If resiliency defined the past two years for business process outsourcers, this year’s BPO outlook is decidedly optimistic. With cloud-based networks and exciting advances in CX tech driving hyper-efficiency and revenue growth, 2022 has a considerably rosier look than years past. In fact, new estimates predict the global cloud-based BPO market to reach $144.4 billion by 2026. New players, too, will compete for a bigger piece of the market, chipping away at the iron grip of regional powerhouses. With more hands in the game—and more projected revenue at stake—BPOs will need to offer compelling, differentiated service if they hope to gain a competitive edge. Here are the leading factors that will shape the BPO landscape in the coming months:
1. “Emotionally aware” CX will be a major differentiator.
BPOs looking to differentiate themselves from their peers will need to look beyond traditional service offerings. After two years of remote interactions, customer expectations and outsourcer responses have more or less equalized. As enterprises move from digital transformation to digital maturity, the CX landscape is appearing increasingly homogenous. To stand out, BPOs will need to engage with customers—and drive client outcomes—on a deeper level. It’s no wonder that more are investing in emotional intelligence to forge closer customer connections (while keeping costs down). In fact, Gartner lists emotion AI applications among its Four Trends for CX Excellence in 2022. These applications “read” nonverbal cues, like tone and voice quality and subtle facial expressions, for emotional information and offer appropriate responses. For instance, if a program detects signs of stress or frustration, it can prompt next-best actions (i.e. escalating self-service to a live agent or prompting a representative to apply more empathy). In addition to driving empathy—an increasingly important metric in the post-COVID world—emotion AI tools will give outsourcers access to a yet-untapped wellspring of actionable customer data.
2. Virtually all data will be stored in the cloud.
Last year, Cisco predicted that 95 percent of total data center traffic will cloud-based (compared to 88 percent in 2016). While it’s clear that cloud-based data was soon going to be the norm, the global pandemic—and ensuing Great Migration—greatly accelerated its progression. According to a Stanford economist, half of all U.S. employees will be wholly remote or hybrid workers by 2022. This wholesale shift has pushed more stateside BPOs to migrate to cloud platforms—and their offshore counterparts aren’t far behind. According to Computer Weekly, the Information Services Group (ISG) expects cloud services spending to increase by 20 percent globally in 2022, and traditional IT outsourcing to increase by just over 5 percent. If organizations spent the last two years feeling out what their future workforce would look like, it seems now they’ve finally reached a consensus: remote work is here to stay, and the data infrastructure—not the workers—needs to adapt.
3. Cybersecurity will be priority (and investment) no. 1.
With the steady increase in high-profile data breaches and ransomware attacks, cybersecurity was already an upward-trending priority for most major enterprises. Now, with more employees working remotely and more data stored in the cloud, the urgency to invest in cybersecurity has reached a fever. Gartner predicts that, through 2022, roughly 95 percent of cloud security failures will be the fault of the organization. And with data privacy laws tightening—and the fines for noncompliance growing—the stakes for private enterprises have never been higher. “Executives are right to expand cloud services as part of their digital business initiatives, but they need to ensure their cloud security strategy keeps up with this growth,” says Matthew Shinkman, practice leader at Gartner. “Leaders should start by clearly identifying their most at-risk areas, which remain obscure to many large organization leaders.”
Technology will play a pivotal part in removing such obscurity. Advances in conversational intelligence, including real-time compliance auditing and biometric voice authentication, can give outsourcers a significant security advantage without major expenditure. Expect conversational AI to play a larger role in protecting customer data in the months—and years—ahead.
4. New outsourcing locations will compete with established hubs
While the pandemic untethered many employees from traditional workplaces—including contact centers—major BPO hubs were largely able to maintain their dominance. However, new trends suggest that that might soon change. According to data by Statista, India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia were 2021’s leading offshore business service providers—but only by a slim (relatively speaking) margin. And while other Southeast Asian countries—notably Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines—are nipping at their heels, new players in Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East are making serious inroads. Armed with an advanced IT infrastructure and a multilingual workforce, countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Egypt and Columbia are today host to companies including HP, IBM, Sitel, Wipro and Accenture. As more BPOs move to the Cloud and adopt next-gen speech and text recognition software, these border will blur even further.
5. More mega-mergers and acquisitions are coming
If Sitel’s acquisition of Sykes last fall is an indication of things to come, 2022 will be a busy year for vendor consolidation. And, from a business perspective, it makes sense. The remote workforce and rapid growth in self-service scope and adoption have rendered many processes—and even physical locations—redundant. For clients, who are largely focused on controlling costs and maximizing operational efficiencies, consolidation is a logical and financially sound solution—particularly if an outsourcer is underperforming. Again, technology will decide the winners and losers. BPOs that embrace next-wave CX tools, like emotion AI and conversational automation, will fare considerably better than their “wait-and-see” peers.