“What’s the next location for offshore delivery?” This is a question that is frequently asked of analysts who cover the outsourcing sector. But, the global environment is not as simple as visiting Baskin Robbins and selecting from thirty-one flavors – the right elements need to be in place before a decision to invest can be made. Despite recent and positive changes, Zimbabwe has a long way to go in proving its value in offshore BPO. Outsourcers and their clients need to be confident that the country ticks the right boxes for quality, and can deliver affordable contact center provision in a competitive environment, before considering investment of any scale.
Anyone who has followed Zimbabwe’s recent history will be optimistic at the shift away from the reign of Robert Mugabe toward a more transparent, open society. However, as this evolution takes hold, BPO providers interested in pioneering services from Zimbabwe should consider a number of realities. One albatross is the country’s infrastructure. Concerns abound over the reliability of its energy supply, and while some improvements in its telephony networks have been recognized in recent years, a great deal of further investment is needed.
Equally worrying for BPO providers is the atrocious state of the Zimbabwean economy, which for years has been hindered through poor management, crippling foreign currency restrictions, and hyperinflation. At least in the short term, the need for a sea change in how Zimbabwe’s finances are handled will be essential to restoring the country’s competitiveness. There is certainly room for improvement. In fact, The World Economic Forum most recently placed the country at a brutal 124th out of 137 in its index of economic competitiveness. If Zimbabwe is to attract outsourcing investment, developing a stable, business-friendly climate is essential.
BPO providers need to be cautious when potentially attractive delivery destinations emerge on the world stage. While exotic at first, once due diligence is completed, things may not look so rosy. Take into account the avalanche of interest in Cuba following the Obama Administration’s efforts to thaw relations between the two countries. The inability of the Cuban government to drive new outsourcing investment by establishing the right commercial environment was rightly called out by Nearshore Americas founder Kirk Laughlin in a hard-hitting editorial some months ago. But, each country is unique, and Zimbabwe is not Cuba.
In its favor, Zimbabwe has a legacy of commercial culture and entrepreneurship that transcend its former government. Business and leisure visitors frequently speak of the customer service mindset found in the country. This is an essential building block for international front-office positioning. Its growing level of internet penetration, historically strong education system, and English-language pervasiveness are also prospective selling points to outsourcers interested in exploring the country’s long-term potential. The efforts of a growing number of local BPO upstart providers to fashion a domestic industry is also encouraging, as is the presence of a national contact center association.
Going forward, it will be imperative for Zimbabwe’s new government to enable the BPO sector by way of sound economic management, and by making the right infrastructure investments. If it is serious, it should also dialogue with BPO industry stakeholders. Providers and enterprises should watch closely for such initiatives, as these would mark the first clear signs that Zimbabwe may indeed become the next big thing in contact center offshore delivery.