US based customer experience outsourcing firm Alorica chose Cali as the keystone city for its expansion into Colombia. So far, the company is satisfied it made the correct decision, as it continues growth in the Andean country. Colombia is one of the newest out of the 18 countries where Alorica operates, serving customer contact across over 250 clients in 30 languages from its 100,000 employees.
Alorica currently has approximately 350 employees in its first Cali, Colombia center, with a capacity to grow to 600 seats. The site is located in a large retail shopping mall, providing employees options for transport, dining, and entertainment. From the site, Alorica services financial, retail and healthcare accounts.
A year after the official opening, Alorica invited Cognitive Business News in for a visit and tour of the facilities. Executive Editor Loren Moss spoke with Alorica team members including Talent Acquisition Manager Camila Rivas, Site Director Tulio Padilla, and Operations Manager Andrés Molina.
Cognitive Business News: Colombia is very competitive when it comes to BPO and contact centers, but it is curious that although Cali is doing very well, it is not as well known as Bogotá and Medellín. What is the special touch that Cali offers to the sector?
Tulio Padilla: I think there are two types of advantages. The first is about our bilingual workforce and that is that in Cali, there are many programs that support the growth of bilingualism. That is not so common in cities like Bogotá and Medellin. In reality, I would say that Bogotá and Medellín are cities that are a little, or much more touristy than Cali, and the bilingual workforce that we have in Cali is much more local.
Likewise, Cali has fairly strong internet penetration. It is the third best city in the country for internet service, which of course helps us a lot with the stability of our network and the stability required to provide services to our customers. In addition, Cali’s location is strategic. This is a city with direct flights to many cities in the United States which obviously facilitates visits both by our clients and also by the different Alorica staff and, let’s say that the weather and the altitude also helps a lot so that there are not so many local risks such as earthquakes, risks of tidal waves allowing us to have a much greater stability than in other cities in the country
Cognitive Business News: Right. I would like to ask you, speaking of manpower, how are you recruiting talent here? How difficult is it to find and hire bilingual talent?
Maria Camila Rivas: Yes. It is quite a big challenge. Because first, this industry is not known in the city and in the department. So, the first thing we did when we landed in the city was to make ourselves known as a real job option for young people and for anyone who wanted to look for work in Cali and in the surrounding cities or municipalities.
At the beginning, we had to educate the population, telling them what a call center is, what a BPO is, what our industry is as well as the options we offer. Once our brand was positioned, then we started looking for bilingual talent.
Let’s say with Andres, that is precisely why he is with us in this interview. He was the first to start the operation here. He was the first to start receiving that bilingual talent…So, it was also a learning curve between us as a recruitment department and his perspective from an operational standpoint, to search and find that balance that would allow us to identify those people. So, little by little, we found those niches, that pool of candidates that we required or that we needed because of their English level, and they brought their friends, their acquaintances, and so little by little, we filled the site. As you can see, we already have three different customers and in conjunction with the Pacific projects, anything related to the bilingualism programs, we get there. To introduce ourselves as a company, foster alliances with English institutes, everything that represents English, we are there.
Cognitive Business News: Alorica is recognized worldwide as a very important global call center brand, however this was the first working site for you in Colombia. Was it difficult to establish a brand? Because those who work in call centers in the industry such as those who follow the industry know very well who Alorica is, but getting here and hiring people is a different thing. How did you handle the challenge, to establish the brand not so much as a service provider but as an employer?
María Camila Rivas: So, we had, let’s say, two channels: the first, social networks. From the beginning, we had a community manager, who is still working with us, and she was in charge of taking all the culture we had at the regional level and landing it here in Colombia. So, we also started working with a local marketing agency to add the “Caleño” seal on it, so we said how everything was Caleño, cañelizate, Alorica Caleño accent, everything, so that people would start asking how is it? What is this?
Well then, at least out of curiosity, we began to reach out to young people. We started with Instagram, Facebook, so the good thing is that from the beginning we always had the building, so that would allow us to show candidates and potential candidates that this was real, that it was not something that we are showing today but that tomorrow it would not exist. We have an excellent location, we are located in Palmetto where most people know that it is a shopping center, it is not a building from nowhere, so let’s say that little by little, we had the guarantee to make ourselves known in the city.
In addition to that, as I was saying that we participated in other events with our brand, explaining to people who we are, what the opportunities are, and so on, I think it was a mix of many things: Our social networks, the marketing agency, our participation in events. Our goal was to be everywhere. We even had billboard cars moving around the city talking about Alorica, everything you can think of, we did it. Here we are!
