For the third year in a row, South Africa has been named the second most favoured offshore location for contact centre delivery, globally.
India came in first and the Philippines third in the annual 2020 Front Office Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Omnibus Survey conducted by global firm Ryan Strategic Advisory. The survey assesses 540 senior decision-makers representing 42 countries spread across multiple sectors.
In South Africa, the sector employs an astonishing 260 000 young people, of which 65 000 service international clients in Europe, the UK, US, Asia, Africa and Australia. Last year it recorded 34% employment growth, generating 15 086 new jobs, 13 102 of which went to youth aged 18 to 35 and 1 353 of which were inclusively hired through an impact sourcing approach.
Impact sourcing is where recruitment intentionally takes place in marginalised communities as opposed to simply making a social investment.
Andy Searle, CEO of industry body Business Process Enabling South Africa (BPESA), foresees that, notwithstanding current market conditions, SA could add as many as 500 000 digitally traded service jobs over the next 10 years, depending on market conditions.
Factors that contributed to placing South Africa favourably include an attractive price point, including cost of labour, real estate, taxes, sector-specific government incentives; linguistic skills; a secure and clear regulatory framework; and health and safety.
South Africa's ranking was also impacted due to the ongoing efforts to promote the country as a customer experience delivery destination of choice to the international market by the industry body (BPESA) in collaboration with social partners and national government.
Throughout the lockdown period, many local contact centres and business process outsourcing centres - regarded as essential services - have been providing services to both domestic and foreign markets by implementing safe, workable solutions.
This includes extraordinary cleansing and sanitation mechanisms, strict spatial distancing and careful shift rotation. For those operations where it is possible, technology has been adapted and innovated to facilitate work-from-home stations where agents are able to log on from off-site locations and provide services seamlessly.
According to data collected by BPESA for the last week of April, almost 32 000 call centre agents continue to deliver essential services both to local and foreign markets - 49% from home - with more coming online every week.
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Mathew Conn, group chief revenue officer of customer management Merchants, which specialises in business process outsourcing, says in recent years, South Africa has established itself as a prime location for outsourcing services for global organisations operating across industries and sectors.
"Recent social and economic challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic have further highlighted the country's strengths in terms of offering significant potential for businesses through business process outsourcing," says Conn.
"Essentially, the local BPO industry is facing the possibility of major growth and opportunity in a post-Covid world."
A recent Merchants survey among 2 000 respondents from across the country, found that problem solving ability was the most sought-after quality a contact centre agent should possess. This was followed by personality, knowledge of products and services, sense of urgency, and empathy.
"A number of initiatives currently underway by key industry bodies, government and BPO providers mean we can expect to see South Africa leading the way in the next five years when it comes to offering business continuity to clients, continued skills development opportunities for the talent pool, the use of the latest technology to provide positive experiences for agents and end clients, and the delivery of world-class BPO facilities," says Conn.