After two years of consolidation following the creation of the Sitel Group in the wake of Groupe Acticall’s acquisition of Sitel, the company is looking to grow its business across its nearshore offerings – and top priority is Colombia. Newly appointed CEO of the Americas, Mike Small, sees “white hot growth” in the Colombian market, describing it as a category one geography where the growth is driven by the market conditions as well as client demand.
“We doubled our business there in the last 15 months and we will be in a position to scale and potentially double it again in the next 24 months,” he says. “It’s our top priority.”
Part of that, Small adds, is getting the team there right and he is quick to praise the leadership of Country Manager Eduardo Endo Gomes and his team. Small has been working with them, “building plans to continuously accelerate our growth in Colombia and build out a world class operation there and being able to handle the scale of the demand of the growth.”
Mature Markets Equate to Demand for Complex Work
While Colombia is the priority, the second category of expansion plans are what Small describes as markets that are very well established and very mature, where he sees trends in clients looking for significantly high-value, complex work.
“This is really a category where it is quite rewarding to see nearshore. The traditional cost benefit, arbitrage opportunity in these markets, is being replaced with the realization that these markets are able to outperform many of our clients’ captive onshore centers. That allows us to both continue to be cost effective, but also to completely invest more in our people around their growth, their development, their tenure, to really embrace the new mandate on high complex business,” Small says.
For Sitel, those markets are Mexico, Panama, and Nicaragua, which are well established, with outstanding results in terms of KPIs and highly tenured teams. Sitel has recently completed a massive capital investment to build a center of excellence in Panama. “We already have a wide-ranging center of excellence in Nicaragua,” Small adds.
Sitel has also injected significant capital around San Pedro, Mexico, rebuilding its delivery operation and team there. “The team there was recently the top quartile performing team in one of the most complex programs we have globally,” he says.
”We see phenomenal momentum in this category. It is all about embracing the new mandate. The dynamic has shifted from past arbitrage in nearshore to how do we outperform in many cases our clients’ captive centers that are onshore and our own captives onshore, and really focus on high complex work.”
Employee Engagement Top Priority in Onshore
In the onshore space, Small says that, based on the US’ labor unemployment rates, he sees the emergence of a highly competitive labor market, which is no longer just focused around employee hourly wage, but around employee engagement.
Small says the real question is around how do we increase the employee engagement of all aspects of Sitel as an organization. a core part of that is developing a career path to agents onshore that provides progression, especially around the high complex work that requires licensing, certification and will be with clients that will always be onshore.
“The value proposition for our clients is obviously performance and cost but with the competing wage pressure that we are on in the US market (clients as well as BPOs), the ability to provide an employee engagement experience, diversification of labor pool and markets by state, and being able to really look holistically within the footprint strategy, both internally and outsourced, is absolutely critical. That requires organizations that can have a proposition to both employees and clients,” he says.
It is about all aspects of progression from showing the ability to grow into a digital consultant, into a learning specialist, to being on projects that are working more with technology than working on coaching the floor and driving performance on the floor in terms of production.
“These are exciting times onshore, that requires a different strategy, that requires capital investment,” Small says.
The last two years have been focused on bringing together the two companies and injecting new thought leadership and talent and taking the company in a different direction. Part of that has been financial re-engineering of the balance sheet as well as strategy in terms of both footprint and focus.
“From a footprint perspective we have invested significantly around our IT as well as our footprint sites, and transformation is under way in many of our nearshore, offshore and onshore centers,” he says.
“From a strategy standpoint our focus has been on diversifying our business so that we are looking at bringing forward more value around digital transformation, data and analytics, thought leadership associated with higher value services around our venture companies, which are areas focused on digital learning and data analytics, especially voice transcription.”
He explains that it is about a holistic view of how digital is impacting each of our clients. Part of that is about the transformation of how Sitel develop and train its associates and understanding how they want to learn.
The nearshore remains a good talent ecosystem for Sitel’s needs. Small describes Colombia as a challenge, but emphasizes that Sitel will continue to play its role in the development of talent. “Our Colombian team has the energy, the commitment, the passion. We have a fantastic team, fully committed with the right leadership.”
In Panama and Nicaragua, Small says Sitel continues to attract phenomenal talent in these markets. He uses the example of one of the site directors, who graduated as a medical doctor in Nicaragua, and who has a different perspective on people, on talent. “The wonderful thing about our Nicaragua operations is how that team operates like a family. It’s evident in their employee engagement, in their client program results. Exporting that to other geographies is absolutely part of our strategy. The focus is on how do we replicate that type of talent elsewhere.”
In Mexico and the US, both of which are mature, Small says it is really about “a race to the top in terms of embracing the new world we live in.” In those markets there is a significant workforce management challenge around, for example, the ability to embrace new strategies like work at home flexible programs. It is also about ensuring talent has the ability to manage complexity, whether that is around licensing, certification, regulatory, compliance, and so on.
Forward Focus and Freedom to Fail
The core challenge for Sitel going forward, and part of Small’s focus, is a cultural one. It is about ensuring that employees are really able to experiment and take balanced risks. This relies on having the freedom to fail. “I am a firm believer in failing fast, taking the learning and then applying it to the next project, but we still have a culture of precision where failure is not an option,” he says.
“This is where taking balanced risks and encouraging our people to experiment and bring forward the ideas with a plan, with the data, with the actions that have already been taken and with the insight from those actions is where we are trying to head as an organization. We care about being absolutely customer obsessed and data driven. That’s where I spend about 30%-40% of my time, taking that message to every center, every site, and ensuring that everyone feels that we have a stake in that mission.”
Sitel is bullish about growth. Small adds that although Sitel does not have significant plans to grow in scale in Brazil based on demand right now, they are very happy with the team there and maintaining what they already have there.
“In terms of new markets, we are very attuned to assessing geopolitical sensitivities and risks in the market, but also 100% committed to growth in nearshore. Specifically, we are looking at scaling the operations we have, adding one more market in Colombia as a country, continuously growing Nicaragua, Panama, and Mexico and actively exploring adding another country in the region by 2020.”