A new management role in a different industry would be daunting for the best of us, but for Rodrigo Llaguno, the new Director General at Atento Mexico, the ground literally shook beneath his feet months into the transition.
Llaguno faced the unprecedented challenge of maintaining operations after one of the city’s strongest recorded earthquakes, which, on September 19, 2017, displaced hundreds of agents and disrupted operations for days.
A long-time customer of BPO services, Llaguno comes from a rich background in the airline industry, holding executive customer experience positions at Aeromexico, Avianca, and Taca Airlines, so he understands how important it is to balance emergency preparations with client expectations.
We sat down with Llaguno at Atento’s Dinamarca site in Mexico City to talk about the huge challenge he faced in his first year, and how the buy-side is adapting to the continued metamorphosis of BPO.
Nearshore Americas: What were the main operational challenges for Atento in Mexico City after the earthquake in September? How are the impacts affecting operations today?
Rodrigo Llaguno: The way we approached it was to prioritize how we addressed the issue. The first thing, of course, was the safety of our employees. With any emergency procedures, you have simulations and tests, but only once an event actually happens do you find out certain things that need to be better addressed. For example, when we previously considered our business continuity plans (BCPs), we didn’t expect eight sites to be down for a few hours at the same time, so we have now ensured that all our BCP procedures can be enacted simultaneously — this was one of the lessons that came out of it.
We lost access to around 1,800 seats and our Roma site had to be vacated, so we made use of our other sites as much as possible. For example, training facilities that we had are now populated with agents, and part of our Dinamarca site was filled with administrative people. We’re also leasing space from our medium-sized partners, so now we have six temporary sites within the city where we have relocated services – by the 15th of October, most of our services were up and running again. We had the people, we had the machines, we relocated all the equipment from the sites that we had, even putting buses in place for staff, so people-wise and facility-wise, we were ready in seven days. The toughest thing was getting network connectivity aligned across all of those sites.
In terms of BCP, it was, to a certain extent, easy to prioritize which services to bring back online first. We temporarily closed telemarketing and sales campaigns and gave priority to insurance and medical campaigns, or anything related to emergencies. Our customers were also amazing, lending us space while we found more permanent facilities, and allowing us to reduce service levels on certain scales while we got back on track – there was a lot of solidarity and empathy amid the chaos.
Nearshore Americas: What a massive challenge in your first year at Atento Mexico.
Rodrigo Llaguno: I like to take the positives, and for me it was an experience that allowed me to really get into the trenches, seeing things that would have otherwise taken me months to learn.
Nearshore Americas: Besides the earthquake, what have been the most difficult things about transitioning from the airline industry to a pure BPO company?
Rodrigo Llaguno: Originally coming from the buy-side, the biggest challenge has been swapping my customer hat to a vendor hat, which, at the same time, is an asset. Whenever I sit with the team or meet with a customer I really empathize with what they are going through. Even so, I can’t always think like the customer and am learning to adapt to the vendor way of thinking.
Nearshore Americas: That buy-side experience must help to see what clients are truly struggling with in today’s services industry. What would you say are the biggest concerns coming from customers?
Rodrigo Llaguno: There are three buzzwords out there: omnichannel, customer experience, and digital. These get thrown around at every company and every client will bring them up. It’s almost as if the CEOs get together to pay golf and say “do you have an omnichannel strategy?”, “no, let’s get one”, and then go ahead with it based on that.
At Atento, whenever we get asked about these things, one of our key strengths comes from the consolations we offer, helping us to really understand what they want to do. We found that digital might mean one thing to one person and something completely different to another, so we have been pushing investment into truly understanding what clients need and offering the right solutions.
From around 2009 to 2014, I always had to explain what customer experience (CX) was, because Latin America is a little behind the curve, which is another challenge we try to help customers address.
Nearshore Americas: How is Atento addressing the client confusion or lack of education that comes with new BPO technologies?
Rodrigo Llaguno: We have a global Atento Digital initiative, in which we package all of our digital solutions together. When explaining this to customers, I like to put things into different layers. For example, one layer includes everything related to web marketing, social media, and omnichannel servicing at a customer level. Another covers analytics and context analysis, or methods for using the information found at that level to help understand what is happening, whether in brand monitoring, customer interactions, or alerts, for example. Then we have back office processes, for which we are partnering with companies to help us digitize processes, whether that’s trade origination, policy issues, identity authentication, insurance, or anything where there is a process involved.
When it comes to artificial intelligence (AI), when companies talk about its success or failure, they really talk about business cases and processes, not specific tools. The way to approach AI with customers is to go to their pain points or their customer experience requirements and figure out how the tech may help us address those issues. And, with any technology, we cannot lead without process and people, at least for the next few years, so for AI to really work, we still need human input.
Nearshore Americas: What are the cost differentials of these layers? How do you determine, for example, the price for a customer that only wants a simple campaign and a few reports, compared to someone looking for full-on omnichannel services and analytics?
Rodrigo Llaguno: We’re trying to move away from the “old” pricing strategy, because it doesn’t really add value. If people are just looking for a certain amount of interactions or call and a price to go with that, we can certainly do that, but the way to quote something is getting much more complex.
The first time I quoted something in the BPO industry, it was literally just number of calls, so it was very straight forward, but right now you have the calls, the back office work, and the analytics, so we are trying to position ourselves more as a solutions provider. Today’s BPO is a consulting process, understanding what the client wants to achieve, and then outlining a solution.
Nearshore Americas: How does Atento view the Mexican market in comparison to the rest of Latin America? How is the company anticipating disruption from a potential peso devaluation?
Rodrigo Llaguno: There is a lot of momentum in the Mexican economy, and we are seeing more nearshore customers here, so we see a good future for our overall position in Latin America. There is enough traction in the internal Mexican economy, and the macroeconomics in general are good.
We are looking to see what happens with the US and NAFTA, but this is good for Atento Mexico at the end of the day. Personally, as a Mexican, I wouldn’t want to see a peso devaluation, but from the nearshore perspective it’s a good thing, lowering costs even more for our growing base of US customers, and driving business further. The nearshore benefits will still be there, and our cost differential between here and the Philippines is getting smaller, so I don’t think any changes to NAFTA will affect BPO trade between Mexico and the US in the long term.