Paulo Pereira of BPO firm, Concentrix, discusses the company’s operations in Egypt and the company’s role in recruiting and fostering Egyptian talent.
Despite not being one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy, particularly during periods of turbulence, the Egyptian telecoms industry experienced a landmark year in 2017, with steady subscription growth - stimulated by the competitive pricing of operators to bolster their share of the 4G market. The IT sector’s contribution to GDP was $4.2 billion in 2016/17, with exports valued at more than $3.25 billion, and this is expected to grow at 13.4% until 2020. Considering the scale of local talent and attractive labor costs it’s no surprise that Egypt is fast becoming and ICT hub for the Mediterranean region. What are the main competitive advantages of Egypt?
Egypt has many advantages and this is why we are investing here. When we opened our first site in 2008, we saw a lot of potential in Egypt because of its huge multi-lingual and educated population. Our ability to attract multi-lingual talent, particularly for the European market is really important to us. Since establishing our operations in Cairo in 2008, we have been growing year over year. We continued to invest in Egypt despite the revolution and the changes we have seen in the country. Now part of US BPO Concentrix, we are committed to driving growth in Egypt, to serve the European, US and Middle East markets. Over the last 2-3 years, we have seen perceptions of doing business in Egypt change significantly. If you look at, for example, the levels of security in Egypt these days, a study was just released in the last 2-3 months, ranked Egypt 16th out of 136 countries for being one of the safest places where you can be. It is rated safer than the US and the UK. This is something that is actually helping because for a long time investment, mainly US market investment was pretty much at a standstill. The renewed popularity of Egypt, as a BPO location, is creating opportunities for growth, and not just with existing clients, but organizations that are new to outsourcing their customer management operations to Egypt. This has contributed to our growth in Cairo, where we have increased staff by 40% year over year for the last 3 years in a row, and we are predicting a strong period of growth in 2019.
As one of the fastest growing IT sectors in the word, what are the main sub-sector opportunities for international investors?
In my opinion, for BPO, in relation to customer service, tech support and Sales, the sectors that we are currently working in have expanded considerably. We are currently delivering finance services, social media, tech support customer care, retail and travel sectors. This has required a lot of added investment, and our clients are benefiting from the attractive operational costs and qualified handling that you can find in Egypt. Egypt also has a big advantage: people recognize they can have a career in the BPO industry, which is something that changed over the last few of years. Egypt used to depend heavily on tourism, and when the Arab Spring started, the Egyptian tourism industry declined. This meant there was a large pool of multi-lingual customer service people looking for an alternative industry where they can apply their talents. That benefited the BPO industry in Egypt and allowed it to develop further.
We have seen a lot of people move from tourism to BPO because it is a more stable sector and less seasonal, where they are more likely get the opportunity to be employed on an annual contract, which is less common in the travel and tourism industry. I think that has developed a lot in the country. We have also experienced a big shift with more people transferring from tourism to develop their careers in BPO. However, now that confidence is returning to the Egyptian tourism industry, the situation is returning to normal. 2018 has been the biggest growth year in Egypt over the past 10 years including also BPOs, so overseas investment is coming back. It will be interesting to see how the labor market develops over the coming years. The outlook for Concentrix Egypt looks extremely positive, which bodes well for our clients and future development opportunities for our staff members.
About Concentrix, you mentioned why you think Egypt is a good opportunity for BPO services, but in that sense why did you establish your operations in 2008 in Egypt?
Egypt offers one of the most cost efficient labor markets and businesses gain a lot of support from the local government in terms of developing the sector. ITIDA for example provides some support for BPO organizations, including government-subsidized training, which makes decisions about investing in Egypt straightforward. The support they offer is helping to develop the sector, and it’s probably far more advanced than any other region in the Middle East.
Egypt continues to be an attractive proposition for Concentrix and our clients seeking an easily accessible near-shore location, to serve markets in Europe and the Middle East. Access to a large, sustainable pool of highly educated and multi-lingual talent, in a country where call center jobs are positively perceived and labor costs are extremely competitive, makes Egypt a highly attractive BPO location.
What is your main growth strategy for Concentrix in Egypt?
