Customer Experience outsourcer TaskUs recently selected Cali, Colombia over several other potential locations for its new hybrid contact center, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The New Braunfels, Texas headquartered firm opened its Colombia operations during the peak of the COVID pandemic using remote workers, but has since opened its modern workspace in the attractive Chipichape area of Cali.
Unlike traditional centers, the TaskUs facility is designed as flexible space that can accommodate workers that want a traditional commute to work, as well as those who want to work from home and “drop in” from time to time. Finance Colombia’s executive editor Loren Moss recently visited the facility for a tour, and to speak with Beatriz Viveros, TaskUs’ Senior Recruitment Manager for Latin America.
Finance Colombia: Can I have your name and your position here?
Beatriz Viveros: Sure, I am Beatriz Viveros (above photo), Senior Recruitment Manager for Latin America.
Finance Colombia: Ah, ok so not only for Colombia but for all of Latin America?
Beatriz Viveros: Yes, for now, we are located in Cali (Colombia) and Tijuana (México). Also, well, I would also be part of some, additional growth that we are considering here in Latin America
Finance Colombia: Why did you choose Cali? Why Colombia and then why Cali specifically?
Beatriz Viveros: Well, why Colombia? The corporation has always been looking to grow in Latin America, it has seen it as an offshore need close to the United States because of the time zone, which suits us a lot, as well as Colombia; the level of training, the level of bilingualism and obviously the financial solidity as well as country security.
Most of our operations are in the Philippines, which is where the company started…This topic of growing multilingual began, so that is why the topic of Spanish was highly valued. So it was part of this growth of multi-language that the company is doing and that is why they chose Colombia.
When they began to review Colombia, the truth is that there is an anecdote that our vice president would tell you better, but when they began to review Colombia, they reviewed other cities, they did not know anything about Colombia and considered cities other than Cali.
They never considered Bogotá, because the idea of TaskUs is not to be located in these super crowded and super dense cities in which market competition is extremely tough, so we want to be located in places where we can make a difference and where the impact is felt.
Cali, well, the anecdote that our vice president always tells is that, when they called him to offer this job, which was the first person they hired here, they mentioned Medellín. So, they asked him, Can you move to Medellín? And he said, yes, that might be an option. It seems cool to me, but have you considered Cali? He is from Cali.
Then they asked him, “are you serious about Cali?” And he said “of course.” Cali is the third city in the country, the cost of living is lower than Bogotá. Bogotá and Medellín are more populated, especially in the BPO ecosystem, than the other two cities, and also Cali has super strong telecommunications infrastructure. I believe that this is something very few people know about Cali. So, let’s see, Colombia has three undersea internet cables, the first two access the country from the north and they supply service to a vast part of the country. The third one accesses the country through the Pacific. That one from the Pacific goes straight into Cali so, the quality that we have is very big in that aspect. In addition, there is also a talent training issue that is very little explored with very few BPO players here, so he always cataloged it as a hidden gem and told them that.
He says that later when he arrived for his second interview, they told him, “well, we want to share with you that the city where we are going to start operations is Cali.” So, he contacted them with Invest Pacífic and everything else. I believe that at that time the corporation realized the value and the great strategic position of the city to grow here in Latin America.
They realized all the great values that Cali could have and everything that was not exploited and they loved it. After that, we started all the exploration in Cali and it has gone very well for us.
We arrived in Cali at a very critical moment for the city, we started operations in January 2021. If you remember, we were here three months before the riots, not sure if you are aware of that. So, we were launching, riots were going on, we were in the middle of COVID, but I think that the way TaskUs launched, how focused we are on the benefits for its employees. They came from having faced this pandemic issue in the Philippines, the importance of keeping people safe, to be able to offer the additional benefits that we provide, we have prepaid medicine for all our employees so that they are safe
That sold very well then, when we arrived, people loved it. Well, I am the recruitment manager. I tell you, for me, the work was not complicated. People understood all this, what we do, and this has always been our priority. Always to keep our people safe. All the ramping that was done in Colombia was work from home accounts
Right now, we are going back to the site. This started more or less a month ago and it has been very gradual. We are not one of those companies that say, “well, tomorrow you have to be on site working and I do not care about your daughter, your school, your transportation, your house,” all of these. On the contrary, coming back to the site has been very well-planned giving people time. So, I think these have been the great advantages. That was the reason why we chose Cali and they are the reasons why we have already been so successful in the city.
