Work At Home Agents (WAHAs) Best Option for Canada

Jul 29, 2015

The value of the Canadian dollar has been plummeting relative to the U.S. dollar. Naturally this trend has prompted some BPO companies and clients to consider “re-nearshoring” their customer care, service, and support to cut costs.  But it is a tactic that they should look long and hard at before executing.

I say “re-nearshoring” for a reason. Many BPOs set up nearshore U.S. market-serving contact centers in Canada from the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, driven by the low Canadian dollar and aided by generous government incentives.  The targeted communities typically had high unemployment caused by disappearing manufacturing and resource industries. Many of them are in rural and remote locations, far from major urban hubs.

But the Canadian nearshore, and to an extent the onshore contact center industry began sliding in the mid-late 2000s as a result of several factors. These include a Canadian dollar rebound that also led to offshoring domestic customer contacts and a shift of sales, service, and support to web and now social self-service. Canada’s economic growth also slowed, though not to the degree experienced in the U.S., which also hurt contact center demand.  These trends resulted in closures and cutbacks of onshore and nearshore contact centers.  For example, Belleville Ontario, a small/midsized city approximately 120 miles east of Toronto, witnessed the closing of the Sears and Teleperformance contact centers, and the TeleTech center in nearby Trenton, but the Convergys (formerly Stream) contact center remains open.

This history should give BPO and in-house contact center executives pause. For this time the reception—and the incentives--may not be as welcoming. The contact center industry has made not a few enemies with their earned reputation for high turnover and unstable employment, along with hardball tactics to obtain freebies in exchange for jobs. I once heard an economic development official incorporate the name of a prominent BPO in a highly descriptive epithet at a site selection conference. And in fact one Canadian city councillor won election on a plank that criticized the contact centers that had moved into their community, and was re-elected. 

Instead companies who want to take advantage of the low Canadian dollar and serving Canadian customers should set up and source work at home agents (WAHAs).  WAHAs allow them to quickly expand into the Canadian markets without the costly and lead-time-consuming bricks-and-mortar footprints. This strategy also enables companies with small Canadian markets to affordably provision French-speaking agents. To support WAHAs Canada has an extensive and growing broadband network, according to recent Frost & Sullivan research.  Canadians also have a strong work ethic.

U.S. and U.S. serving companies with Canadian offices are best placed to move or expand their in-house contact centers in Canada, with WAHAs as opposed to enterprises that have no Canadian presence.  Canada has a very different set of employment regulations as compared with the U.S.  Alternatively there are leading BPOs like Sykes that offers Canadian WAHAs, integrated with their U.S. operations.

But the same token WAHAs permit companies to more easily pull back with less bad publicity when the Canadian dollar begins to climb again. While word will get out of layoffs there will not be the camera-grabbing specters of workers showing up for the last shift or of padlocked buildings.  And when demand rebounds for Canadian contact center agents they can easily resume hiring them.

Category : Customer Contact

Brendan Read


Brendan Read is Senior Industry Analyst with over 25 years’ experience covering business, communications, staffing, and technology. He has worked in, prepared reports, and blogged on a wide range of topics including customer contact, CX, CRM, IoT, social media, supply chain, and BC/DR. He also has backgrounds in construction, manufacturing, materials, resource extraction, site selection, and transportation. He examines the broad economic, environmental, innovation, political, and social mega trends, and their impacts on businesses, markets, and society.

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