Ways companies are improving employee living conditions.
By Jeffrey Puritt
Business process outsourcing (BPO) first arose out of the need for companies to stay competitive by cutting costs. This was often achieved by taking existing operations and transplanting them to a country where it was cheaper to operate. Unfortunately, corporate responsibility (CR) in that other country was often not high on the priority list.
Thankfully, times have changed.
BPO as an industry has matured, and providers have learned that community development and employee well-being have a strong impact on staff retention and service quality. Those impacts are detailed in the whitepaper Outsourcing for Social Good: A BPO Perspective, from global outsourcer TELUS International and CR consultancy Impakt Corporation.
According to the report, the need for social change is great: One billion people worldwide will go hungry tonight, and 800 million people lack dependable access to clean water sources. Developing countries desperately need social change.
Responsible BPOs are responding to that need—and doing so on the front lines. Today’s progressive BPOs have found that addressing social inequities in the developing countries where they operate is mutually beneficial for the community, the company and its employees, and their customers.
Shifting Social Landscapes
When governments fall short of providing basics like housing, education, and clean water, there is a real opportunity for companies to step in and provide support for their workers and their communities.
Corporate stand-outs include Unilever, the world’s largest producer of black tea. The company is on the ground making a difference for their small tea producers. They encourage sustainable tea farming and have educated almost half a million of their smallholder tea farmers in sustainable agricultural practices. The result is that Unilever gets a more reliable supply chain of higher quality, sustainably grown tea from small producers, and the farmers get more income from the increased yield.
Nestlé has made a similar leap improving conditions and operations for its coffee producers. For its Nespresso coffee brand, Nestlé works with small farmers in Africa and Latin America to provide advice, resources, and local processing facilities that help the small producers prosper, while also securing a more consistent supply chain.
Like these large multinationals, BPOs have become a major economic and social presence in the developing world, employing hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries. Progressive BPOs are now going beyond the basics of improving quantifiable factors like salaries. They’re offering programs that help workers and their families fundamentally improve how they live their lives.
To modern BPOs, business success is inextricably linked with corporate social responsibility.
Happy Employees = Healthy Communities
The BPO industry is beginning to recognize that success can no longer be defined by bottom-line concerns alone, and that a caring culture that demonstrates genuine concern for employees must be nurtured in order to improve retention and customer service satisfaction.
Call centers based in developing countries traditionally have suffered from high attrition rates, but proactive BPOs are working to change that. Inconsistent staffing is a sure recipe for customer dissatisfaction. Call center BPOs are applying the principle that the longer an employee works at the company, the more knowledge and experience they gain, the more they’re able to reflect the brand positively and consistently, and the more value they’re able to offer customers.
BPOs are now cultivating that loyalty and enthusiasm in their employees with human resources efforts designed to improve several key factors.
Education. Many BPOs now offer on-site education for their employees. This goes beyond direct job training and includes company sponsored post-secondary education—sometimes even offered on the work site, so employees can take a class on their lunch break or after work. Contrary to the expectation that educating the workforce would increase staff turnover, some BPOs are finding the opposite to be the case. That could be attributable to the fact that employees feel more valued when their employer offers them educational opportunities, and thus, they make an effort to continue working while improving their education.
Health and wellness. Access to health and wellness programs including regular medical care remains challenging in many countries. In addition to the basics of onsite fitness facilities and healthy eating programs for employees, forward-thinking BPOs are providing onsite pharmacies and medical clinics, not only for employees, but for family members as well.
Volunteer initiatives. Progressive BPOs are mobilizing employees to volunteer in their communities by supporting basic needs like building roads and schools, as well as volunteering for local grassroots charitable organizations. In addition to building concrete value in the community, these efforts engage employees in work they find meaningful, and corporate volunteer activities demonstrate to employees that the company cares.
Full Circle: BPO Clients Benefit From CR, Too
The resulting morale boost empowers employees and motivates them to stay with the company. But it’s not just about getting an employee to stay put answering customer calls. It’s the quality of that service that makes a difference. An employee who feels valued is much more likely to provide a high level of customer care. These kinds of benefits transfer directly to the client.
These changes are so apparent that call center clients have begun evaluating prospective BPO suppliers based on their culture and community investment, in addition to their conventional value proposition of cost savings.
These changes are not rooted in altruism alone. BPOs aren’t compromising their own profitability by contributing to their developing-world communities. Rather, they’re taking the long view and understanding that the more investment they put into their community, the more value it will cultivate.
It’s an investment that pays off.
According to the report, when a business helps improve the lives of its workers and their communities, it allows the business to improve its value for customers far beyond cost savings.
It hits the heart of what that business offers, improving the quality of its products or effectiveness of its services. BPOs today are going above and beyond business as usual—getting involved in their communities to produce amazing results.
As BPOs grow and develop, they’ll continue to find more effective ways of educating employees, empowering communities and creating meaningful social change, while improving operations. And since each location and its people have different needs, the most successful BPOs will abandon a cookie-cutter approach to CR and make a real effort to get to know their communities and what they value most.
Further, BPOs will continue to elevate perceptions of the outsourcing industry overall by creating real, measurable social change in emerging economies. For many, this means CR will be a key pillar of corporate culture rather than an afterthought or add-on community giving program. The connection between social good and corporate performance will continue to deepen and grow and CR will ideally be a source of pride for both the outsourcer and its clients.
Jeffrey Puritt is president of TELUS International.
Ways companies are improving employee living conditions.