Mark Hilary

Innovation And Agility Offers A Bright Future For El Salvador

I was speaking today in San Salvador, El Salvador, at the 2017 Investment Summit hosted by Proesa, the national export and investment promotion agency. The summit was a big event in El Salvador – for the first time ever president Salvador Sánchez Cerén came and opened the conference – speaking about opportunities for international trade across a wide array of industries.

My own section of the event was focused on globalisation and I had been asked to think about the service sector, in particular Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). BPO is often summarised as call centres, but in fact when one company contracts a service to another it can be anything from payroll and accounts to complex research and knowledge services.

In my talk I explained that I think the companies and government agencies in El Salvador need to consider three areas:

  1. Stop talking about outsourcing; services like managing the customer experience are now extremely complex. It doesn’t help those involved in this business if the sector is talked of as ‘call centres’. Being the link between a brand and their customers is a highly complex process that now spans many channels – not just voice calls. Managing the customer experience is now so complex that the companies doing it should consider they are experts with valuable advice to offer to their clients. Their importance to global brands cannot be underestimated. Don’t talk down how valuable these companies are to the clients that hire them.
  2. El Salvador has flexibility; El Salvador is small enough for service companies here to quickly innovate and adopt new processes. In huge markets such as India and the Philippines this industry employs millions of people. It’s much harder to change quickly in this environment. In addition, the companies I met on Monday and Tuesday this week were notable for really focusing on the agent-customer interaction being at the heart of their strategy. These companies really listen to the front-line agents when planning how to improve their business. This creates an innovative environment where service companies here can change to meet new demands.
  3. Customer Expectations are changing fast; just look at how customer expectations on brands have changed dramatically in the past decade. We cannot predict a decade ahead as that’s too far, but we can see which technologies are changing customer behaviour in the near future. Customer service experts need to take this intelligence and war-game future customer expectations – specifically for technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality (VR), and Augmented Reality (AR).

This seems a logical progression to me. El Salvador has already developed a great reputation in contact centres, but the industry is changing. They have the scale and attitude required to take advantage of the next wave of customer demand – which will largely be driven by new technological innovations.

I mentioned only three potential technologies that will disrupt the traditional customer experience, but of course there are many other ways that CX is being disrupted. It’s also difficult to predict as it is the customers, not brands, that are defining which technologies are important. However, I believe that the three trends I mentioned are important for these reasons:

  1. Internet of Things; forget about the intelligent fridge. The IoT is about getting every device connected and online. Right now about 10bn devices are connected to the Internet, but that will triple by 2020. Imagine if your car can connect automatically to Chevrolet to self-diagnose problems without you even being aware. That’s automated customer service enquiries by devices. Your devices are making the calls for help.
  2. Virtual Reality; the latest Sony and Microsoft gaming consoles both feature VR, so millions of homes will have VR equipment by the end of 2017. Surely that means that customers are going to start demanding a VR experience in many industries? I expect vacations, home rentals, cruises, and car sales to all be impacted.
  3. Augmented Reality; retailers have a big problem because customers love the online experience more than visiting stores. How can they capture the identity of in-store shoppers and make the process more fun? I expect AR is going to be a big part of this because the Pokémon Go craze from 2016 shows that people will use AR to blend games and reality if they have a purpose – seeking discounts inside a store could soon become a real-life game.

The traditional contact centre is changing fast and these three technologies and trends are just a few of the changes I see coming in the next 2-3 years. Markets like El Salvador have a vibrant contact centre industry already and great links to clients in the USA.

I expect that if the service companies in El Salvador really want to succeed in future then they need to start offering customer service innovations. Nobody wants to hear that El Salvador offers cheaper call centres than other nearshore markets any longer – they want to hear that a company in El Salvador is offering a Virtual Reality customer service option to their clients. These innovations are going to drive the market forward – and they pay premium rates too.

What do you think? Were you at the Proesa summit today or do you have a view on El Salvador? Please leave a comment here or tweet me on @markhillary.