Cognitive Business News: What you do as an employer to promote individualism so that a person feels like: “when I go to work there is no need to hide who I am?”
Andres Molina: I think that one of the most important things for that, and that has happened here since we opened, has been the open door policy. I think that is key. The fact that anyone is able to establish open communication with each other regardless of their position. That allows us all to be ourselves and to be able to show who we are without fear, without fear of discrimination, without fear of retaliation of any kind. That has been something that since we launched, I think that all operations to date and in all support and administrative areas have been maintained. The fact that we all can talk without any problem—and also activities that are done within the site depending on the time of year.
We do different activities that allow people to show what they are good at. So, apart from the environment of only answering calls and only coming to work, they really show who they are. Let me give you an example; last month we had an activity in which everyone was very participative and very involved. And then those kinds of things, those kinds of activities and additionally, the support that is felt from each and every one from the areas is essential for that.
Cognitive Business News: What are the opportunities to advance as a person starting from an entry level. Are there opportunities to grow? Tell me how that works
Andres Molina: There are, and I think it is one of the great advantages of being a new site. Let me tell you, for instance, from the program that I manage, in the year that we have been operating, we have promoted around fourteen, fifteen people between supervisors, trainers, even towards other areas such as talent acquisition and I think it is very important. And I think it is something that also people, when they began to know us and when they began to work here, they notice that they were real opportunities.
The fact of obtaining the projection of growth is not only in the individual programs but also as a site opens up these opportunities a lot. We focus a lot on getting to know the people we work with, knowing where they want to grow and what moves them in order to start developing and starting to create that BPO and call center culture that it is not only to stay answering calls all your life but that there opportunities to grow, opportunities to work in operations, training, quality support areas also have their own opportunities. So, it is one of the great advantages that we have as a new site to be able to show people and being able to show everyone who has come here that everyone, because I believe that almost everyone at this time, all the staff within each of the operations was promoted internally.
Cognitive Business News: What would you say is the difference between Alorica and others, given that you are competing for talent with other employers inside and outside the sector. What is it that you do, not only from the employee standpoint but also from the customer standpoint? why choose Alorica instead of any other company?
Tulio Padilla: I think there are many points, really. I have had the opportunity to work in different BPOs and I have never come across an organizational structure as strong and as good as the one that Alorica has. I think we have a very big advantage, and it is, first, in the BPO industry, each country works very individually, very apart.
Here, I think we have a great advantage, and that is that we have 23 years of combined experience from people who have helped us, guided us to have a very successful project without taking away the opportunity to customize Alorica to our culture and to bring our culture to the company, and that Alorica really opens the doors to understand the Cali culture as well as the Colombian culture in general, that would be something important for me.
Andres Molina: Yes. In addition, I believe that the work environment that we have been able to generate within the company and that, within that same environment that same communication that we have been able to generate internally; I really believe that we have been able to show our teammates that there is a real balance between work and life. I think that has been quite important to all of us here. We really care about the people we work with and we really care to make sure that they feel good at work as well in their personal life. Those have been key factors. I think that the entire leadership team is focused on showing that the balance can be real if we can achieve it as long as there is some communication…But I do believe that the working environment is and has been super important.
Maria Camila Rivas: I am on the same page there! For example, I have known Andres for, I would say, eight years now. We had the chance to work together in Bogotá for another very large BPO company and the two of us arrived here. I invited him to join this project believing that having the chance to start from scratch and having the opportunity to open a site gives you the chance to leave your mark. Andres is in fact from Barranquilla. He worked in Bogotá, we brought him from there to here
For example, in Tulio’s case, as I was telling you, the fact that he had already lived here, went back to Bogotá and has decided to come back here, clearly means that he understands the potential. We have been in this industry for about ten years, knowing different BPOs and what Tulio and Andres just mentioned, our work environment and how we work together, I think that is what has helped us.
We always go to a place together. For instance, eight days ago, we were celebrating our anniversary, everyone from all lines of business, all departments supporting, so I think that is what really stands out. Even candidates perceive it. When they get here, they sit in the lobby waiting to be interviewed. And when they see people walking by they realize that people are happy here. They say that there are no other places where people smile that much! That is why I love that they smile because that is our agents’ expression and the expression of most of the people who work here. There might be times when they are not smiling, maybe they want to have lunch, but in general they are happy, so that is what it does, because we too, from the different areas and departments, whatever the role in the hierarchy, we want people to feel good. That is precisely what we do here in Alorica.