It happens all the time in TT – you pick up your phone to call a private or public sector organisation for a simple query or update and you have one of the worst experiences as a customer. Either you are met with attitude or incompetence, or you wait for an hour on the phone to find out that you would still have to physically go to the office to address your issues.
But there are some sectors where customer service is the complete opposite. You are met with a warm, welcoming attitude; and even the melodic way we speak shines through to give a top class and in some cases award-winning customer experience.
The business processing outsourcing (BPO) sector is one of those areas where the best of TT’s qualities come to the fore to produce great customer service. Dr William Huggins, vice president, operations and country manager for iQor, a Florida-based BPO operating in TT, prides himself in saying his locally trained operating staff provide the best in customer service – a far cry from the service you would normally get with your chicken and chips, or your local bank.
Huggins in a conversation with Business Day said that people – teaching them, motivating them, and serving them through various business process operations – are at the core of IQor.
The largest BPO in TT
iQor landed in TT in 2015. An InvesTT case study on its website said it needed to facilitate the expansion of one of its existing clients, a well-known telecoms brand, by adding a new contact centre to its existing global fleet. The company wanted a suitable near shore location where it could implement performance-based employee management and get competitive labour. It established itself in Tamana InTech Park in Wallerfield for its first call centre. Since then it has expanded to two other areas – Barataria, and in January, Chaguanas.
Huggins said that iQor specialises in business processing operations – which is the delegation of multiple IT-intensive operations including customer service.
“What we do is manage customers’ engagement for various brands across the globe,” Huggins said. “A lot of companies are outsourcing a lot of their customer service elements. For example, you might say you are going to stay a night at Hyatt and you go online and see a number and you call. That number that you call to stay in Hyatt in Orlando, you might get someone from TT on the phone.”
What iQor does is manage the customer service aspects of businesses so they can focus on providing the product. A company would delegate specified functions, from customer service to human resources, to the service provider, and through its technology and training it would manage that aspect of the business.
Huggins said the BPO locally manages businesses in the financial industry, telecom providers, residential home insurance and is now venturing into the hospitality and healthcare sectors.
The company provides omnichannel support such as voice, chat, email and social media support using intelligent automation, conversational AI and speech analytics.
The newly-opened Chaguanas facility is 40,000 sq feet and can provide 600 seats with 100 training seats and expansion is available.
“We knew that we needed to expand our offices. We had exhausted our spaces in Barataria and Wallerfield and I was very instrumental in deciding to go to Chaguanas,” Huggins said. “I worked in Chaguanas for a number of years and I knew about the accessibility. The goal now is filling out that area. We have already moved two products to that building so we have already filled 200 seats there.”
Customer service key to BPOs
Huggins said BPOs customer service is key in keeping business going, and the company holds excellence as its highest priority, especially since all of its customers are international.
This is why last year it was awarded the Judges Choice Award from Nice workforce management, an AI customer service and workforce management company. Huggins said the fact that iQor was awarded for customer service proves that the people in TT have the capacity to provide great service.
“Sometimes I listen to calls and I am surprised that the person is from Trinidad,” he said. “It is all about training, incentive and the process.”
He said for some companies in TT customer service is not a priority because it does not affect their bottom lines. Whether the service is good or bad, some businesses know that the customer will be back. In some cases, he said, it is because of a flawed process.
“Obviously whatever they put in place may be how their process is or their resources, they just don’t have enough. All of that comes down to management. So if a company does not resource properly, their resources are in a mess, then they put someone on a phone that you didn’t train, you are asking for problems,” he said.
“If you come to a retailer and you get bad service you might smooth it out after or sometimes you might leave vexed. But if there is a sale tomorrow you will go back. I can’t do that with a BPO,” he said. “If I mess up with a BPO I will lose business. So you find that the difference is, because people are our core product and the service we deliver is our core product we can’t lapse with it.”
InvesTT president Sekou Alleyne added that service is not poor in TT, but it is inconsistent. He said like iQor several other businesses, which depend heavily on customer service to maintain operations, have received awards for service.
“High-end restaurants and the Hyatt, they have great world-class service, and this could come from the people who came from industries where it just wasn’t important, so incentive and training was not based around it.
“iQor is best in class so I knew they would provide best in class service.”
iQor has its own university for training and developing its staff. When people come in as employees there is a list of courses that are assigned to them, and they have the option of looking at other courses while employed. Then, there are courses that are tailor-made for the customer.
“So our employees benefit from two types of training,” he said.
He added that supervisory training is key to helping staff who may suffer from burnout, especially during covid19 where at least 45 per cent of iQor’s staff moved out of its offices and worked from home.
“There is a host of different training for that, and in addition to that we are now implementing employee assistance programmes because we know people working from home and would have some mental strain and that is real.”
“The first person that the employee interacts with is their supervisor and that person has to make sure that experience is good,” he added. If they create an engaging environment and they manage that properly, then you see a difference. If you have someone that doesn’t empathise with you and understands it puts extreme pressure on you. We know it is a rough environment and it is long hours but if someone enjoys what they are doing they will forget about it.”
Alleyne – covid19 proved value of BPOs
Alleyne said covid19 proved the value of BPOs as iQor expanded its business during the pandemic, while many others contracted and some closed down.
“The first thing we thought about in the early stages of establishing InvesTT was what product we should sell and what business we should promote. One of the industries that we identified very early in the game was the BPO industry,” he said.
Alleyne said because TT had a wide pool of young employees thanks to free education up to the tertiary level, and because these potential employees have salary expectations that were competitive with places like Jamaica where the BPO industry has been operational for 20 years, businesses that were looking to go off-shore and near-shore would be attracted to TT.
But when covid19 hit, several regions where BPOs operate had to face the challenge of pivoting to have employees work from home. Huggins said in TT the infrastructure was capable of allowing many employees to work from home.
“TT is fortunate. Everyone has reliable internet service. So when some of my colleagues and competitors were struggling because their employees were unable to work remotely because they don’t have internet – or even electricity – people were able to be moved from the office to home.”
He said now that the world seems to be coming out of the pandemic the company is considering blended options.
“Some of our employees just love it and others would rather come out. So we will try to get the best blend.”
More opportunities in the industry
Even as iQor expands as a BPO, Alleyne told Business Day that TT has the capacity to safely employ 10,000 people in the BPO industry.
“We don’t want to make the same mistakes as other countries where you have five or six BPOs next to each other on the same street and they exchange staff. So yes, there is a move for expansion,” he said.
Although iQor is the largest of the BPOs in the country there are two others which employ around 250 people each.
Huggins said as digital transformation changes the customer experience daily and international companies begin to seek near-shore relationships, there will be even more opportunities for BPOs.
“People are changing – the way they shop, the way they buy and their culture. You will find that as long as that is continuing globally you are going to have continued growth.
“The other thing is that because of covid19 a lot of the US companies are putting focus on off-shore outsourcing. That is in further countries like the Philippines. Because it hit them hard, and some of these guys you can take them from TT working in Barataria and they could log on easily. You have someone in the Philippines and you put them to work remotely he would not have access. To mitigate that risk they are now looking for nearshore opportunities.”