand for social media is lagging far behind the channel’s potential.

Nearshore Americas: How have client needs and requirements determined the company’s growth and expansion strategies in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Guyana?

mike marrow qualfonMike Marrow: Our growth and expansion is really driven by what we are hearing from our clients. We’re not going out and building greenfield sites where we hope it might be interesting for someone, or trying to force work in that direction, as that’s just not a good strategy. It’s all about being responsive to client needs, as they determine where we go and the scale at which we grow.

Part of our job is in understanding a client’s needs and delivering on them, so we are very much client-driven in our approach. If a client has a specific request for Nearshore, bilingual, English, or a specific price point, then we first suggest the best location to fulfill those needs — it’s better to offer a solution that matches that, versus trying to sell them a solution that works for us, but doesn’t necessarily work for them, because in the long-run that impacts the relationship.

We are seeing an increase in demand for our Nearshore locations, which are attractive to clients because of the well-documented benefits of cultural affinity to the United States, proximity, competitive price points, and availability of scalable English programs.

Nearshore Americas: How much did the local BPO industry of Costa Rica affect the decision to purchase Dialog Direct, and what new challenges are you facing in the country?

Mike Marrow: While we historically had a site in Costa Rica, we turned that over to a BPO we parented with, so our recent acquisition of Dialog Direct allowed us to reenter the country. If we didn’t acquire Dialog Direct, maybe we wouldn’t have entered Costa Rica, as it wasn’t on our near-term radar, but we think it’s a great location. We have many legacy Qualfon clients that can now leverage this new Latin American location.

Costa Rica’s strengths lie in the technological skills of its agents, and there is a tremendous amount of application development within Dialog Direct that is growing. We will probably do a chunk of that out of India, but if there is a need to do something Nearshore then Costa Rica would be a great choice.

Nearshore Americas: How are new technologies impacting Qualfon’s service offering, internal operations, and client sourcing decisions?

Mike Marrow: Right now, chatbots, AI, and social media are small pieces of the business, and we spend more time educating and consulting than actually executing. I see quite frequently that clients hear about these technologies and are interested but really aren’t quite sure how it will benefit them. Even so, since everyone else is doing it, the general consensus is that they better get on board with it themselves. A big part of this is explaining the possibilities, the benefits, the investments required, and how it will help them as an organization, making us take on more of a consultant and educator role.

For Qualfon, we put more time, energy, and investment into looking ahead and being prepared. There is not yet huge demand for AI, for example, but in six months that could all change, so we have to be prepared for it. With the right understanding of both the outsourced and internal functions within a client’s business, it’s far easier to suggest things that can add value to the organization.

Nearshore Americas: How is social media customer service evolving? Are you seeing more demand in the markets in which you operate?

Mike Marrow: You would think that most organizations would have a solid social media solution process, but I’m finding that this is not the case. Many clients just haven’t gotten to the point where they are ready to pull the trigger and get going. Once they do, it is a constant learning and refining process — we help clients at all stages of this process.

As an example of the current climate, maybe a company has around 10,000 people taking customer service calls, but they may only have around 5 people monitoring social media. If you take into account how people communicate today, that doesn’t seem to be the right balance. Many companies may not even be aware of the size of their need when it comes to social media. In addition, they are continually looking for better ways to make a bigger impact for their customers through this medium.

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Nearshore Americas: What new challenges or trends are driving the strategy behind Qualfon’s Nearshore operations?

Mike Marrow: Short travel time and time zone alignment are the most frequently broached topics when clients approach us, followed by price. While the Nearshore price intensity is slightly higher than in India and the Philippines, it is not dramatically higher, and Guyana is now very comparable. The slightly higher cost is because, in most locations where English is of a high quality, like Honduras, Guatemala, or Mexico City, agents are in very high demand from international companies, as well as our competitors.

To get around this, it’s all about recruiting and retention, which is where the vast majority of our efforts are focused. This is done through lots of different channels, such as social media, and especially referrals from our own employees, so people know that we are there and we are great place to work. Mexico City, for example, is a gigantic city, so getting the word out about Qualfon is an ongoing task. On the retention side, we are giving agents a reason to stick with the company, so getting involved with their lives and helping them succeed in all the things they want to do, not just things related to the job.

Our Mission Offices are responsible for sponsoring and executing initiatives to make people’s lives better. We also have things like Fun Clubs, which are started and managed by employees who want to socialize with other people who share similar interests, such as photography, for example. Qualfon also supports the clubs with things like transport for group excursions.

Nearshore Americas: What have recently been some of the significant local impacts on business in the three Nearshore countries in which you operate?

Mike Marrow: The government of Guyana is due to receive a lot of royalties from offshore oil, which will be invested into telecommunications, infrastructure, hospitals, education, and things of that nature. This will be fantastic for the country. In 13 years we have seen a lot of development in Guyana, but this is a real opportunity to take many more steps forward.

A lot of Guyanese are living outside of Guyana, especially those that are well-educated, so this could help to attract them back home and further expand an already abundant talent pool. Even though the population of Guyana is less than in many other nearshore countries, the fact that it is an English speaking country makes it a highly scalable location for our industry.