In the corporate world, it’s painfully common for companies to boast about how incredible their work environments are for workers, but, for the on-the-floor agents that experience it every single day, the reality is often very different. So, to find out if BPO companies in Jamaica are delivering on their promises, we interviewed a handful of individuals with first-hand experience of working within some of the companies on the island.
With levels of compensation highest on the totem pole, some of these workers have commended Advantage Communications, Ibex Global, and Sutherland Global Services for offering very competitive pay packages, but others found them unsatisfactory. Most of out interviewees agreed that an attractive compensation package, on-the-job training, flexible working hours, and scope for promotions are all incentives that will retain their services. Furthermore, companies were given high marks for the on the job coaching, mentoring, and training that is provided to employees.
NOTE: These interviews were performed randomly and responses were only recorded from agents who agreed to reveal their true opinions. Some of their names have been changed by request.
According to Marie and Jennifer, whose names have been changed at their request, a customer service representative at Advantage Communications earns up to J$370 (US$2.87) per hour, which works out to J$14,800 (US$115) per week for a 40-hour work week. Both women indicated that they could earn more if they worked overtime, which has recently cut by the company.
“The salary compared to other call centers (BPO) is fine,” said 20 year-old Jennifer who is also a full time tertiary student. “We also get weekly lunch allowances, which has helped to cushion expenses. They also offer health insurance.”
Marie, while comfortable with the pay package, thinks that the company should raise the salary as the demands on workers have increased.
“Before, I thought they were paying well compared to other call centers, but now they have introduced new requirements where we are asked to have a minimum talk time of three and a half minutes with a customer, which is down from four and a half minutes. Sometimes it is challenging to achieve this as with just opening a call could take you up to two minutes, especially if you have a difficult customer. However, we have to be creative in trying to reach this goal. With this new requirement, it would be fair to raise our salaries,” she argued.
Both Marie and Jennifer gave praise to their overall experiences at Advantage Communications, explaining that each customer service representative is placed in a group with a team leader and they are provided with on the job coaching. “They call it an Agent Improvement Plan,” explained Marie. “This helps with keeping up your productivity and you are guided on how to resolves issues with difficult clients.”
Ibex Global, which recently expanded its operations in Jamaica, is doling out J$412 (US$3.20) per hour or J$16,480 (US$128) per week for a 40-hour work week to its customer service representatives.
“The salary is okay,” said Janet, a customer service representative who has been with the company just three months. Again, her name has been changed by request.
Janet gives Ibex Global a higher than average rating for training and mentoring on the job. “On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, I would rate them a seven, because the support on the job is good,” she said. “Initially, there was not much support, but this has improved.”
Sutherland Global Services
Scott is quite comfortable with the salary package offered at Sutherland Global Services, where customer service representatives earn J$315 (US$2.44) per hour, raising up to J$450 (US$3.49) per hour at the supervisor level.
Twenty-eight year-old Scott, who has been with the company for the past two years recently got promoted to supervisor said he is “very happy” with his salary. He also informed that the salary can be more if you are able to earn bonuses, which are paid based on performance.
“This can range between J$7,500 (US$58) to J$20,000 (US$155), which is given based on criteria of a performance on a tier basis,” he explained.
Toni-Ann Burke, a former customer service representative at Startek, decided to quit her job because the salary package was unsatisfactory. “You do not receive a set income, the salary is based on the number of calls that you handle for the day. If no calls come in, you do not receive a salary,” she explained.
Burke who has been with the company for the past five months said that the fluctuation in salary forced her to throw in the towel and to revert to a 9-5 job where she gets a fixed income at the end of the month.
“I have a young son to take care of,” the 20 year-old pointed out. She however noted that she would encourage others to the job. “I would recommend young persons who do not have the responsibility of a child to take on this job because there are opportunities for promotion,” she said.
Even so, Burke was positive about the overall experience at Startek: “The working environment was good. Persons on the production floor take the time to train and coach you. If you make a mistake, they log you into coaching and explain to you where you went wrong and advise you on how you should have handled the call.”
Debbie (not her real name), who works at Xerox, complained that her salary package was not good. She is paid an average of J$16,000 (US$124) per fortnight for an eight-hour shift. However, she did note that there are opportunities to get incentives whenever customers give positive feedback on the level of customer service in terms of resolving their problems. But this, she informed, is difficult to achieve.
Scope for Promotion
Scott is not looking to leave his job anytime soon as he sees himself growing professionally at Sutherland Global. “I recently got promoted to supervisor after being in the job for just a year. By next year, my goal is to be a team manager,” he said with great expectation in his voice.
He said he enjoys his job as it is an opportunity to meet people with different culture and background and that the job provides the necessary experience and a stable income so that he can take care of his young son.
Jennifer, who is pursuing a Bachelors Degree at one of Jamaica’s tertiary institutions, said that she hopes to be still working at Advantage Communications after completion of her studies.
“I want to be there in the next five years but I hope to be in a senior position. I think there is scope for that there,” she said.
Janet, who has a first degree in Education, is hoping that she will get promoted after six months to team leader at Xerox. “They have been advertising for team leaders and one of the requirements is an Associate or Bachelor’s Degree. But they want you to have at least six months experience. I’m hoping that after getting more experience, I can apply.”
Flexible Work Hours
Most of these BPO providers operate on a shift system, but while some workers embrace it, others find it stressful.
For Jennifer, the flexible working hours at Advantage Communications suits her. “I’m a student and they work with my timetable so that I can attend school,” she said. “They also offer shift trading. So if you are unable to do a shift, you liaise with your colleagues and swap your shift with them.”
Over at Sutherland Global, Scott explained that the hours or shifts vary with frequent rotations. He also pointed out a preference for doing the graveyard shift.
Meanwhile, Janet at Xerox thinks the working hours are stressful. “The hours are atrocious,” she said, pointing out that a shift can sometime commence at 1:00 AM. She also noted that there was no flexibility to change shifts.
Agreeing with Janet, Burke pointed out that her shifts at Startek varied from 16:00 to 01:00; 07:00 to 16:00, and 09:00 to 18:00. “The call center job is not for me,” she said. “The hours are crazy and sometimes I didn’t get to spend time with my son. I need to work at a job where the shift is consistent and it is a shift that will facilitate me spending time with my son,” she said.