Industry Commentary

South Africa’s North American Appeal on Display at BPESA Summit

By November 27, 2019January 10th, 2024No Comments

The past several years have seen a dynamic change in the offshore contact center business model’s evolution.  Going into 2020, established norms will be thrown out the window, as more enterprises look to engage with outsourcers that are able to drive not only low costs from destinations overseas, but strong value as well. It is in this vein that South Africa is rising to the consciousness of customer experience executives in both Canada and the US who are eager to find new locations that have the scalability, quality and operating environment conducive to long-term investment.  With focus on end-user retention and loyalty generation at the forefront of business priorities, South Africa is appealing to North America at the right time.

In many ways, North America has been undiscovered territory for the South African BPO value proposition.  Historically, South Africa’s outsourcers have focused on winning investment around UK and Australian customer experience delivery.  This has been due to what many see as the strong cultural overlap between South African agents and consumers in those two demand markets. However, there is now a realization that outsourced front-office work from South Africa needs to spread its wings across the broader ‘Anglosphere.’ Only by incorporating a North American element can South Africa reach its long-term offshore customer experience potential.  This was a major theme at the 2019 BPESA GBS Summit, which was held recently in the coastal city of Durban.

On the face of it, South Africa’s customer experience delivery angle should be attractive for the North American market.  With so many firms servicing consumers out of the Philippines, the need to diversify into locations that are cost-effective and that offer a high degree of quality is of great importance.  With a population estimated to be nearly 60 million people, South Africa certainly can offer a high degree of scalability, indeed one of the highest in the English-speaking offshore world.  That its unemployment rate is in excess of 25% means further flexibility in its labor force.

But what hit home for many prospective North American investors that attended the Durban event was the focus on skills and value that can be derived from South Africa.  Over the course of the event, the emphasis on how the outsourcing sector’s representative body is laying the groundwork for both skilled front-line agents alongside subject matter experts focused on back-office processes as well as IT was not lost on US and Canadian visitors.

Also not lost was the potential of leveraging these skill sets with impact sourcing. Most notably, the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator model was universally seen by those attending the event to be a point of competitive differentiation for South Africa.  With corporate social responsibility a facet of so many enterprise procurement strategies in the US and Canada, outsourcers that can leverage such programs will be at an advantage in North America.

South African outsourcing finishes 2019 at a point of advantage.  Notwithstanding the successful summit held in Durban, its level of favorability in North America is strong – according the most recent Ryan Strategic Advisory Front Office Omnibus Survey, South Africa was among the top three most favored offshore locations in both the US and Canada. Going into 2020, it carries both goodwill and momentum among North American enterprise executives eager to tap its BPO community’s customer experience expertise.  But, make no mistake about it, South Africa’s industry body and members need to lead this initiative for it to be a success.  While partnerships with different government bodies is important, it is imperative that the public sector recognizes that its role is to respond to the needs of the outsourcing community by creating favorable business conditions.  US and Canadian executives will be watching this closely. But, if there is one thing that is clear, it is that the time for South Africa has never been riper among North American buyers; the South African outsourcing sector cannot afford to wait in seizing this opportunity.