Automation and Client Demands Drive Evolving BPO Skill Sets

By Duncan Tucker As clients grow more demanding and technological advances facilitate the onset of automated work, BPO workers must become more flexible and rounded, with universal skill …

“We need to be smarter and faster than our rivals. We always need to be ahead," says Jean-Christophe Ravaux, SVP at Capgemini.

By Duncan Tucker

As clients grow more demanding and technological advances facilitate the onset of automated work, BPO workers must become more flexible and rounded, with universal skill sets that enable them to perform a broader range of tasks.

Meanwhile, in order to improve retention and develop a more mature and sophisticated workforce, their employers must invest in more comprehensive training programs and ensure that staff see tangible long-term career opportunities within their organization. That was the message that executives from BPO giants Capgemini and Teleperformance conveyed to Nearshore Americas when questioned about how the evolution of skill sets required for global BPO work.

Jean-Christophe Ravaux, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Business Transformation at Capgemini, affirmed that today’s BPO workers need more Cloud and analytics training as well as further specialist training to oversee automated work. For this reason, he said, Capgemini has adopted a new curriculum in order to meet the levels of demand and sophistication that clients are now demanding.

“In terms of skill sets we’ve moved drastically from being a strong business operator to a more holistic engagement executive role,” Ravaux said. Rather than mere back-end support staff, Capgemini’s BPO workers are more like front-end consultants specialized in different industries and with a broad capacity to grow and work on diverse projects, he explained. “After a couple of years they become team leaders. Every 18 to 24 months our staff change roles. They change clients and they change industries,” Ravaux added, noting that having multi-talented staff like this makes the company more credible in the eyes of its clients.

Capgemini recently doubled its presence in North America through the acquisition of Indian technology services provider iGATE, Ravaux said. He could not reveal how many staff the company is taking on from iGATE in the nearshore region but he said that the acquired firm’s assets and vertical-centric IT solutions will complement Capgemini’s operations nicely: “We bring the methodology and they bring these capabilities and products and I think that should be a very positive combination.” Noting that 40% of iGATE’s business is related to financial services, Ravaux said the acquisition will reinforce Capgemini’s finance-related offerings in Brazil, although this is a market area where the company was already particularly strong. Taking on iGATE’s Mexican operations will also complement Capgemini’s BPO operations in neighboring Guatemala, which have also “recorded massive growth,” he added.

Skills and Certification Challenges

Alejandro Hernandez, the Chief Human Resources Officer at Teleperformance in Mexico, told Nearshore Americas that there is a greater demand for what he describes as “universal profiles.” He explained, “I see more and more approval of profiles when the need is for people with universal skills who can change from one kind of call to another, thus giving clients a more flexible workforce. Before agents worked in customer service, technical support or sales, but now clients want people to be able to handle all three. It’s something that they’re demanding now so us BPOs need to have the ability to develop or identify the right talent to meet their needs.”

Hernandez noted that is also greater demand for BPO workers with a higher level of educational experience today. Clients “prefer for staff to have past experience, or high school or further education. This educational experience gives you greater flexibility and maturity, basic skills for being able to tend to customers,” he said. “There are people out there but it can be hard to find those with the right profile. Sometimes those who are available in the market didn’t finish high school because they moved to the United States or started their own business. They have the right abilities but they don’t have the certifications,” Hernandez added. “So I think we must work with the government through open school programs to solve this problem, so that the people who are apt and available are able to obtain the certifications in order to meet the requirements that clients establish in their contracts.”

Ravaux agreed that a lack of certified workers had been posing a problem for Capgemini. In a bid to resolve this issue, he said, “We’ve invented a BPO certification around transformation capability for people who can do content modeling and have consulting skill sets – they’re a different kind of talent.” Capgemini has developed its own universities and academies which offer training and certification programs based on a curriculum devised by the company. “We’re perfecting these models, area by area and industry by industry,” Ravaux said of Capgemini’s training programs.

