Telus International Eyes Colombia for Expansion Possibilities

Nearshore Americas sat down with Jeff Puritt, President and CEO of Telus International, to talk digital transformation, tri- and quadrilingual talent in the region, and growth opportunities in Guatemala and El Salvador.

With a headcount of 9,000 across Guatemala and El Salvador, Telus International continues to look for expansion opportunities – and President and CEO Jeff Puritt told Nearshore Americas that Colombia was attracting attention as a possible site for future growth. “So for example in terms of additional scale around bilingual English and Spanish capabilities and high value technical capabilities, Colombia has been a market we have been looking at more closely of late,” he says.

Puritt, who went on a reconnaissance mission to the country recently, adds: “It’s remarkable and a real testament to the investment the government is making. Bogota continues to be the most popular city there and there is already a fairly robust business services ecosystem in place, but perhaps more nascent are Medellin and Barranquilla, both of which have remarkably robust infrastructure – not only physical infrastructure but also a rapidly growing labor pool.”

TelusAlthough Telus International have no concrete plans for Colombia as yet, Puritt says that they try to keep their eyes open for growth opportunities all the time. “I tend to shy away from a ‘build it and they will come’ dynamic. We try to ensure that we have the requisite dry powder balance sheet strength, surplus capital and management capabilities to expand our business where our customers want and need us to be.”

And Telus International has been growing – from a headcount of 1,350 at the time of the acquisition of Transactel in 2008, rebranded as Telus International Central America in 2014, to more than 9,000 across both sites today. The appeal of these geographies lies not only in the proximity to the US and the cultural affinity with North America, but also in the talent.

“Consistent with the trajectory of the business, Latin America has been an exciting source of talent for us and much of our growth has not come just from serving the bilingual Spanish-English market but also from servicing the more technology-centric requirements for our customers,” Puritt explained.

“We are pleased with the ability to source higher value talent in the region. Governments continue to recognize the opportunity that providing talent to our industry presents,” he adds. Significantly, both Guatemala and El Salvador have allowed Telus International to source a non-trivial amount of tri- and quadrilingual talent that have French and German language capabilities.

He explained that the demands of digital transformation require growth and, to support the growth rate, the company has continued to source hundreds of new team members every month.

“This requires that the labor pool be quite deep and broad, and we have not been challenged or frustrated in trying to find that talent, save for non-Spanish and English language skills at scale. Even with this, we have been able to source over 300 trilingual team members with French, Spanish and English from Latin America,” he says. “And the talent has a growing competency to participate in digital transformation.”

Puritt explains that growth across the company has been driven by an intentional effort to leverage its highly trained team members to take advantage of some of the digital transformation trends it sees.

“We realized a long time ago that looking at the margins on traditional voice services, we would see the likely deterioration of opportunities if we continued to focus exclusively on inbound voice, especially with the potential around AI and robotic process automation (RPA),” he says.

Telus International focused on helping to improve the client experience in those predictable, repeatable interactions that historically were supported by live agents, but now could be serviced by chatbots. “Everything from password resets on computer to data top ups can be done in this way and its not only a quick and easy experience, it is also cost effective for both supplier and customer.”

“In anticipation of those trends, we started to over index on taking on more hyper value work which necessitated training of our staff and recalibrating our recruiting efforts, as well as significant investments in tools and platforms. This culminated in the acquisition of Xavient Information Systems, now known as Xavient Digital – powered by TELUS International,  last year, which gives us even more scale in our tech capabilities.”

Telus International has been keeping an ear to the ground in terms of the macro and micro challenges in the region. “Those operating in the region have been less animated by the headlines representing doom and gloom, whether in terms of digital transformation replacing live agent support requirements or the more controversial, inflammatory headlines regarding safety, immigration and economic stability.”

He adds that they have high degree of confidence in both countries, although they have been watching the recent El Salvador election quite closely. “We are optimistic and excited about the progress the country will make. Similarly, in Guatemala, we are paying close attention to the presidential election underway there now and monitoring quite closely the implications not only for our business but more specifically on our team members.”

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He laughs and adds: “In the old days, we would have spoken about the relative volatility between the geopolitical economies of the developing and developed economies. But these days, given what’s happening in politics in North America, the contrast is not as stark as it used to be.”

Puritt emphasizes the need to have a finger on the pulse of all of these issues, and underscores his belief that Telus International has the requisite resiliency to absorb the shocks and impacts of the exogenous macro geopolitical factors in the region.

For Telus International, digital transformation and harnessing those tech capabilities is where they – and their customers – continue to focus their time, effort, attention and money. Growth areas remain fast-growing technology, travel and hospitality, healthcare, and of course its core telecommunications and cable business.

Puritt says that while Telus International sees the value in digital technologies and in transformation, his view is that AI and RPA are not going to replace people. “It means we will need more highly skilled people who can interoperate these technologies.”

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