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Global companies turning to Latin American call centers.

A growing number of global companies are turning to Latin American call centers to manage their customer interactions. With readily available skilled workers, a sophisticated telecommunications infrastructure and lower operating costs, Latin America call centers offer highly efficient multilingual services for large enterprises, as well as mid-size and small businesses.

"In addition to demand in North America, Spain and Portugal, there is substantial growth in the region's own call center market," says Ralph Breslauer, executive vice president of global sales and marketing, Concerto Software, a global leader in the call center industry. "That demand is being driven by industries like banking and telecommunications, which are placing an increasing emphasis on effective customer service."

Based in Boston with a regional office in Miami, Concerto Software has extensive experience in the Latin American market, offering turnkey contact center solutions that include hardware, software, installation and training.

Through an extensive network of regional partners--including Corsidian, Comesa and Compugraph--Concerto delivers integrated outbound and inbound services to leading Latin American corporations, such as Citibank, HSBC, Telmex and Telcel.

"We focus on enabling the business process--such as customer service, collections or telemarketing--within the call center," says Breslauer. "We offer a turnkey solution with all the software, hardware, installation and training, which is very important to our clients."

Breslauer adds that Concerto is seeing a clear market trend for unified solutions that enable organizations to strengthen those business processes. "It's easier to install, administer and get reporting information from a single place, so this united approach lowers your total cost of ownership (TCO)," he adds.

Industry experts expect the total number of Latin America call centers to grow by roughly a third in the next four years, while the industry's regional workforce will climb from 336,000 in 2003 to 730,000 in 2008.

To take just one example, in the past six years, Guatemala has attracted more than 50 in-house call centers and international contact centers from operators like ACS-BPS, which serves the North American, Mexican, Central American and Guatemalan markets.

"The availability of qualified labor in Guatemala City has permitted us to compete against other countries in Latin America, United States, and Asia," says Felipe Godoy, site manager, ACS-BPS. "The geographical location, the time zone, the satellite communication and the advanced telecommunications system have allowed us to be highly competitive. We have 1,500 employees with impressive typing ability and outstanding process of thought."

Invest in Guatemala, the national economic promotion agency, notes that Guatemala's bilingual workforce includes many college students who are familiar with U.S. culture and the English language. In addition, Guatemala is served by three advanced fiber optic rings--Emergia, Maya 1 and Arcos--for continuous, uninterrupted service.

"HDN has been very impressed with Guatemala's telecom infrastructure," says Michael J. Riek, president, HDN (Help Desk Now). "In addition, the abundance of talented labor and extremely competitive wages are exceeding our expectations. HDN is looking forward to continued success and substantial growth in Guatemala."

To serve its sophisticated global clients, Latin American call centers are already adding new email, online chat and other Web-oriented channels to become full contact centers for their customers. While, voice services continue to dominate the Latin American market, the demand for these types of new services continues to grow quickly.

Today's contact center solutions encompass automated call distribution (ACD) solutions for inbound voice, predictive dialing for outbound campaigns, and interactive voice response (IVR) for self-service routing. New digital monitoring and recording capabilities allow organizations to easily record inbound and outbound calls, and monitor agent performance with voice, email and online chat functions. For instance, ACD systems allow call center operators to track when voice or email messages come in, how long they stay in the agent's queue, and how long until messages are answered.

Breslauer says these sophisticated solutions can also prioritize a company's best customers, such as a bank's platinum or gold cardholders, ensuring they receive a consistent, positive telephone experience.

In today's market, integration of voice and online channels is critical, according to Mike Trotter, executive director, The Center for Customer Driven Quality, Purdue University. "Customers want choices and incentives for using different channels."

For several years, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) has been one of the most talked-about advances in the call center industry. While the primary benefit for many early adapters was lowering the cost of long distance calls, today VoIP offers the ability to create more flexible "virtual call centers," using agents working from homes or smaller facilities. "VoIP is particularly helpful for companies that have peaks in customer calls, such as retailers in the fourth quarter seasonal period," said Breslauer.

Most new call centers are being installed with VoIP systems in order to take advantage of current and future applications. Leading telecom manufacturers like Nortel, Cisco and Avaya are offering stand-alone IP solutions or hybrid systems designed to accommodate online services as well as voice.

To retain their customers, enhance satisfaction and reduce expenses, many North American and European enterprises are now looking to a new array of contact center services, such as video, wireless access, and compatibility with personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other smart devices.

"Contact center operations continue to assess existing processes to find new areas for cost saving," says Elizabeth Herrell, analyst, Forrester Research. "This has resulted in companies transitioning to automated speech applications or online response services as alternatives to live assistance. Additionally, many organizations cite the need to develop an integrated view of their customers across channels and multiple databases, but this remains a formidable task for many."

Proper deployment of technology can also help to improve agent retention, Breslauer adds. For instance, staffing schedules can be made more flexible to accommodate individual needs, and agent duties can be rotated during the day. "You want to provide agents with some balance at work, such as making outbound calls or handling emails as well as answering inbound calls," says Breslauer.

Because customer contact is an integral aspect of virtually every organization's business strategy, industry analysts expect call centers to play an even more important role in the next decade. And Latin America will continue to play a leading role in that global expansion.

Most popular call center technology investments:

* Speech recognition (28%)

* Email management systems (20%)

* Skills-based routing (18%)

* Workforce management (14%)

Source: Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business (SOCAP), Alexandria, Virginia
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Publication:Latin Trade
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Date:Jul 1, 2005
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