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I recently returned to Mindpearl Fiji and our wonderful Suva team for a two week stint, after a 3 year absence. Sure, I had been back intermittently for brief 72 hour visits, but not a deep dive into the workings and machinations of what is proudly now a large and complex international contact centre business. I was pleasantly surprised; our little baby is nearly all grown up.

This story gains context if we go back to the beginning. In September 2009 I packed up myself, my wife, my kids and my life and we relocated to Fiji to open a brand new contact centre in the capital, Sunny Suva (as it is called with more than a touch of irony). They say it rains in Suva 200 days a year, but I don’t recall 165 days of sunshine. It is pleasant rain though, as it is never cold, but when you have just endured a decade long Brisbane drought, where the council sent every household an egg timer in an attempt to legislate one million people having 3 minute showers (we are a compliant breed), suffice to say it was rain like I had never seen before.

The main purpose of this adventurous relocation was to open a brand new, state-of-the-art, 1,000 seat contact centre business in Fiji. A feat not previously attempted by the sane.

The day I arrived I found we indeed did have a large building, easily able to handle more than 2,000 people, but at this point it had hundreds of tradesmen on-site, and no hard hat meant no entry. I met our first 4 staff and remarked how the 5 of us could spread out luxuriously over the 6,000 square meters of prime office space, as soon as the tradies were finished.

As with any start up, those early days were long and hard, crazy and rewarding, madness and fun as we flew by the seat of our pants achieving milestones almost daily as we shaped the business.

Some of those first staff are proudly still with us today and when we see each other it’s a knowing nod of what we went through that many others would never believe, but rarely a word is spoken on it; just a wry smile and a glance, as we barely believe it ourselves so could not expect others to.

Gradually the chaos dissipated and as every new birthday cake was cut, amid the haunting echo of angelic Fijian singing voices, we started to see that the centre was growing and maturing. I don’t mean maturing in a condescending sense. It was evolving both professionally and in proficiency. Of course, the most challenging days are always the early ones, when everyone and everything is new. Processes are being established and then adapted and culturally aligned.

Assuming what works in one country certainly does not guarantee success in another and we had to traverse this journey the on atrial-and-error basis. We got many things wrong and we got a few right but every day we were learning and improving. When I left Fiji to return to Mindpearl’s Brisbane office 5 years later we left behind a wonderful journey, an enthusiastic team of highly capable people and a business we were truly proud of. However it was not yet mature and it was not yet complete. There was still much more to be achieved…

Life moves on in the blink of an eye and that warm, teary, melodic Fijian farewell was nearly 3 years ago and so my recent visit was with great interest and anticipation. I was eager to see what had changed, what had stayed the same and how the happy and eager excitement had transformed 3 years down the road.

The advancements amazed me, and I am not only refering in number. Yes, there were over 1,000 people now representing 14 global iconic brands, but it was more than that. The wide-eyed wonder was replaced by a cool and calm demeanour. The eagerness to please was still there, but not at the expense of other areas or disciplines as may have once been the case. It was replaced by a more professional assessment of situations and a more measured application of solutions. The answers were certainly more readily at the team’s disposal, whereas once some thinking time may have been needed. The advice was administered quickly and efficiently, where once some hold time and search time was required. The friendly Fijian warmth was very much still in abundance -no one does it better and it is why we came here in the first place – but the needs of the business and the proper process was now the new norm. No longer could the team be walked over or coerced into an errant decision as procedure and protocol was driving the behaviour and, the empathy, well that just comes naturally. Fijians are the best in the business here.

The career progression that had transpired was also tremendously satisfying to witness. New hires of the early days had now climbed the ladder to leadership roles from Trainers, to Team Leaders, Quality Managers, Customer Sales and Service Managers, Call Centre Managers, HR Managers and even Deputy GM. Leaders were now inspiring, guiding and mentoring teams of their own new recruits and most pleasingly referring back to their own early experiences and to the improved support the new breed are experiencing on their journey…and they are not wrong. (None taken…)

Gone is the reliance on the next influx of short-term expats to arrive on the shores to lead the way. They have made way for the local talent made good and who now head teams of their own of 10, 50, 100 + people with the confidence and composure of a seasoned veteran. Those once awkward conference calls with international stakeholders as the shy employee stuttered their way through a pre-rehearsed presentation, all the while hoping no unrehearsed questions arise, were a thing of the past. Now those calls are controlled, considered and a two-way street of communication between equals with the best interests of the business as the mutual glue that bonds.

Another noticeable shift in mindset has been the earned respect, appreciation and pride our partners have for the Fiji team that support and represent them day in, day out. When outsourcing decisions are first made, not all stakeholders are supportive of the concept. Inexplicably, not many but some for the most bizarre of reasons, actually will it to fail. It takes a lot of work on both sides to ensure all parties come on board for the journey and a lot of time to build the trust and faith that we will look after their business as passionately and exhaustively as they would.

Once this position has been reached it can be a true thing of beauty and a great reward for effort. I witnessed our team sharing insights, suggesting improvements and innovations and reporting on strengths as well as areas for improvement with a confidence that wasn’t always evident. If everything is always good (or indeed always bad) then you aren’t getting the full story, or a truly honest partnership. This is a leap partners must take together to ensure the provider is being of service without being subservient.

Once our partners start referring to the team as their own, then we know the transition to true partnership is in a good place.

Is the job done? Far from it. Are there still areas to improve? Very much so, but we enter this next phase of our journey with a wonderful blend of youth and enthusiasm teamed with experience and confidence, and I am certain there is no challenge the team cannot rise to.

The habit and reflex of many businesses around the world, when they think of outsourcing destinations, is to ‘follow the crowd’ to the tried and tested locations such as the Philippines and the Sub-continent. These locations have been hugely successful and deserve every credit for their achievements, however, with success come other challenges, and competition for staff can create attrition that complex businesses cannot tolerate. Not when so much is invested in training and advancing new people.

Mindpearl came to Fiji for the people; they are the friendliest on the planet. We knew they had a warm, neutral, caring accent and we knew the Customer reaction to learning their call had been answered in Fiji would be one of pleasant surprise. We knew we had access to an abundant, well-educated workforce, well versed in instinctive customer-centric behaviour. We knew we had a near-shore location, without traffic hassles and with a very friendly time-zone, and we knew the cost model was a revelation. It enables businesses to outsource to achieve cost advantages whilst at the same time enhancing the customer experience. This we already knew.

What has surprised us tremendously is the pride our team take in representing global brands on the world stage as proud Fijians. It’s a pathos that is ingrained in the locals from birth and that is taking Fiji positively to the world. We cannot train that, we did not build it and we certainly did not bring it.

It is a wonderful silver lining to one of the best decisions we ever made to come to Fiji to do business…and you should too.

 

 

Author: Mark Mahoney | 30 January 2018
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