Finance Colombia: When talking about the workforce, what would be the advantages, how is the recruiting process, how are you hiring people, what differences are, for example, when talking about bilingualism, education, preparation for employability, and so on?
Beatriz Viveros: I would say that the first topic is soft skills. Definitively, “El Caleño” (someone from Cali) is known for being…having a friendly personality, for being empathetic and all those qualities are transmitted very well into customer service and match with TaskUs style. We provide proactive service, many customer services, and what makes us different in the BPO world is the type of clients we work with which are hyper growth and are very disruptive, so our services have to be the same and to do so, the way we deal with it, the relationship with our employees, the way we deal with all the talent challenges are different.
We strive to provide benefits that are completely “ridiculous”. With that, we achieve that our employees are engaged with the company and with our customers, so that we provide outstanding service to those clients, and they have customer service way beyond a standard BPO.
So, what have we found here? Well, we found that there are more than 30 institutions that produce bilingual people a year providing more than 7,000 bilinguals a year. The bilingualism percentage has grown tremendously in Cali in the last 10 years, from 4% to 15% of the population that we have. That huge pool of bilinguals, from B1 to B2 (English levels) available, is another thing that caught our attention and, as I was saying, the cost of living is quite affordable compared with the rest of the cities in the country. Now, when we are recruiting, it has not been all that simple that we put up the little flag and a lot of people arrive
We have made some very great efforts, precisely with the mayor’s office since we got here, mostly training related. So, what is it that you find a lot in our geography? And you should know it very well. Individuals who have made an effort to learn English but given that they do not have opportunity to practice it enough, their fluency is not the best. So, we created a school dedicated to solving that issue. It is called The Art of Fluency which started operations in May of last year.
We have already graduated more than 100 students with a very high success rate, we graduated about 80% of the students. Those individuals after they graduate from a completely free program with us, they can re-access our selection process to be considered again
We have hired a large proportion of these students. It is very interesting because they have either come from initiatives that we have made in conjunction with the mayor’s office, or they are people who approach us to work with us; however, during the process we realize that they are not that proficient. So, we tell them, “look, you are a little rusty, your English sounds a little choppy, you need training.” But we also know that here in Colombia we are not prepared to this level of bilingualism and that is why TaskUs decided to invest in this as a kickback completely to the community, and it has benefited us a lot.
In my recruiting team, there is this lady with quite a success story. She came to the recruitment process, she entered the academy then she came to work with us as a teammate, she worked for a few months and then she participated in an internal promotion process. She was with us in a trial process to see how she was doing to become a recruiter and right now she is working with us as a sourcer and it is incredible. I love stories like that. She is a mother, she has a daughter, and she says, I love it here. She was with us at the launch.
She has a somewhat unusual name for Colombia. Her name is Ariacna. So, she says, this is one of the first places where they pronounce my name correctly and they also take me into account for all the other things, like how to improve my English, the schedule with my daughter and everything else. So, there are very nice stories that prove that this really works. We can discuss very large numbers and other topics, but I can tell you that it is very cool to see someone from my team whose life I know has changed and that her daughter’s life has changed because of that, so it is very interesting. That is our great commitment with the talent from Cali.
Finance Colombia: What types of clients do you serve? Not sure if you can name them.
