Philippines: Contact Centers Seeking More Highly Skilled Workers in the Future

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The Philippines has changed the way contact centers around the world seek and source candidates for “business process outsourcing” positions, as these positions are termed by the Philippine government. While the business-process job responsibilities vary from answering phone calls and processing data-entry type tasks to more complex functions such as animating TV shows for companies outside of the Philippines; the biggest impact on the country (by a single industry) has been affected by Call Centers. Accounting for roughly 8% of the country’s GDP, the loosely defined business-process outsourcing industry has grown quickly, due to the deregulated telecoms market and the government’s definition of contact centers as an export industry. The latter translates to lower taxes for companies that operate Filipino staffed contact centers. The country’s strength is shown by the Philippines overtaking India in this job sector, despite the fact that India has approximately 12 times the population.

How did the Philippines revolutionize the contact center industry? Similar to shopping malls in the United States that have anchor stores to pull in guaranteed business for smaller boutiques and shops in the mall, some Filipino shopping centers have large call centers located in centralized spaces within the shopping center. One company, that operates an enormous call center within a Manila shopping center, expects to attract around 100 walk-in job applicants per day to their location, strictly due to mall foot traffic and proximity to those stores commonly visited by the young, middle-class population in the surrounding area.

With some 1.2 million workers already employed by the business-process outsourcing industry in this market, competition can be fierce for qualified and diligent candidates. Companies have to work hard to make these jobs attractive to candidates, as many of these centers serve customers who live in regions where the time difference can be as much as 16 hours. About 70% of the Filipino business-process outsourcing workers serve clients in the American market, meaning that many are working through the night and into the early morning on shifts to cover the morning and afternoon in the United States. With so many employers to choose from, workers with high level English proficiency have been able to negotiate for access to everything from on-site gyms and break rooms with computer-games to cafes and of course, higher wages. With experience, many workers who have the skills to manage others have sought managerial positions where English proficiency is crucial for customer escalations. This is an area where the Philippines excels when compared to some other countries such as India, where contact centers are popular.

Even with the tough schedules and night shifts, many workers in the Philippines happily accept work in the business-process outsourcing sector as it’s preferable to going abroad, as many of these workers would have likely done if these jobs were not available to them now. Observing this success by the Philippines, in retaining employees within their home market, many other countries wish to replicate their strategy for recruiting and contact center management. For example, South Africa is especially interested in contact centers and given the country's English proficiency and reduced time difference with European and western time zones, the idea sounds fruitful. However, with technological advancements aiding in the elimination of the majority of the most rudimentary tasks, the era of the gigantic call center may be coming to an end.

As online chat, help-desk software handled email and other automated systems begin to process more and more complex customer requests, only the most unique and complex questions and requests will be forwarded by the software to a human operator for resolution. This means many fewer phone technicians will be required per customer than ever before. With the more basic task-based jobs disappearing, call center workers will still be needed, simply not for the repetitive tasks, but for more sales focused positions instead. To be an effective sales person (especially on the phone to Western and European residents) means that workers will need to not only have better English language skills, but they will also need to be relatable and gain the customer’s trust.

Automation of the more simple call center functions such as updating account information, giving account balances or making payments may spell out fewer jobs or at the minimum, less call center job growth in India and the Philippines. Recent trends suggest that contact-center employment in the United States is already on the rise. American call center employment market share increased from 19% to approximately 21% between 2013 and 2014. Moving these jobs off-shore has become less common, and more American customers are reaching American based call center representatives, especially in the Finance and Banking industry where banks are more motivated to re-shore contact center jobs due to new regulations and laws governing banking and privacy.

What this means for the Philippines is likely that the job responsibilities may shift from the repetitive and less challenging tasks to positions which require high-level English proficiency and a higher level of skill or education, such as sales experience and even medical certifications. For example, the healthcare industry has recently seen more qualified nurses being employed in contact centers offshore to answer questions from American patients regarding how critical their ailments truly are, due to cost cutting measures by medical providers in the United States. It’s anticipated that contact center job postings will see an increase in Europe and North America, but that similar job postings will either take a slight downturn with regards to growth rate or plateau, in India especially, but also in the Philippines.