It is certain that COVID-19 is going to alter the face of businesses. With restrictions imposed on the movement of people and supply chains getting disrupted in a globalized world, businesses are increasingly switching to remote working models and transforming digitally rapidly. Amidst such unprecedented times, the impact of successive lockdowns on BPOs in India have been massive. Sources have reported that India, today has around 36% of global share of BPOs with an increase in its employment levels by 50%. The figures seem positive however, the question lies in whether they continue to remain impressive in the forth-coming post-COVID-19 world.
To understand the current complications that the BPOs are dwindling in, one needs to think from the perspective of both clients and their BPO partners. On one hand, BPOs had to transition their employees to working from home (WFH) in immediate response to the nation- wide lockdown and manage a distributed workforce. Clients, on the other hand, expressed their concerns regarding the breach of private, sensitive customer data and security, thereby hesitating to rely on telecommuting model. Questions around impact on productivity, either due to lack of suitable infrastructure or due to lack of constant supervision began to surface. With almost 70-80% of BPM industry’s workforce working remotely from home, the Indian BPO market came up with solutions to meet the needs and demands of their respective clients. The internet connectivity at associates’ homes were soon upgraded and digital technologies such as Zoom, Google Hangout, Anydesk, Webex, etc. were deployed in order to ensure that there’s no barrier in providing constant supervision to associates. Furthermore, data security was taken care of through VPN services and business continuity plans with clients were discussed keeping in mind, the present operating environment and its implications.
Investment in automation in a tech- savvy nation like India has been taking place since years to keep it ahead of the global automation curve and it would not be incorrect to say that the outbreak of COVID-19 has catalyzed the process of adopting AI as an alternative to tasks that require human intervention. AI is extensively used by companies today in order to compensate for the lack of human element occurring due to the pandemic- induced inconveniences for AI doesn’t go on strikes, can work 24*7 without falling ill and doesn’t go on vacations. It appears more appealing for international businesses to minimize risks due to humans and geographies by not taking India’s BPO expertise into consideration and adopting AI in a post-COVID-19 scenario. However, what is not realized is that AI cannot answer complex inquiries, lacks the ability to manage CRM related tasks and lacks attention to details, thereby leading to the delivery of limited customer experience.
Given the criticality of the situation, it is worth inferring that if the grand experiment of WFH model becomes a huge success, the need to commute to workplaces and ensuring workplace infrastructure becomes questionable. Furthermore, despite adoption of automated services, customers expect a personalized experience and often grumble on receiving automated responses without human touch, eventually leading to declining growth opportunities, connects, prospects and conversions. To deal with the situation, firstly, as lockdowns are relaxed, the BPO industry must test blended work environments constituting of both physical and virtual collaboration platforms, with due importance given on data security and personalized customer experience, leveraging both human interventions and technology. Secondly, the COVID-19 crisis can be treated as an opportunity for BPOs since the sector is witnessing more outsourcing due to virtualization and the need to service various thriving industries like e-commerce remotely. Thirdly, leveraging tier-2/3 cities across India can facilitate business continuity and reduce functional risks since their resilience and return-to-work rates are higher and majority of the workforce, unlike in Tier-1 cities stays near workplaces, hence, minimizing the need to rely on public transport.
In conclusion, with the BPS industry being diverse and heterogeneous, navigating through COVID-19 led global recession, geopolitical uncertainty, and changing human behavior there is a strong need to develop robust strategies. For whatsoever be the crisis, outsourcing will continue to happen as businesses expand and scale up with time. Businesses will continue to adapt, acclimatize and become resilient by undergoing transformations in their operations. The shift in business models and logics can prove advantageous for BPM industry for they can diversify their service offerings in accordance to the varying requirements of organizations.