CEO View: The BPO Industry is Failing its Work-at-Home Employees

Nine months.

It’s been nine long months since the BPO industry was forced to go remote, migrating the majority of its global workforce to work-at-home. Plenty of time for an “agile” industry to adapt and thrive, right?

Well…not entirely.

For a lot of companies, the seismic shift in operational strategy created an opportunity to evolve rapidly and take advantage of the benefits of a virtual workforce. However, most of the BPO industry failed to adapt quickly enough and is still struggling to provide employees with the experiences they deserve, nine months later, meaning those benefits remain unclaimed.

From my perspective, the industry is failing its workforce and, as such, failing its clients. Providers aren’t doing enough to enhance employee experiences, preferring instead to cut costs down to the bone, unnecessarily restrict agents, and take a reactive approach to the crisis.

The result? More and more people are searching for greener pastures, where the concepts of fair salaries, flexible schedules, and a culture of understanding are more than just empty promises.

Here at Activus Connect, our attrition rate is falling. The positive experience we have strived to create for our Ambassadors is resonating with an increasingly large talent pool, attracting hundreds of ex-BPO-employees to our candidate bench.

Before the pandemic, people were coming to us because they didn’t want to work in a physical contact center—it was usually a lifestyle choice favored by a specific type of person. However, as the pandemic continues, it’s less of a lifestyle choice and more of necessity, as BPOs are paying much less and are still grossly unprepared to provide adequate work-at-home experiences, according to the candidates we’ve interviewed.

On top of that, many brand partners hold the perception that work-at-home overheads are lower, so agent salaries should reflect that. However, it doesn’t take a genius to understand that lower wages are driving high attrition.

For reference, several large providers are paying between $10 and $11 an hour for work-at-home jobs, while companies like Activus Connect pay between $15 to $18, so it’s no wonder people are jumping ship.

When it comes to the training, onboarding, and operational side of the business, those same people are equally unhappy with the experience. We’re hearing from agents that providers are still trying to figure out how to successfully operate a hybrid brick-and-mortar/work-at-home business, sometimes even relying on the agents themselves to come up with solutions.

Again, these issues are happening nine months later, and while BPOs continue to fumble around in the dark like this, agents are quite frankly suffering.

Training experiences have dropped in quality. People don’t have access to the right tools for coaching or support. Knowledge management systems are lackluster, resulting in poor production-related support—the list goes on. Until this changes, people will share stories online, calling out those who offer lesser experiences and praising those who rise above the rest.

So far, I’ve been exclusively calling out the BPO industry for this, but many client partners are also on the hook for attrition, especially as it relates to flexibility.

Right now, almost everybody in the United States is doing some sort of homeschooling, so it’s vital to provide accommodations for that to keep workers happy at home. It also takes longer to schedule medical appointments or medical visits of any sort, sometimes taking hours on the phone.

These are just a couple of examples of modern daily life, but brands must be able to empathize with all the new difficulties of our reality, then respond to them with the provision of adequate flexibility. Doing so is one of the keys to increasing retention right now.

While it may sound like common sense, many brands expect their BPO providers to solve this problem independently, instead of giving them the decision-making power to offer flexible work schedules. As a result, the attractiveness of work-at-home has dropped, with schedules reverting to the rigid structure of traditional brick-and-mortar in many cases.

Unless there is absolutely no room for maneuver, BPOs must have the courage to approach their clients and discuss the possibility of flexible schedules, stressing the benefits it has on the workforce: higher retention rates and far better customer experiences.

As we inch closer to the end of an unprecedented year, work-at-home is prevalent throughout the industry and, in my opinion, will continue its mainstream presence well into the future. Employees now have more options available to them on a global scale, so it’s vital that BPOs quickly address these issues of salary, flexibility, and culture by taking a more proactive approach to retaining their virtual workforce.

My only hope is that they don’t spend another nine months trying to do so.