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BPOs in a Startup World

Updated: May 17, 2021

Last month I wrote a blog about the power of ideas to build on one another over time and influence the world, and how that kind of collaboration has been supercharged of late by technology. One of the comments from a BPO industry veteran I’ve known for years really made me think. He pointed out that:

I’ve often marveled that BPOs serve as the lab or petri dish for where a lot of good old-fashioned breaking-things-innovation continues to happen, or they should be. Good ideas would not propagate nearly as fast in any one industry, let alone across industries, without the secondary market function which BPO facilitates. When you add the computational effect of layers of AI tools to this, it is absolutely gobsmacking to witness the speed of iteration of knowledge being experienced right now.

That sounds exactly right to me. BPOs are very much a part of the "Great Restructuring" going on throughout today’s economy. Disruptive technologies and new business models are having impacts across industries and geographies. This “Fourth Industrial Revolution” kicked-off long before Covid, but with the onset of the global pandemic, we’ve accelerated into the Fourth Industrial Revolution Squared. Today, the work-from-home model has been woven into a larger pattern of transformation at scale. And we’re not going back.

Because every business and individual faces a new landscape in the impending post-crisis world. In its March, 2020, Global Capital Confidence Barometer, EY pointed out that 72% of companies reported they had already been planning major transformation efforts before the pandemic hit. With an eventual return to “normal,” investments in digital technologies will only accelerate. Some 41% of respondents to that EY survey indicated they were investing in accelerating automation.

By October, 2020, a World Economic Forum report found that more than 80% of global firms planned to accelerate digitization of business process and grow remote work, while up to half plan to accelerate automation. About 43% of respondents expect changes to reduce their workforces overall, which implies an expected increase in productivity. Digitization and hyper-personalization will affect businesses, consumers, and employees alike.

Preparing for Anything

When it comes to the CX, startups in particular will face unique challenges and uncertainties emerging from our current malaise. The entrepreneurs that lead them will need to negotiate operational and financial risk while pushing service efficiencies and lowering costs. Those organizations will require agility, flexibility, and faster speed-to-market. Not a few startups will require 24/7 high-touch digital services. And for those seeking to break into new geographic markets, a slew of unforeseen challenges await.

Is there any doubt that startups will need sound, flexible CX strategies around both human beings and technology in this new world emerging? Talent acquisition and retention will be everything, even as technology permeates every aspect of our lives. Training and enabling technologies will need to be designed and applied so as to supercharge agents rather than alienate them. The ability to launch effectively and then reach proficiency quickly will be at a premium.

Now imagine a world where truly agile companies that succeed at transformation set the tone for entire industries. Customers are sure to expect the same level of superior service from diverse firms across the economy. Put another way, expectations will be liquid across industries, products, and services. The new world emerging is sure to be one of immersive technologies and the higher CX that will be associated with them. Companies that don’t keep up will suffer. Many will fade into irrelevance. That’s particularly true for startups.

Seeing Opportunity

But for those startups that can differentiate their business and grow quickly, opportunities will abound. Amidst all the excitement, many will need help building CX expertise and related sustainable processes. They’ll require help scaling and maintaining ROI. Meantime, quality CX will be about capturing an end-to-end view of the customer while avoiding silos in decision-making and execution. That requires training and education to ensure internal and external adoption. Successful companies typically have someone who owns that responsibility, who can move a philosophy forward across departments, systems, and applications.

There are six particularly intriguing entities in the BPO space I’ve been watching of late simply because what they do is so relevant to the times we’re entering into. The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but each of these providers is keen to serve the needs of startups. Each one is positioning itself as a nimble, next-generation partner able to assist hyper growth brands in delivering agile CX. They vary in size from small, medium, to larger sized providers:

Awesome OS. Acquired in 2018 by Transcom, Awesome OS is a provider that specializes in providing high-touch, next-generation, technology-led CX solutions for high-growth Internet and eCommerce entities. The company’s approach has been built over twelve years of partnering with over ninety startups and mid-size companies in a way that aligns with their culture, value, and vision. Throughout that history, Awesome OS has fine-tuned a simplified business model to fulfill the diverse customer support needs of its client base. I’ve been drawn to its story as a means to learn more about how everything from online stores and store-connected social media to new apps and an emerging D2C model are reshaping the retail concept in particular.