Beatriz Viveros: I can not name them but I can tell you what they are about. For example, there is a car sharing service, a car sharing platform in the United States. There is also a service with fintech with financial platforms. We have some very interesting services, for example DNA Testing, we provide customer service for them also an alcohol delivery service. There is a service, with all this COVID situation, there are a lot of health-related decks, so we provide assistance with COVID tests and other types of health related topics. There are also many e-commerce companies, and given that most of our services are very focused on cloud services, they are all very innovative companies that are just as disruptive, just like us, all hypergrowth and with the intention of growing very fast, different and with excellent customer service. So, we have had tech for education as well. There is an online learning platform, a high-level company, and we provide customer service to them. Right now, we have a very interesting one that is coming, and they are those strange things that come here, that are not seen in other companies, for example, a digital locker provider; there are these lockers that you can have in certain places but you have some digital tokens…
Finance Colombia: Oh yeah. That is already growing…
Beatriz Viveros: …To access. So, all these types of clients that are so different that require a different customer service than the regular tele-call that you could have anywhere else, those are our clients and that is what we prepare our talent for.
Finance Colombia: What is different about TaskUs? Obviously there are many high quality BPOs and many BPOs that provide high levels of service, but can you tell me what it is that defines TaskUs that are that is different, not like, “we have better service,” everyone says that, but speaking of what they are, if someone is evaluating all the BPOs: “Wow, TaskUs is unique,” or is it beyond the others because—not sure if it because of its focus, why would it be?
Beatriz Viveros: Because we choose to work with different clients. As mentioned, the majority of them are hypergrowth, disruptive companies unique within their market and, now we are working with another that produces digital passports for teams to work in very large mining or construction companies. So, as you can see, they all are companies who do unique, very special things that are beginning to grow and that we can grow with them. That is the first part.
The second part is how those companies approach their relationship with their frontline, their teammates. We believe that the best way to produce security for our clients in the management of their information and in the management of their clients, is to treat our frontline in the best way, always thinking people first. So, clear examples of those: Here in Colombia, you know that prepaid medicine is an upper management benefit only. TaskUs provides prepaid medicine for its entire frontline here. They all have a 100% contract with Medisanitas, which you know, is one of the best companies here in Colombia. It is 100% covered for them. Also, they can add two beneficiaries and TaskUS pays 50% of such cost. And given that we managed such a good deal with them, that fee is way lower than what they can get anywhere else. That is one of the ways of telling you how we treat people well so that they are so happy to be here, that our clients’ information is not at risk nor is the service of our clients’ clients at risk.
In addition, we provide tuition reimbursement which is a global benefit for all TaskUs employees and that’s another thing, the benefit is the same for everyone, frontline, managers, supervisors. We provide $500USD a year to study whatever you want. It could be language training, certifications, or college. Those funds are available every year at your disposal.
We also have the benefit that I like the most, which I always say is the birthday off, and it is a real thing that happens that people can schedule. Also, we have other types of benefits. We have something super unique which is the wellness center. There are psychologists, coaches and psychiatrists dedicated to the mental care of people when they need it and we have a lot of proactive activities for people. I can tell you that when I got here, I found things as diverse as intuitive nutrition, mandala courses, talks on empowering women’s sexuality, that is, some spectacular things that you would say, are things that contribute to the total growth of the employee, and it is rare to see them in a company
So, that is the sense that we have and I would tell you that those two things are different, with whom we choose to work and how we choose to work with people
Finance Colombia: So the management, the upper TaskUs management, is satisfied with their decision to choose Cali?
Beatriz Viveros: Yes. We are growing a lot, and as you can see this site’s capacity is for about 375 employees and we already have hired more than 800 teammates. So this clearly implies that we have had greater growth than expected, that very soon we will need another site like this one and we have been working here for a year and a half and we are completely happy with Cali.
Finance Colombia: Attrition is not a problem?
Beatriz Viveros: We have one of the lowest attrition rates, it is not a problem, right now; low compared to the industry and low compared to other cities. Precisely because of benefits and employee management because there is also something more about philosophy, not so much about money, because if you know the BPO industry, you know this matter of telling someone about his schedule but when they start working, they say, “sorry we need to change the schedule,” we do not do that here. Saying, “you know, the volume of the client went down so I need you to ask for a vacation tomorrow” and you go like “but wait I am in the middle of the week, I have nothing to do, I have no money!” We do not do that kind of thing. So, we try to enable people to plan their lives, to plan their free time, it matters a lot to us so that they can rest, and we do it very well out of respect. On that matter, the HR Department is very firm and works hand in hand with all the other areas and help us a lot to control attrition-related issues.