The next time you call your phone company with a question about cellular service, or need to dispute a charge that appeared on your latest credit card statement, don’t be surprised if the voice on the other end of the line belongs to a customer service representative in Guyana.
Qualfon, a leader in the business processing outsourcing (BPO) industry, has quickly become one of Guyana’s biggest private employers. Qualfon has a strong track record of sales, customer service and back-office processing growth in the BPO industry. As part of its mission of “making people’s lives better,” Qualfon invests in the well being of its people — a philosophy that’s been key to high employee morale and tenure.
It has launched support programs such as providing milk subsidies for its employees and in the community to take care of its people — which in turn provides a high-level platform for Qualfon to better care for its customers, clients and communities.
It now has 1,700 workers in Georgetown, the capital. A second site just a few kilometers away will have an additional 800 employees within the next 12 to 18 months, and a large multi-building campus planned at a third site near Guyana’s new national sports stadium will eventually house up to 5,000 workers.
Qualfon, established in 1996, has just over $100 million in annual revenues; its chief executive officer, Michael P. Marrow, is based in Boca Raton, Fla. “In the early years, India was the country of choice for BPO firms because of its large labor pool, low wages and prevalence of English speakers.
“The challenge India has had is a very recognizable Indian accent that Americans tend to have a difficult time with,” Marrow told us. “The Guyanese have a pleasant accent, and we’ve never had any problems with that. Several large mobile phone operators and banks visited our Guyana operations and were very pleased.” He added: “Companies like ours are constantly looking for other locations and have been opening up call centers in Costa Rica, Mexico and Honduras. One advantage is that we’re in similar time zones and close by, so if one of our Fortune 100 customers uses our services, they can frequently go and visit the sites.
Marrow said Qualfon’s clientele consists of wireless operators, banks, credit-card companies and major retailers.“Guyana has the benefit of proximity. You can get there in five hours from JFK [John F. Kennedy Airport] or four hours from Miami,” he said. “Their native language is English, not Spanish, and like the Filipinos, the Guyanese have a very strong affinity to the United States. There’s also a strong affinity to the U.K., so it’s a terrific location. The government is very supportive, and the technology infrastructure has really progressed since we first opened there seven years ago.
“When we started, we were communicating with our domestic centers via satellite. Now it’s via fiber-optic cable linked to Trinidad,” he added. “There’s also a new fiber-optic route coming in from Brazil, which we expected to go online momentarily. By May, we will have a state-of-the-art, fully redundant network in place for our clients.”
So far, Qualfon has spent about $4 million in infrastructure in Guyana and plans to spend another $3 million in the next few years. In that regard, Guyana’s GO-Invest promotion agency has proven extremely useful. “Virtually everything in Guyana is imported, so part of the incentives GO-Invest provided was for us to have these import duties waived,” Marrow explained. “In order to build our sites, we had to bring in all the computers, cubicles, servers, routers, office equipment and telephony infrastructure.”
While Qualfon is the largest call center company in Guyana, it is not the only one. Clear Connect Inc. was established in 2007 by local businessman Adrian Collins, who had offshore experience in the Philippines, India, Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. Collins started in the first floor of a Georgetown office building with 36 employees, and he has since built Clear Connect into a successful operation with a local workforce of 200.
“As near-shore leaders in this industry, we rank second to none in providing principled customer management and BPO solutions tailored to specific industry verticles,” says the company website. “We strive to improve operational efficiencies, achieve key performance metrics and reduce costs in the industries of communications and media, financial services, health care, retail, travel and hospitality.”
Another company, London-based Sambora Communications, offers its clients inbound sales and service, retention programs, customer satisfaction surveys, lifestyle surveys and debt collection services from its Georgetown branch office.
Sambora’s chairman is Ralph Ramkarran, the senior partner in Cameron & Shepherd, Guyana’s oldest and best-known law firm, as well as the outgoing speaker of the National Assembly. The company says it plans to expand its workforce to as many as 1,000 employees, citing “Guyana’s reliable and secure communications network” as well as its English-speaking workforce and its people’s neutral accent. Sambora adds: “Our low-cost base in Guyana allows us to provide high-quality solutions at costs that are competitive with all offshore locations.”
Qualfon’s Marrow said that when factoring in all operating costs, Guyana is still about 10 percent cheaper than the Philippines and 30 percent cheaper than Costa Rica. “In Costa Rica, Spanish is the native language and we’re trying to hire English-speaking people. Only a small percentage of Costa Ricans speak English, and an even smaller percentage speak English fluently, and they command a premium for their services.” In Guyana, the call center position is a mid-level or above opportunity. “Comparatively speaking,” Marrow said, “they earn what an accountant with a few years’ experience or mid-level manager would make.”
Read the entire Washington Diplomat coverage of the South America Country of Guyana, click here.