With the most difficult year in recent memory almost behind us, we wanted to look back on one of the more positive sides of 2020: the new and exciting ways of doing business in a virtualized world.
In this fireside chat with Felix Serrano, CEO and Co-Founder of Activus Connect, we close off the year by exploring the challenges and successes within the BPO and CX industry, while looking back at what Activus was able to accomplish for its Ambassadors, communities, and partners. Plus, Felix shares his ideas for the future of the company and the industry in 2021.
Now that this turbulent year has come to an end, what impact has the last 12 months had on Activus Connect?
FS: Before 2020 even began, we were always driven by the goal to do things differently at Activus. Our focus allowed us to hire over 2,200 Ambassadors last year, which feels like a real accomplishment in a time when people really needed jobs.
For many years, BPOs would often claim that their customers didn’t want to do work-at-home, yet the BPOs themselves had fixed assets and static procedures that made the idea of remote employment an inconvenience to them, not their customers. As evidenced by our growth, there’s an increasing need for businesses that have clear imperatives focused on sustainable virtual business and equally care for their front-line employees.
I’ve also never seen this much RFP activity in a single quarter, and it’s all coming from brands that were let down by larger BPOs who falsely touted their preparedness for transitioning to work-at-home. To me, this interest shows that business can be done differently, and the traditional BPO model isn’t as strong as it once was. After all, if they were actually ready, their partnerships would have become stronger, not the opposite.
How is Activus Connect sharing its success with its Ambassadors and the communities where they operate?
FS: Since day one, we’ve priced our services competitively, paid our employees competitively, and donated 10% of our total profits to meaningful organizations. As part of that commitment, we’ve been able to support six non-profits with financial support and mentorship in 2020.
The organizations were Friends of Puerto Rico, which runs an entrepreneurial skills program for young boys and girls on the island, as well as an initiative that empowers women to succeed in business; Orphan Starfish, which provides food and shelter to orphan children in some of the more disadvantaged areas of South America; Samaritan’s Purse, which sends out Christmas care packages and gifts for children in need; Warriors4Life, an initiative supporting military veterans across the United States through cycling; and two different children’s athletics leagues in New Mexico and Florida.
In regards to our workforce, people have been stressed this year, so we wanted to try to alleviate some of that stress with an unexpected cash bonus during the holiday period. In December, 100% of our personnel received a surprise Christmas bonus for contributing to the success and growth of our business and allowing us to generate these profits in the first place.
The times demand that we do business differently, so this has been a direct way of giving back to the communities in which we live and work.
Overall, we collectively donated more than US$400,000 last year, through organizational donations and employee bonuses, not including the time and effort we’ve volunteered in other areas. This result has taught us a lot about what can be achieved by operating differently, and we’re excited to expand that possibility in the future.
How could other companies follow in the footsteps of Activus Connect and actually take action that changes things for the better?
FS: I think the main reason brands fail is their inability to adapt to the times. In the last number of years, brands like Blackberry, Polaroid, Blockbuster, and many others became obsolete extremely quickly, mainly because the times were moving too fast for them.
In the BPO and customer experience industry, customers and employees are at the forefront, period. Those companies that focus too much on technology and the fringes of CX instead of the workforce and their consumers are shooting themselves in the foot—from where I stand, it’s only a matter of time before they lose market share.
In today’s world, businesses can have a real, meaningful impact on people while treating employees with dignity and respect in a way that allows them to live a satisfying life. There’s no reason to compromise on any of those things. Quite frankly, if BPOs can’t figure that out, they’re not thinking hard enough.
What are your plans for 2021? Any strategies you can tease for the next year?
FS: Actually yes! We’re looking to continue focusing on the global expansion of SmartVirtual™ in areas that have not been considered viable or appropriate before. You’ll have to wait and see what that means.
Diversity is another aspect of our business we want to focus heavily on next year. In the US, many major businesses have made changes that impact company diversity, including hiring diversity leaders and implementing diversity empowerment programs. With that in mind, our focus is going to be on partnering with some of the biggest, best-known brands in the US so that we can augment their diversity initiatives through an outsourcing partnership, automatically advancing their cause.
Along with these targeted strategies, we want brands to realize that they can afford to keep their customer experience onshore in 2021, because the true value of Ambassadors in the domestic market makes them far more competitive than any low-cost offshore alternative.
Felix, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the last year. Here’s to a safe and successful 2021 for all of our clients and Ambassadors.