Industry Research : Call Centers in Costa Rica Could Face Competition from Unpaid Workers
At any given time in Costa Rica, tens of thousands of Ticos take calls from consumers in other countries who are in need of service and support. These agents work in call centers mostly located in the Central Valley, and the majority of the calls are handled in English -although demand for Portuguese-speaking agents is growing.
What would happen to the economy of Costa Rica if an army of unpaid workers decided to gleefully take over customer service and tech support from them? According to a recent article in The Economist, the new trends of "unsourcing" and peer-to-peer support could become a thorn on the sides of the outsourcing and call center economies of India and the Philippines. Should Costa Rica be worried as well?
According to the article in The Economist, more customers are helping each other when it comes to getting tech support on devices or software:
Instead of speaking with a faceless person thousands of miles away, customers’ problems are answered by individuals in the same country who have bought and used the same products. This happens either on the company’s own website or on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and the helpers are generally not paid anything for their efforts.
The potential of unsourcing should prove attractive to executives and operations managers, and it’s already happening. Here are the examples cited by The Economist:
GPS maker TomTom saved money and solved around 20,000 tech support queries in just two weeks after the company turned the function over to its social media channels.
One Logitech customer has fielded 45,000 tech support tickets related to webcams without being paid.
A British virtual mobile operator, similar to TuYo Movil here in Costa Rica, entices its customers to go online and work on open tech support tickets in exchange for points that can shave off pence from their montly phone bills.
Other companies considering unsourcing include electronics retail provider Best Buy in the United States and laptop manufacturer Lenovo. An example of a close-knit community in Costa Rica that provides mutual tech support on Facebook is the mapping and traffic information app Waze.
Foreign companies are attracted to set up their call centers in Costa Rica due to the availability of skilled workers and cost efficiency. Costa Rica has become a hub for outsourcing in the last few years, and recent trends point towards near-shoring and third-party outsourcing, whereby firms in India that have been contracted by American and European companies unload their excess work onto Costa Rica.
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Near-shoring in Costa Rica is attractive for American companies with customers who are not used to Hindu accents on the phone, but are more receptive to Hispanic accents. There is also the issue of perceived familiarity. Customers sometimes ask call center agents where they are located, and upon learning that they are talking to someone in Costa Rica, the customer is bound to say something like: "Really? My cousin was just there with her husband on vacation and they loved it!"
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Costa Rica is betting on its workforce to attract more foreign investment and boost economic growth, particularly in the high-tech sector, but the call centers are still significant. Should unsourcing and peer-to-peer customer support grow, Ticos who work in call centers may have to look for other jobs.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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