Since suffering a 5.1% decline in revenue between 2012 and 2013, Brazil’s BPO and contact center services market has been on the road to recovery, as sizable players strengthen their commitment to the country.
Earlier this year, the government passed a legislative bill allowing businesses to hire more temporary workers on longer-term contracts, giving the industry a revitalizing shot in the arm. Following this news, Spanish giant Atento bulked up in Brazil with 2,500 more agents, despite reporting more than a 10% decline in revenue for 2Q16, showing that there is plenty of confidence in the country’s potential.
We sat down with Fernando Estrazulas, Country Director Brazil at Sykes Enterprises, to find out what the company has been doing in Brazil to overcome longstanding issues such as bilingual talent shortage, inflexible labor laws, and economic struggles.
NB: The comments in this article are the personal opinions of Mr. Estrazulas, not of Sykes Enterprises.
Nearshore Americas: From your perspective, what is Brazil’s current position for serving the domestic contact center market? Is talent readily available?
Fernando Estrazulas: In my opinion, Brazil still has a large pool of talent that positions the country as one of the BPO players of the future. As per the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), 62% of Brazilians are aged 29 or under. Brazil also has good universities and is renowned for having interesting diversity, both ethnic and cultural, with happy people who are flexible and willing to grow.
Industry wise, Brazil has developed very well in finance and has strong capabilities in the consumer goods industry, forming the necessary abilities for complex understanding of integrated supply chains. Brazil also has digitally savvy customers and our global digital solutions for multichannel, social media care and digital marketing are also within reach of the Brazilian market.
Nearshore Americas: What does this mean for your recruitment efforts, and how is the country developing in bilingualism?
Fernando Estrazulas: This helps us to focus on hiring people who are willing to work, learn, and grow with us. We want to be an employer of choice in Brazil, and we have development programs that combine technology and digital platforms with best practices for client relationships. Brazil has enormous potential for developing English speakers, coupled with its convenient time zone to serve clients in North America and West-Central Europe.
For some time, it would take me 6 months to get 200 people for an English-speaking campaign, but this is no longer an issue, and within 5-10 years, bilingualism will not be an issue at all.
At Sykes, we have had an academy in operation since 2007, which has admitted more than 10,000 people who have been upskilled in English. After normal working hours, the Sykes facility could be mistaken for an English school, as many agents stay back to grow their English abilities. While we have employed people with English backgrounds to achieve this, you have to remember that this is a poor country, so not many people have had English exposure overseas.
Nearshore Americas: Besides the recruitment focus, what is Sykes’ overall strategy for Brazil? Are recent economic events slowing the company’s growth plans?
Fernando Estrazulas: Although the political challenges and an economic downturn have changed the landscape for organizations operating within the country, we are in the country we think we should be in. Acquisitions are always a possibility for business growth.
Compared to other Latin American countries, Brazil is the largest economy in the whole region. On a government perspective, fiscal incentives, programs to promote education, external investments, and industry developments may completely change the economic scenario for this industry, which is, by its very nature, a job-creator.
For a long time, Brazil has been a country of business exceptions, with very specific local particularities. However, as a top ten global economy, Brazil has become stronger in its business process perspective, allowing international players like Sykes to implement best-in-class global practices. This movement also opens up different perspectives and a more global view on the customer care industry cultural alignment in Brazil.
Nearshore Americas: How is BPO perceived in Brazil right now, from both the perspectives of government and general population?
Fernando Estrazulas: The perception of BPO industry in Brazil has been overshadowed by a complex regulatory labor system. However, Brazil has now followed the global trend and has made the working relations and labor laws more flexible. As an example, Brazil has passed a legislative bill allowing businesses to hire more temporary workers on longer-term contracts, giving the information technology and professional services sector an important incentive and contributing to the change in perception.
Taxation in Brazil has commonly been much more complex, but the government is now also focusing on the simplification of tax laws. Similarly, labor laws are becoming more simplified and flexible. On the other hand, offshoring services is expensive because of very high import duties, but these duties will be reduced to allow Brazil to buy more services from other countries, in the same way as other global economies.
Even so, the BPO and contact center industry potential in Brazil hasn’t been fully explored so far. What we do see is a lot of companies with captive shared service centres and captive customer care operations. The market size is still unknown, but there is undeniably a lot of room for growth.