A Place to Call Home: Finding the Ideal Contact Center Location

By Miguel A. Ramos

When my team went scouting for a new customer contact center, we took our checklist of “must have” attributes with us.

We needed a location that had an ample educated and well-spoken workforce. It would help if it had colleges or universities nearby. The city and country needed reliable infrastructure and telecommunications. Any contact center facility identified had to be in a business district easily accessible by workers from throughout the neighboring community via public transportation – or with sufficient nearby parking for those who would be driving in. Also, the site had to be large enough for about 500 contact center representatives, but with the capacity to meet future growth. All of this had to be in a socially and geopolitically stable region close enough to the US so the management team could be there in several hours.

Our organization operates contact centers throughout eastern and western Europe, the Philippines, and China. But for this engagement, we sought a nearshore destination – a region encompassing the Americas from Colombia and Peru north through Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Due Diligence and Bell Curves: Choosing a contact center location requires extensive due diligence performed by the site selection team, contact center experts, and even a real estate advisory firm versed in global and regional market conditions and local market factors. Together, they must explore real estate site availability, existing and planned infrastructure and improvements, labor and talent acquisition opportunities, educational institutions, and costs of labor and living – all of which can affect the provisioning of a contact center.

When choosing a location for a contact center, we had to think of market conditions as existing along a bell curve. Markets on the backside of the curve might be well established. But they also may be saturated, overpriced, or subject to talent predation by competitors or job-hopping by agents seeking better wages. Similarly, we determined that markets on the leading edge of the curve had the propensity to face issues related to infrastructure development, talent or workforce, or pricing – any of which could place the contact center operator in the position of playing pioneer.

During any market research process, the executive team must address the topic of geography and geopolitical realities. Like other, more established regional destinations – such as Panama City, San Jose, Costa Rica, or several cities in Colombia – Guatemala City is a roughly two-and-a-half hour, nonstop flight from Houston or Miami. For my team of executives and managers who needed to travel to the center and interact with teams on site, the market’s nearshore presence helped minimize common barriers of time and distance.

Like other locations across the Americas, its presence in the US central time zone improved our real-time conversation and facilitated timely collaboration with management teams in the country and in the United States.

Though the Americas historically have been known for social unrest, turmoil has been minimal in recent years throughout the region. This immediately allayed concerns for a company looking to make a significant investment to establish nearshore operations.

Finding the Right Staff: Contact center growth and success depends on the quality of its employees; the availability of an educated workforce is crucial. Though the capital, Guatemala City, is home to approximately one million residents, a large metropolitan area is no guarantee of a viable labor pool.

The job fairs we conducted in area business centers revealed a strong and educated base among the workforce. In addition, we also found a labor pool seeking long-term opportunities with growth potential, which is not often typical of job seekers in the contact center industry.

In addition to education, skill, and passion, we also had to make sure the market had a plethora of employees who spoke multiple languages, including Spanish, English, French, German, and Italian. We found that the Guatemalan government requires college entrants to pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) examination. What’s more, the accent-neutral Spanish accent makes agents more agreeable to customers, whether they’re calling from throughout the Americas or Spain. Such scope and fluency of languages tend to broaden the markets any center can serve.

Another reality critical to any contact center’s success is the local market’s cost of business. This includes the price of real estate, utilities, equipment, wages, and even travel costs for a US-based team visiting the area.

The real estate research firm reported mixed results. While labor costs are similar to those found in other markets, expenses for the workers themselves – as with any metropolitan market – are high and could cut into our employee’s take-home wages. Around 70 percent of Guatemala’s workforce uses the city’s mass transit to commute, with the remaining 30 percent driving to work. However, even though the drivers save money by not paying for public transportation, expensive parking is a concern.

To help offset the cost of parking, our team contacted the management of a retail mall located near the contact enter. Because most work in the center is done during the workday, the operator negotiated using the parking lot at the mall to accommodate employee vehicles.

Our research also revealed that real estate costs were on par with other comparable markets in the region. But the city’s utility costs tend to be higher, and a local value-added tax raises the cost of computers and electronics needed to run the center. Weighed against other factors, we determined that these costs overall were on par with the region.

This July, our team and members of the local business community celebrated the grand opening of the new facility where the first 300 of the planned 500 seats came online. Vice minister of Social Prevision and Employment Carlos Ulban Lopez helped cut the ribbon. With the estimated growth in Latin America, it’s possible that this new facility could eventually grow to 700 seats.

The sourcing and opening of the center came only after rigorous analysis that explored everything from real estate and utilities to labor and infrastructure. We are excited to continue to monitor growth in the coming months and years.

Miguel A. Ramos is executive vice president of corporate development with C3/Customer Contact Channels and president of C3 Performance Optimization, the company’s training and performance management group. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based firm helps Fortune 500 corporations maximize customer relationships across all channels, including voice, the Web, and social media.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2015]

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