We are a global business and many of our clients are global and international brands requiring multilingual customer services. In many cases, clients prefer to manage all their customer interactions for Europe, or parts of EMEA, from a single site. These sites are called language hubs, or multilingual hubs. Concentrix Egypt is one of the language hubs we have in EMEA, and has the capability to handle customer interactions – via voice or digital platforms - for most languages in EMEA. Egypt has a lot more flexibility than the other labor markets because it can cover a lot more languages. For example, from Cairo we are currently serving 20 different languages to support both North American and European markets. This is far in excess of the languages available in other EMEA low cost locations, such as Eastern Europe, other parts of Africa or Asia. The Cairo metropolitan population exceeds 20 million people and has around 550,000 university students graduating each year. This means we have access to a huge pool of highly educated talent, which is a key factor that enables our growth in the region and why operating in Egypt is strategically important to us.
BPO services have become a good source of quality employment. How does Concentrix apply this idea in Egypt?
Concentrix continues to invest in Egypt. For the reasons already mentioned, it’s the availability of talented, multilingual customer service professionals in a low cost location that is attractive to us. With a strong reputation founded on high-quality service delivery combined with the renewed popularity of Egypt, our Cairo operations are attracting a lot of interest from both existing and new Concentrix clients.
Last month we announced that we now employ over 2,000 staff members in Cairo. Many of our team leaders, managers and staff members working in supporting functions, such as training, HR, IT and quality have also progressed their careers with the company, having started as an agent taking calls on behalf of our clients.
I am extremely proud of the number of careers we have contributed in Cairo over the years, not just with the staff members who are with us today, but those who have progressed through the organization and gone on to apply the skills gained with other employers.
The BPO industry not only employs high numbers of people, it also creates opportunities for people to develop new skills and a career. This is one of the main factors why working for organizations like Concentrix appeals to people in Egypt.
How do you think Concentrix is making Egypt a better place?
The investment we are making in the country is creating more job opportunities for the local workforce; I would say 90% of the people that we currently employ, if not more, are Egyptians. They see an opportunity to work in a multinational company, and have exposure to different cultures. It’s also a good learning opportunity with the potential to travel and relocate to other locations. Now part of Concentrix, we have 225,000 staff members operating across 275 sites in 40 countries – and 6 continents. It’s a good option for you to start a career if you want to work in an international company that is expanding and growing. It is also our culture to support the community we are in so we have several initiatives to help with Hospitals, Orphanages etc.
Why does Convergys exemplify the opportunities in the regional and global integration as a main answer for the 21stcentury challenges?
The BPO industry is definitely changing lot. We have seen growth in different types of sectors, so the people we are serving are different. We are not talking about a basic call center were agents simply take calls. 10-15 years ago pretty much 80-90% of the interactions were being handled by telephone calls. With the introduction of mobile phones and apps, people want a faster service: they don’t want to bother calling; they want to have everything on the spot. We are looking at the younger generation, which requires a different approach. We are talking about robotic process automation, artificial intelligence in managing parts of the interactions.
Most of our clients developed online platforms and digital channels to allow self-service, but that still leaves open complex-interactions, that cannot be automated and require human interaction. I see the sector growing and the channels changing. We have definitely seen a reduction in email and increase in chat, for example, which is a lot faster. People want to just grab their phones and have the problem solved on the spot. Social media is growing considerably. This changes the interactions completely. If you put on top of that you want to improve the service to be at the level that you need to reach to achieve these results. Omni-channel is one of the things you need to start considering before the old segments were completely separate. If you would call a BPO industry 10 years ago you will have a ticket created, but there was no interaction. If you were actually posting comments on Facebook or WhatsApp, they wouldn’t be linked to the first problem. Obviously from a customer service perspective, it’s a lot better for us to know the challenges that the customer has faced and to be able to gather the information from different channels to better serve them.
Organizations are looking to businesses like Concentrix to help them transform their customer operations, to enhance customer experiences and deliver these consistently across all channels. If you take into consideration that 52% of the Fortune 500 companies that closed in the last 15 years, we can definitely see that there’s a lot more competition in the market, and if you don’t adapt to the new reality your business is not going to succeed. We need to be on top of the game on this and make sure that we provide solutions that are more suitable to the world today and not just depend on the traditional call center that you were expecting 10 or 15 years ago. It’s therefore a very interesting market to be in. It’s important to be disruptive too and quickly adapt for the sake of our clients.