The Philippines’ vital business process outsourcing industry (BPO) may have taken a hit during the first few months of quarantine to curb the spread of COVID-19, but true to its history of resilience, it is slowly adjusting to shifting demands and new normal standards that will make it all the more the outsourcing destination of choice once the pandemic ends.
As with other industries, BPO companies in the Philippines were disrupted by the restrictions that the government put in place beginning mid-March. The mobility of workers—most of whom live outside business districts and largely rely on public transportation to get to their place of work—was severely hampered.
Most of businesses closed down and several services shuttered as the Philippines tried to stop the spread of the virus. Only essential businesses remained in operation.
The Philippine government, however, had to strike a balancing act. Knowing full well the contribution of the industry to its growth story, the government allowed BPO companies in the Philippines to resume activities, while enjoining firms to practice stricter health standards and social distancing measures.
Business process outsourcing to the Philippines remained brisk up until the pandemic. At the beginning of the decade, the industry was already employing 1.3 million Filipinos and was generating more than US$26 billion dollars in annual revenues, equivalent to around 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The BPO industry remains one of two main pillars of the Philippine economy, aside from overseas Filipino workers whose remittances have, by and large, propped up the country’s dollar reserves. Today, there are more than 800 outsourcing providers operating in the country.
Holding the fort of many BPO companies in the Philippines is a vast labor pool of highly educated and skilled workforce, which, to a large extent, grew up with a close cultural affinity to the West. Thanks to relatives working abroad and open borders allowing for exchange of ideas, Filipinos take pride in their English-speaking communication skills. Add to this the digital-savvy of Filipinos, the Philippines has become the country of choice of international firms outsourcing bulk of their operations where labor cost is low and productivity high.
Key services outsourced by these firms are customer service, inbound sales and technical support. While BPO companies in the Philippines largely support English language services, many of these firms also offer Asian and other European languages.
But BPO companies in the Philippines are always making one step forward as new challenges from globalization and cross-border interactions emerge. Data processing and management, content moderation and computer-animated design are just a few of the services now on offer as new variables such as artificial intelligence put pressure on the entire labor structure.
No crisis can permanently stop BPO companies in the Philippines from flourishing. These BPO companies in the Philippines will always adjust to the current normal.
As firms across the globe begin to emerge from the crisis brought about by the new coronavirus disease pandemic, operations are set to continue and expansion will provide an avenue of choice.
The Philippines, with its valued workforce, would remain to be the number one choice, said Ralf Ellspermann, CEO of PITON-Global, a leader in the BPO space. This kind of topnotch value for work is what has allowed firms like PITON-Global to remain resilient amid adverse situations and a challenging future ahead.
“The value proposition of the Philippine BPO industry, as one of the world’s leading BPO destinations remains unchanged. There’s really no alternative to the Philippines in terms of cultural affinity, English language proficiency and service capabilities. It might take a few years to recover from Covid-19, but, ultimately, we will bounce back,” said Ellspermann.