Honduras BPO is currently facing new challenges following almost two weeks of political unrest and protests stemming from the country’s unresolved presidential elections.
Tenured players such as Convergys, Collective Solution, Alorica, and Startek are having to overcome issues in staff absences, security, and a suddenly negative perception of Honduras internationally, all resulting from new instability across the country.
Scheduling Around a Curfew
One of the most difficult issues was a military curfew, which went into place suddenly on Friday, Dec. 1. Current president Juan Orlando Hernández ordered the measure to reduce the risk of violence between protesters and police.
The curfew, which ran from 6am to 6pm for four days, before extending to 8pm and 10pm by the end of the week, meant that companies had to rearrange staff schedules. Night staff were moved to daytime shifts, or, in some cases, people would stay on-site overnight until they were free to travel.
San Pedro Sula’s Altia Business Park, where Alorica, Convergys, and Startek are located, was able to obtain a special permit for some companies that allowed staff to work night shifts or travel outside of the curfew. Altia also implemented some precautions to ensure operations could remain consistent.
“While there haven’t been any threats or attempts to damage the zone, we have increased security and patrols as a precaution for clients, as well as monitoring the situation and keeping clients informed,” said Kathia Yacaman, Corporate Marketing and Sales Manager at Grupo Karims, the park’s operator.
“The area is safe where Altia is located, so things have been normal – we even had visitors from new BPO clients from the US,” she continued (Full disclosure: Nearshore Americas conducted a BPO investor trade mission during parts of the week of November 26th in San Pedro Sula).
Yacaman said that most of the trouble was on the outskirts of the city, with protests and revolts occurring at the toll booths and city access points. Combined with the curfew, the resulting transportation lockdowns have had the biggest impact on staff attendance.
“The BPO industry is going to be safe,” said Peter Fleming, CEO of the Transformation Unit at Honduras 2020, the country’s government-backed development agency. “Results from the last year have been very positive for the sector, which is why we communicated our concern to the president to stop this situation.”
Fleming highlighted that Honduras 2020 didn’t receive any requests for assistance or advice from the BPOs, as they reportedly “didn’t have any problems” and “everything was the same as always”.
Even so, Rodolfo Romero, Client Services Manager at Collective Solution, said that staff absence was leading to dipping service levels, creating a huge challenge for BPOs.
“Service levels impact revenue and the employee base, which in turn breeds uncertainty, which will then breed mass hysteria that affects attendance,” he said, pointing out a 25% drop in attendance since the crisis started in mid-November.
Collective Solution operates another site in the Philippines with 1,100 seats and one with 1,100 in Jamaica, alongside its 500 in Honduras and its US-based headquarters, so has been able to redirect call volume to cover staff absence.
“Clients were extremely receptive to the issue,” said Romero. “We spent around three hours talking to clients to give them peace of mind, and all of them were assured by our strategy and motivation to make things work.”
For Convergys, which has call centers in six Latin American locations, volume rerouting was not an issue. Most calls were redirected to Colombia, but some smaller accounts took a hit in terms of agent availability.
“Due to us being on the US west coast, the 6pm curfew affected our ability to answer calls,” said Christina Vasquez, Consumer Relations Manager at Kyocera, one of Convergys’s clients.
To overcome this, Kyocera setup a voicemail for customers that explains “we are having technical difficulties”. First thing in the morning, those same customers then get a call back from agents.
Despite the situation in Honduras, the company’s decision to continue working with Convergys in the country has not been affected. “We were already familiar with some political unrest and insecurity, due to us being close to the Mexican border, and the past four years here we have had no issues whatsoever, so nobody is talking about moving,” said Vasquez.
Nearshore Americas contacted both Startek and Alorica, but neither company provided comments.
Shifting Honduras Perception
With the United States issuing a new travel warning in the wake of these events, there’s no denying that the stateside perception of the country will change, but BPO players are not fazed by this, as they have been dealing with similar attitudes for some time.
“Honduras has been having issues with image and perception since the industry really stated rolling in 2010,” said Romero. “Ultimately, if companies are able to build relationships with their clients to provide trust and peace of mind, then this won’t affect things drastically. On the government side, there are around 20,000 people in the industry right now, so it would be foolish for whoever is elected to tamper with it.”
According to Noel Hernandez, a former Team Leader at Convergys, clients have been showing deep concern about the situation, but thanks to a large network of global facilities, performance levels, KPIs, and staff morale were maintained. “Agents I know have been joking about the elections, to be honest, and it gives them something to talk about,” he said.
Meanwhile, the election results are still in hot dispute, and the opposition party has requested that they be annulled, creating political deadlock. While the electoral tribunal has not declared an official winner, it must do so by December 26, meaning another two weeks of potential uncertainty.
While the military curfew has now been lifted and the dust settles after the first election results, the next two weeks could be still trying for the BPO industry if tensions rise further.
Featured image: hondudiaro.com