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Your entry to the back office

ON A RECENT train journey from Bangalore to Hyderabad I was engaged in a polite conversation with one of my co-passengers. Soon the topic of my occupation was raised and I mentioned that I worked as a manager with a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) firm. The spontaneous question that followed was, "Oh! So you take calls at night?" I found it interesting that while the term BPO has become ubiquitous, it is yet primarily associated with call centers, which is not the case.

BPO as a concept is not new. What is new is its explosive entry in India since 2000. Two main reasons have contributed to this: (1) major leaps in the availability of robust technical infrastructure - due to which it is also known as ITES (Information Technology Enabled Services) (2) over 250 million English speaking population available at a fraction of the cost of Western countries (with an addition of 15 million college graduates every year!).

BPO, what ?

What do BPO companies do? To put it simply, they specialise in performing back-office processes for other companies. The economic downturn that hit the world economy around the beginning of the millennium and the 9/11 tragedy made several companies look for ways of reducing cost and streamlining operations. One such way, for a company, is to "outsource" some of its processes to a third party (the BPO firm), at probably half or even one-fourth its original cost. Price here, is key! In India, this trend started primarily in the technology area - operating and manning remote technical helpdesk teams, application and network monitoring services among other offerings. Once the success of this mode of delivery was established, it didn't take long for other processes in a companies' operations to be outsourced as well - healthcare, supply chain, insurance, education & training, finance, customer service, collections, telemarketing - to name just a few.

By virtue of the variety of operations handled by BPOs, this industry is a beehive of career opportunities for people of different skill sets. These opportunities can broadly be categorised as follows:

Process Associate/Team Lead

These valued resources account for approximately 80% of a BPO workforce. They are the people who actually perform the operation for the remote customer. Depending on the type of outsourced process, an `associate' may talk to a credit card customer who has a query or perform complex financial account reconciliation or process vendor invoices for payment.

While specialised skill sets are required to perform each of these activities, you should satisfy some of the basic requirements: A Bachelor's degree (B. Sc., B. Com., BA, BE, B Tech, BHM), fluency in spoken English (preferably without mother tongue influence) and good communication skills. The specific qualifications would be as follows:

Technical Support Helpdesk: Computer Science degree, professional certifications such as MCSE, MCSD, CCNA, CCNP etc.

Accounting Service: B Com, Chartered Account, Cost Accountant

Insurance Service: Knowledge of selling insurance and administering claims

Call centers: Excellent spoken English, good listening skills, empathy and patience. For outbound call centers such as collections and telemarketing, selling and convincing skills would also be required.

A 1-3 years of prior work experience in the related field would definitely add to your advantage. Of late, there has also been a trend to take "part-timers" for some of these positions. So if you are a housewife or a retired professional, looking for part time work, here's your chance!

For a fresher joining at a process associate level the starting salary would be Rs 6,000/- gross per month. This could go up to Rs 8,000/- per month based on the number of years of work experience the candidate has. This is the same whether the associate is a call center agent, a technical helpdesk analyst or in any of the services.

Operations Manager

These are the people who manage teams of 10-30 associates to deliver the service. This position attracts people from backgrounds as diverse as hotel management, dentistry and even defense services.

While post graduation is preferred, your prior work experience would be an important consideration factor (at least 4-5 years). You would need to clearly demonstrate that you have managed and led teams, apart from possessing sound analytical and communication skills.

Transition Manager

This is a high profile and challenging role. The TM is responsible for understanding the customer's process and successfully transitioning it to the outsourced mode.

An MBA degree/diploma from a premier institute with work experience of 3-4 years is the typical qualification. It would be an added advantage if you have prior experience in business development/sales/consulting.

Trainer

There are both soft skills trainers (e.g. American accent training) and process trainers (specific to a process such as insurance, financial accounting, payroll processing etc).

While trainers are required to have excellent facilitation and communication skills, prior work experience in the related process would add to your advantage.

Quality

These prized resources work with Operations to improve processes and make it more effective and efficient. They implement well-known quality programmes such as Six Sigma, COPC etc

An MBA degree/diploma from a premier institute with work experience of 3-4 years is the typical qualification. If you have been involved in previous organisations in implementing and working with quality systems such as ISO, TQM, Six Sigma etc., you would definitely have an edge over others.

If you wish to join a BPO, there are four recommended ways of applying:

Employee referral - Get hold of an employee in the BPO firm and ask them to refer you.

Directly call the HR department of the company you wish to apply - Take initiative!!

Headhunting firms/websites - Keep your résumé ready and distribute it.

Responding to newspaper advertisements - Be alert and go through all the weekly supplements of leading newspapers in your city.

The BPO industry in India is slated to grow at 50% annually for the next 3-4 years (59% growth in 2002-2003). An approximate 2,50,000 lakh people are working in this promising and growing industry and the number of people joining this bandwagon is growing by the day. And you could be one of them!

LAVANYA KRISHNA

opportunities@cnkonline.com

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