In order to accelerate the development of Capgemini’s most talented new employees, the company has also introduced a mentoring program that partners vice presidents with high-performing employees of the opposite gender. The idea is to bring together people with different experiences from different generations, genders, cultures and put bright new recruits in “situations where they can further demonstrate their ability,” Ravaux said. “We get them certified because we’re not deviating from the curriculum that we’ve put in place, but they will be progressing a bit faster than others. It’s also good for retention. This is a way to show that we genuinely do care about people. When you’ve got top leaders coaching individuals from other parts of the organization then the loyalty we show people is paid back ten times over.”

Teleperformance has also “evolved and been working very hard on our training programs,” Hernandez said: “We have programs in which we provide participants with opportunities to develop their skills so that they can become supervisors or coaches or work in quality assurance. We’ve changed the content of our curriculum because times have changed. I think this is essential for any BPO or any organization because if you stop investing in your first-line management then you’re done for.”

Improving Retention

Ravaux repeatedly emphasized the crucial importance of retention and creating clear career paths for employees. “This is a talent industry and we try to avoid a talent war. We select people who can climb the ladder or the pyramid,” he said. “We need to be smarter and faster than our rivals. We always need to be ahead. We’re in an industry where to do nothing is not an option. To retain our people we not only need to have more and more clients but also to elevate our training programs and create more interesting jobs. That’s what we’ve been working on for the last five or six years. This is why people stay with us.”

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Encouraging employees to frequently work in new areas instead of one fixed-position not only makes them more flexible and attractive workers but also keeps them motivated and mentally stimulated, Ravaux added. “When you look at the new generation their attention span is reduced to 12 to 18 months. So they need that stimulus,” he said. “But not many clients – even global corporations – can offer work that is not position-based. So if they don’t get a promotion after two or three years the employees move on because they are bored and nobody’s investing in their education.”

Even when Capgemini does lose staff, Ravaux said it’s not uncommon to see them return within a few years: “We have clients poaching our talent from time to time because of their expertise. They overpay them to attract them but after two years they often get bored because it’s position-based, they’re working with just one client and soon they’ve had enough and they come back to us.”

Overall, he believes Capgemini offers “a pretty rich career path.” Many people start out there almost by accident and only regard it as a short-term option, he admitted, “but then they realize that after many years in the business they’re enjoying it more and more because they can grow as people leaders, take on added responsibilities and have partner roles.”

Hernandez described the perception of BPO work as a short-term career option as an undeniable problem for the industry, but one that can be overcome. “There are some businesses out there who don’t take human capital seriously,” he said, “but we have a policy of investing heavily in our people; we’re constantly carrying out employee satisfaction surveys and we’re certifying more and more sites with the Great Place to Work institute. I think we must work very hard to show people that they can develop here. We have many success stories of directors and managers who started out taking calls.” Hernandez added: “Nearshore workers tend to have strong social and cultural aspirations. They’re people that have lived in the United States or studied English and they want to keep growing. We try to make sure that they have very clear career paths so that they understand how far they can go. I think if you give people a clear idea of how far they can go then those that are focused will achieve it.”

Finding the Right Profiles

In Latin America there is a growing need for profiles with greater technical skills and high-tech knowledge,” Hernandez said. “The way in which people contact our staff is changing. We’re evolving from the telephone to social networks,” he added. “Although the telephone is still the principal means of reaching customers, it’s very important that we bear in mind that social networks are the channel of the future.”  When it comes to finding talent with the right skill sets, Hernandez said he believes in-house training is more important than an ability to find the perfect potential employee. He also stressed that “the government a needs to work with us to develop the industry as an important source of employment.”

Hernandez explained: “One of the greatest needs of all Latin American countries is for job creation and we see ourselves as great generators of employment. So we need to talk to our governments and say ‘hey, help us out with this.’ I think if we work together we can achieve our aims. In Mexico I think there are about 80,000 or 90,000 people employed in the BPO industry and we’re a country of 120 million inhabitants. Surely there are more people out there who could be working in this industry.”

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