I interview Andy Searle, the CEO of BPESA, South Africa. Andy has worked in the global business services sector since 1998 focusing on the economic growth of the sector, job creation, and skills development.
Fun fact: Andy is a keen athlete. He’s also overseen a sector that has recently experienced phenomenal growth. The numbers do the talking:
The GBS Operators in the BPESA network added 12,243 new jobs in South Africa in the first three quarters of the year, with 23,410 new jobs created since January 2018, against the Jobs Summit target of 50,000 by 2023.
The sector is making a very positive contribution to addressing some of our key socio-economic challenges: 89% Of the new jobs are allocated to youth, 64% for women, and 10,4% being specifically for excluded youth.
In this interview, we talk about why empathy is a key component in the services industry, what the 4IR skills we need to develop are, online meeting or virtual conference etiquette, and why South Africa has had phenomenal growth in this space.
We’re going to be hit head-on with an increased need for virtual engagements in business brought on by the 4IR (Fourth Industrial Revolution), but especially as we move past our recovery phase from the COVID 19 pandemic.. and according to Andy Searle, CEO of BPESA, it’s a good thing!
He explains why it’s important to understand how to function in the new virtual world and discusses how virtual technologies are shaping global business outsourcing and the 4IR skills that we need to develop.
What virtual technologies & strategies are becoming more apparent in the sector?
We’re no strangers to virtual coaching or virtual teaching – In fact, we’ve got call centres in South Africa that teach young people living in China, as well as in other countries in Asia, how to speak conversational English, in realtime!
In South Africa, we’re fairly new to virtual team management, that’s not second nature just yet even though consulting and tech companies have always had deployment teams on site that are used to working in teams while using various tools to do so. However, historically, South African corporates aren’t good at managing people within their sites.
Based on this, it’s clear that we need to go through a fundamental shift in our management paradigm. There may be a few gaps in your skillset you’ll need to fill which the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) advises to:
- How to manage virtual teams.
- How to manage cross-functional teams.
- How to work without physically meeting each other.
- Building trust.
- Being efficient and effective.
- Being accountable.
- How can the fourth industrial revolution skillsets be defined?
These skillsets are well understood because many of them have been in use for a while, but we’re not teaching anywhere near enough of them as we should. In the South African context, we’re not being taught enough of the technical 4IR skills, or even the behavioural 4IR skills.
Building task-orientated skills in order to execute specific tasks are important, and also constantly learning more as you go along. So it’s important to learn how to use the relevant software, but also the soft skills that go with that.
You’ll have to ask yourself questions like, “How do I manage myself and set my own goals?” and, “How do I work with others in such a diverse environment?” These, as well as learning to be a critical thinker and a problem solver, are soft skills that we’ll quickly need to learn.
What about empathy in virtual engagements or online meetings?
Let’s say hypothetically that a person phones into a call centre after they’ve just had an accident – it’s usually used to trigger a claim process, and in many countries, it’s a very scripted process and it’s treated in a very ‘matter of fact’ way.
Upon receiving that call, most South Africans would ask, “How are you?” and say words of comfort and ask things like, “Does your spouse know about the accident?” which is why South Africans do so well in that sphere of work.
Going beyond what’s scripted – that empathy creates a special connection between people, no matter how far apart in the world they are. That leads to customer satisfaction, customer retention, and there’s immense value in it.
Trust and connection in a call, virtual meeting or even conference is perhaps more important than if it were a face-to-face meeting. If you’re going to bring someone into a conversation in a virtual world, you have to make them feel comfortable. You have to make them feel encouraged and willing to contribute.
What are the technical & soft skill requirements for people who do business process outsourcing in a virtual space?
- Observe the person’s physical posture – Physical cues can often tell you a lot when you’re engaging with someone.
- Be clear and direct in the way you speak – You don’t have an opportunity to pull up a flip chart and illustrate what we’re thinking.
- Structure your virtual meetings more so than physical meetings – Have clear roles in your virtual conferences that the individuals in that session are going to play. Don’t just jump into virtual calls and let the person who shouts loudest get all the airtime.
- Find ways of showing emotion – Things like “Well done”, “congrats”, and “great idea” need to be expressed when it’s not your turn to speak, so use the tools that different platforms offer to do that.
The virtual technologies brought on by the 4IR are enhancing our communication like never before. It’s time we take full advantage of all that these virtual technologies have to offer and boost our soft skills to really thrive in this virtual space.