We talked to Javier Serafini, CEO at CAT Technologies, to make a review of 2015 for the company specialized in BPO services. Details of a key year where operations were consolidated, new accounts were created and the company´s staff in San Luis province was doubled. Serafini talked of the challenges ahead for the industry in the new scenario.
How was the growth of the company during 2015?
In Buenos Aires the operation is consolidated and growing, and this is not a small thing for 2015. What we did was a readjustment of the structure. We used to work in three buildings and now we are concentrated on two. We grew about 20% in total meters. In turn, in San Luis, today we have 130 positions where 250 people perform. We plan to continue growing there too. With all this we can say that we exceeded the 1200 positions. If you put aside global companies in a national ranking we are among the top three. Frankly I think it was a good year, considering the economic situation and the usual uncertainty of an election year.
What does the multi-channel business represent to the business? Is it to show the company as innovative? Or is it a business itself nowadays?
It hasn´t yet reached the volume or scale of the telephone channel; people are used to interact with their brands through the phone for 50 years. I think the approach of the brands is correct, that is, to present to the Consumer new relationship options, I mean, to provide new channels and that the customer can choose depending to their circumstances and their relationship perception.
As consumers are changing their generational status, they are highly permeable to use new applications and new channels, always linked to their value perception: “I choose that channel because I do it faster; I spend less time, etc.”. That is the appropriate way to provide options to the users, so as they evolve, they can decide the channel to get in touch. I do not see a situation in which the telephone channel is being replaced by other channels. It will be supplemented and will evolve as a process, and similarly it will develop our industry.
And which is the role of services providers in this game?
We are accompanying or proposing new ways of connection to our customers. We accompany them when we operate with their own CRM’s customer systems, but other times we can propose solutions. We are developing interesting customer care experiences through social networks; for example, we designed a crossing between two clients to offer a new service, which is working very well. I think it’s good that the knowledge companies have achieved by working for leading companies, can be transformed into a service proposal. I see that opportunity exists in the case of customers with whom we have a long-term relationship, which means we are doing things very well. It means a truly enriching business opportunity.
What about service exports? The challenge of the industry to return to export is to generate higher value BPO services where price is not the 100% deciding factor. Argentina gave a very good image in the global market during the 2003-2010 periods. United States and Europe chose our country as first choice to outsource their operations. That preference led us to have almost 80,000 employment opportunities. When the exchange rate began to stagnate and inflation distorted prices in dollars, the companies could not sustain international prices and we gradually began to lose that market. Today, if we return to that market, we will have to justify the reasons why this will not happen again in 5 or 6 years.
Is the decision to outsource new channels operations different from outsourcing the telephone channel? Customers also take time to decide which services and processes they can outsource and that makes them redefine their business in terms of criticality. After defining what they can outsource, they should choose a provider that gives them reliability to make those operations. The degree of complexity of operations that a client trusts an outsourcing company will depend on the maturity of the customer-supplier relationship. The key to a company, like CAT, is to be very clear about the fact that we must understand and adapt to the culture of each Client.
What is the demand for services that are generating e-commerce transactions? Is there an opportunity for outsourcers?
Yes, we have two clients that make e-commerce. The first campaigns we had were for the local Black Friday. We support operations´ validation and logistical issues associated with the delivery. In addition to e-commerce support, CAT invested heavily in the setting up of an area of back-office work. As we can see, the integration of both activities result in a highly complex solution defined as 100% high added value BPO services. The evolution of products and services is constant, and I believe that is the way to bring relevance to our industry and go out to the international markets again.
Is this type of new services something strategic for CAT?
Absolutely. We want to expand the relationship towards that type of BPO services that are more attractive, better paid and generate interesting entry barriers in our clients. We invest heavily in developing them and we work accurately; that makes us different.
What expectations do you have regarding the industry with the change of government?
The change of government creates expectations on several lines. On the domestic front, today we have a situation where two unions want to set their collective agreement in the industry; we will see how this is solved. In Córdoba ATACC (Asociación de Trabajadores Argentinos de Centros de Contactos) earned its legal capacity on a national level due to a resolution signed by the previous Labour Ministry. Companies are always open to regulations that provide the best frame for our activity.
Regarding benefits or support from the provinces, the differences are very important. Buenos Aires has not generated any benefit, except for the 1% of gross income, which was generated by the management of Anibal Ibarra, I mean that as a political sign, Macri’s government did not generate profits and thereby it allowed that many positions went off to other districts.
Our intention is to work on a joint plan with CABA (city of Buenos Aires) so that with the right support, the industry can generate better jobs and greater opportunities. From our point of view, this industry is perhaps one of the most suitable for the city of Buenos Aires because it has no chimneys and it does not generate noises, all the employees have banking coverage, with workdays of six hours, which allows young people to combine work and study and salaries which will be almost entirely used for consumption. We understand this activity should be highly valued by the Government of CABA.
Why do you think that it has been disregarded until now?
I think it is more a fault of our industry organized as a Chamber than a fault of the City. To be fair we have failed to present a plan. Now we are putting together one to be presented. It has nothing to do with the change of government, because we were preparing it a few months ago, but the truth is that the industry through the Chamber itself, has focused on the benefits in other districts and not in the City of Buenos Aires.
How does the recent economic measures as the end of the clamp and devaluation impact on the sector?
It’s clearly a scenario to be followed closely. We’ll have to see what the government does in terms of taking care of jobs that were generated because the reality is that Argentina costs are not competitive globally. The challenge for the country is to generate more value added services for which the cost is not a crucial-factor. Competing with the costs of Peru or Colombia is very difficult. I find it convenient to rethink a common strategy, as in those countries, where companies have grown significantly but also aided by the government assistance.
As I said before, in international markets, Argentina made an excellent quality image in results, speed of implementation, adaptation to changes, and understanding. All items were positively fulfilled. The negative issue for Argentina was that, at some point, as from 2008 to 2009, for all the services we had promoted abroad, we had to go back every six months to see our clients and explain that costs had risen in dollars a 20%. That lasted a couple of years and then it could not be sustained. In Argentina we can coordinate very fast and that is very valuable because launching an operation involves investing a lot of money, sending people, testing, links, and systems. If an implementation is made in a month, while elsewhere they do it in four, the difference is clear. The training can last two weeks, and they leave knowing that knowledge is passed linearly without complications. I will not tire of repeating this: the challenge ahead is to go out and sell value-added services. So far, we could do it alone. Now we need to be part of a strategic creation and prioritization of employment plan outlined jointly by the ICT companies and the government.