Since Barack Obama and Raul Castro began thawing US – Cuban relations, a great deal of speculation has arisen over the island nation’s commercial potential. And, while there are certainly opportunities that appear evident as Cuba’s economy liberalizes, it is unlikely that offshore contact center delivery is immediately among them. From the perspectives of a service culture and connectivity, much is to be done before Cuba can be considered a viable location for offshore support.
On the surface, Cuba may seem like a great possibility for BPO vendors seeking a new delivery point in America’s nearshore. An educated population with a reputation for multilingualism and lower costs are all points of strengths. However, to truly evaluate the country’s outsourcing potential, digging below the surface is essential.
Cuba’s physical internet availability is an obvious concern. Nearshore Americas has been at the vanguard of commentary around outsourcing in Latin America, and speaks with authority on anything related to Cuba. Kirk Laughlin, the company’s founder and managing director was recently quoted where he rightly called out the Cuban government’s slow efforts at improving the country’s broadband network. Connectivity is essential for contact centers servicing consumers abroad, and this facet of Cuba’s infrastructure will need to be prioritized, should the government wish to lure BPO operators.
And, while network upgrades may be an expensive upfront capital expense, they should be achievable in a reasonable period of time. What would be more of a problem is finding the numbers of agents appropriate for servicing consumers abroad. While tourism is one of the key drivers of Cuba’s economy, luring multilingual employees from hotels, restaurants and airlines to work for contact centers will be difficult in the short term. Not only do these jobs provide face-to-face interaction with foreign visitors, with no contact center culture present in Cuba, prospective employees will have limited understanding of the sector and the long-term career benefits that it affords. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that suitable commercial real estate for western contact center is very limited, meaning more upfront costs for greenfield construction.
There is also the matter of the digital workforce. With more end-users expecting excellence in non-voice customer service, it is unlikely that Cuba (at least initially) will be an attractive offshore delivery option. Internet access extremely limited for the local population and personal computing devices are prohibitively expensive. Thus, training large numbers of agents with minimal digital experience to support consumers will be time-consuming and costly for outsourcers.
While the reforms in Cuba are rightly causing discussion among forward-looking BPO executives, the country is a long way from being ready for offshore outsourcing. This is not to say that Cuba will never be viable. However, savvy industry watchers will recall that countries in Central Europe took at least a decade after the fall of communism before developing as nearshore options. In order to be prudent, a conservative time horizon should temper outsourcers’ Cuban BPO expectations.