Archive photo for illustrative purposes.
Archive photo for illustrative purposes.

COSTA RICA NEWS – Call centre operations whose only job requirement is speaking a second language (ie English), seem to have their days numbered in Costa Rica, according to the El Financiero.

An example is the departure of Star Tek at the end of this month, moving its operations to Honduras, and as a consequence the loss of  550 jobs in the country.

The Ministry of Foreign Trade (COMEX) and the Costa Rican Coalition for Development Initiatives (CINDE) agree that basic call centre operations are cost sensitive, leaving Costa Rica to specialized operators.

According to Alexander Mora, Foreign Trade minister, companies like Star Tek look to operate at the lowest cost possible. “When a call centre like Star Tek is very focused on selling customer support services and announce they are moving to Honduras, I think they are sending a clear message that the operational cost is fundamental,” explains Mora.

While basic service centre operators might take a hike, others like IBM, Procter & Gamble and VMWare for example, that require specialized services are choosing Costa Rica. CINDE director, Gabriela Llobet explains that IBM inaugurated last month its security centre. P&G also inaugurated last month its logistics planning centre. And VMWare plans to have 400 employees by 2015, providing added value service to its virtualization software.

Currently there are 27 companies classified as call centres in Costa Rica. The list excludes divisions of multinationals that provide services to its regional offices from Costa Rica, for example support in areas of finance and human resources.

When it comes to basic call centres or “first generation” call centres as described by COMEX and CINDE, they have become uncompetitive, dating back to 2006 when a “cannibalization” between companies was detected, when companies would pay 30% more to obtain bilingual operators from their competitors.

According to CINDE, and published in May 2006 by El Financierio (EF), the starting salary for a team manager in a service centre was about ¢450.000 monthly. But some firms began offering ¢600.000 and perks like a laptop, medical insurance with a private hospital, food subsidy and even extended vacations, among other benefits, all to “steal” employees from other companies in the industry.

Minister Mora explains that the practice continues today and is one of the reasons responsible for loss of competitiveness of the country in maintaining the call centre businesses.

According to Mora, in Costa Rica the employees of services sought by basic call centre operators are overpaid. The country has lost the necessary conditions to retain basic call centres.

The country is now focusing on strengthening a position for more sophisticated operations. LLobet explains that the country is already “one of the most attractive locations for sophisticated service centres.”

An example of the move to more sophistication is Sykes, a company that began in Costa Rica 15 years ago with a basic call centre operation. Today, the company operates in the county four “vertical” units: financial, telecommunications, IT and consumer services.

Roy Mena, corporate affairs manager at Sykes, explains that “technology requires greater specialization, both in formal education and in areas such as electronic engineering, electrical and computer, as well as certification in Cisco technologies.”

Meanwhile, specialized call centre operations are not a priority of the Government.

Minister Mora says that, with time, their efforts will be directed to attracting foreign investment for joint projects, especially in the agribusiness sector.

Source: El Financiero