GlowTouch. Founded in 2002, GlowTouch focuses on building, supporting, and scaling high-growth businesses. The fact that it has grown from a small, entrepreneurial undertaking into an international provider of outsourcing solutions means it understands the challenges so many startups inevitably encounter. It has a reputation as being a provider that’s easy to work with, in part because it appreciates the fact that it takes time to fully understand clients and become a seamless extension of them. The company notes that it has helped scale a ten million website platform and improve CSAT by 20% with tailored technical support. It also has built a scalable, 24/7 mission-critical QA team to handle the critical care functions for a national healthcare IT solutions provider.

ibex. "BPO 2.0” is the term ibex likes to use to describe its forward-leaning philosophy: a disruptive synthesis of people, technology, and expertise meant to deliver customized, flexible, and scalable CX programs for startups, scale-ups, and large blue-chips. Its connected lifecycle approach embraces end-to-end CX coverage, while its solutions are built for speed, scale, and performance. Recognizing that most startups find building and rapidly scaling an efficient CX program to be a significant challenge, Velocity by ibex aims to get client programs switched-on, turned-up, and outperforming in a small window of time. One client has described ibex as, “the Google of BPO,” high praise for a company with strong leadership at the top.

TaskUs. Founded in 2008, and based in Santa Monica, California, TaskUs is known as a provider that sells business outsourcing services to tech companies around the world. One of its service lines, called TaskUs Launch, is focused specifically on helping startups lift off and scale. A senior managing director at private equity firm Blackstone explained his firm’s 2018 investment in TaskUs by noting that, “The growth in ride sharing, social media, online food delivery, ecommerce, and autonomous driving is creating an enormous need for enabling business services. TaskUs has established a leadership position in this domain with its base of marquee customers, unique culture, and relentless focus on customer delivery.”

ttec. While ttec has spent years investing in technology tools that make the provision of CX more seamless and intuitive, it also now offers “CX for Startups,” a flexible, agile model with rapid scaling solutions. The company states that less than 10% of its potential agents make it through the ttec selection process to become brand ambassadors for clients. Two cases seem noteworthy: a rapid ramp-up from a forty-person customer support group to a team of 2,000 people within a few months while improving CSAT scores; and a 1,600% reduction in abandon rates with a simultaneous 39% drop in talk-time due to better trained and more knowledgeable associates.

Webhelp. The Nest by Webhelp links Webhelp’s expertise in business solutions to the specific needs of startups. This is a dedicated approach that leverages a portfolio of CX services through teams made up of digital natives with a startup mindset that are available 24/7, speaking over forty languages. A startup operations center links Nest sites with agents working from home, offering a mix of onsite and home-based agents depending on the particular needs of the client. That structure seeks to deliver consistent quality while ensuring homogeneity across every location where it supports those startup clients. The company’s advisory team also helps clients design customer journeys, offers access to business fairs, one-on-one consultations with Webhelp executives, workshops, software startups networking, and business development.

Poised for the 2020s

Hyper-growth startups will be a major story of the coming decade. And an important theme sure to run throughout that tale will be startups seeking out strategic partnerships with skilled providers of CX services that act as the potential difference-maker in a host of scenarios. Savvy next-generation companies will seek out similarly entrepreneurial service providers that can provide competitive advantage through a blend of mentoring, encouragement, truth-telling, and access to things like industry expertise, speed-to-launch, and the ability to scale.

The ultimate goal will be to help next generation startups develop into mature but agile and digitally transformed enterprises capable of acting and reacting to a future of perpetually changing data and digital flux fast enough to not only remain relevant, but thrive.

Image: Comstock’s magazine, (Jan. 2017)

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