4 COVID-era trends impacting the business process outsourcing industry

SUDHIR AGARWAL   Everise
  • The business process outsourcing (BPO) industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing a double digit decline in managed services in the second quarter of this year, with total global spending down by 16%. 
  • Yet like many industries, the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in the BPO industry allowing digitally-focused companies like Everise to expand their services to support remote workers.
  • Because of his work, Business Insider named Sudhir Agarwal, CEO and founder of Everise, to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming enterprise tech in Asia.
  • Visit Business Insider's Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

From Asia to America and beyond, the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The industry saw a double digit decline in managed services in the second quarter of this year, with total global spending down by 16%.  Additionally, a Deloitte poll conducted in April 2020 showed that  32% of businesses believe the end of the pandemic will bring with it a reduction in outsourcing.

Yet the pandemic has been an unexpected catalyst of rapid transformation of the traditional BPO model, shifting beyond brick-and-mortar facilities to one that focuses on business flexibility and agility with work-at-home arrangements. What's next for the BPO industry? 

Here are four emerging trends to consider. 

Work-at-home is not a continuity plan, it's a business model.

According to a BPO survey, 80% of BPOs had less than a tenth of their workforce in a home-based model before the pandemic. On average, BPOs migrated 52% of their agents to a work-at-home model during the pandemic. Even so, 50% of BPOs remain unconvinced that a home-based business model is viable in the long term. 

Research shows, however, that working-from-home benefits both companies and employees, and this was proven long before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. A 2013 experiment showed that home working led to an increase in performance,  improved work satisfaction, and lowered attrition rates among call center employees in a Chinese travel agency. And a recent study by 5th talent found that 46% of agents would prefer to work full time at home, while 94% would prefer to have some blend between the office and home.

Similarly, at Everise we found that employee retention and the efficiency of employees is significantly higher when in the work-at-home environment. This translates to more experienced, better-trained agents, who improve customer satisfaction metrics. Together, these factors have aided our ability to increase employee experience as well as improve delivery and satisfaction for our clients.

It is evident that the future of work lies in hybrid working environments. Either way, the mandate for an ongoing home-based option is clear — investing in a remote work culture ensures employees and companies alike not merely survive, but thrive. 

Remote workers pose a new security threat

Despite predictions that the BPO market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of over 7% between 2020 to 2024,  research by Technavio says that data breaches are likely to hinder market growth. Work-at-home employees could be the biggest loophole in the data security strategy of a business. 

A Cisco study found that nearly 6% of employees admitted to transferring files between work and personal computers when working from home. This puts a company's data at risk and could potentially create significant loss. 

However, the data privacy of our agents is of equal importance. BPOs need robust internal IT support to help monitor and support their remote workforce, as well as to implement secure work systems and protocols. Building an honest and people-first culture is a non-technical way businesses can combat this. 

Prioritizing data compliance

Deloitte has cautioned that when outsourcing, clients were forced to make rapid decisions on critical and sensitive topics such as security, data privacy, and service obligations without realizing the full impact of these decisions when their outsourced delivery teams had to work from home due to the pandemic. It is evident now that if BPOs move to a remote-work business model, they will be subject to harsh data security requirements, as their solution will be evaluated on its ability to demonstrate: 

  • Compatibility across varied systems and devices
  • Flexibility to cater to various alert workflows
  • Accountability to detect non-compliant objects and people in the remote environment
  • Balance between customer and agent data privacy

Remote monitoring helps to ensure that sensitive data is always protected, no matter from where it has been accessed. Nonetheless, BPOs are now tasked to ensure that their technological solution has the performance, infrastructure, and endpoint security necessary to comply with, and maintain, a secure and functional work-at-home environment.

Training and development programs are worth the investment. 

When remote working, the physical distance between agents and their supervisors can cause misperceptions as to the agent's performance. It potentially hurts the agent's key performance indicators (KPIs) and ultimately, job satisfaction. 

The tethered model requires investing in innovative recruitment and retention strategies. Some examples are agents who conduct product support. They may have extensive hands-on experience with the client's hardware, both during training and in practice which works well at the brick-and-mortar locale, but the same product support can be more challenging when they work remotely. This requires reinventing how remote employees train to achieve the depth of product knowledge they need.

In the digital economy, it's the next-generation BPOs that are succeeding. They are the ones that have already invested in the latest technology, security, and people management and training. We offer robust data compliance and security and are well placed to support enterprises that will emerge from the pandemic as digitally enabled, customer-centric brands. 

About Sudhir Agarwal
Sudhir Agarwal is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Everise and sits on the Board of Directors, where he brings more than two decades of corporate leadership and management experience to the company. His areas of expertise include operations, migrations, client management, business development and corporate mergers. With a vision to create a USD$1 billion-dollar Customer Experience Transformation Company to disrupt the BPO Industry, Sudhir is responsible for leading and expanding the global business strategy and operations.

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