Victories and volatility – the balancing act of 2023

After a tumultuous couple of years, overall, we can look back on 2023 with slightly more positivity.  

However, we must also be alive to the fact that 2024 will continue to throw up a continual barrage of trials and tribulations, accelerated by the cost-of-living crisis, which despite other global topics taking over the news agenda, is still very real for millions of people.

Collectively, we cannot take our eye off the ball for one second, and with that challenging outlook in mind, I wanted to share my thoughts on two key points this year. Firstly, the position where I see the health of the BPO industry, but also where I think Sigma Connected sits within that, and how we’re playing our part in supporting our clients and the many millions of their customers.

Our people

Let’s start right at home and with Sigma Connected which I’m proud to say marked its 12th anniversary in 2023.

More than anything, we have had a brilliant year with growth at all levels across the Group and a positive number of new clients trusting and choosing to partner with us.

The role our employees have played in our success and culture is paramount. The way everyone lives and breathes our values is, as many clients tell me, unlike any other business they know. It’s difficult to put into words how proud that makes me feel, especially when you take into account we now have over 5,000 employees across the UK, South Africa, Australia and in the USA, where this autumn we entered the market for the first time and our ambitions are starting to be realised.

To keep our values front and centre, and delivered in such creative ways over the past year, is down to everyone. The understanding of those values came through loud and clear in our recent Engagement Survey, which saw record-breaking engagement and satisfaction scores that showed the vast majority understand our culture and know we make changes because we’re listening and obsessed with being better. I also can’t forget that these high satisfaction scores come on top of our first ever appearance in the prestigious 2023 Sunday Times ‘Best Place to Work’ in the UK.

Meanwhile, in South Africa we proudly took on our 500th employee through Shadow Careers as part of our impact sourcing partnership with them. As their founding partner in Cape Town we feel proud that the organisation is flourishing, working with BPOs across South Africa to make a real difference to the unemployed youth in the country.  

Our clients

Aside from our people, the past 12 months has also been a time to celebrate our clients. We have launched into new sectors including telecommunications and  Insurance, whilst we’ve brought an even greater focus to energy, financial services and water clients, helped by some heavy-hitting and high-profile senior appointments. This included the hire of our chief strategy officer Peter Doveren, who has been instrumental in delivering programmes which broaden our service offerings and builds on our strengths.

As a consultative strategic partner to our clients, we have expanded our product delivery and our added value. For example, we now have a centre of excellence for complaint handling and query resolution which have both been important reference points when we sit with clients, explain where we think we can add value, share knowledge and best practice. That’s been a big game-changer in how we work, and importantly, how we are viewed.

Did the BPO industry ‘raise the bar’ and what does 2024 have in store?

In my  blog last year, I concluded by saying that 2023 must be the year that the industry ups its game and raises the bar around standards and quality. Did it rise to the challenge? I think in pockets, yes, but not wholly.

This year has been volatile for the sector in many ways. The larger BPO players have continued to grow, by going down the acquisition route. This has created some behemoth organisations. In turn, however, it has meant that niche companies who were smaller and didn’t possess an offshore capability have struggled, with some being lost to the market.

We’ve seen more than ever just how competitive the market is. You have to stand out and have a unique area of specialism in which to grow and prosper, something we ourselves have genuinely honed and refined over many years. This includes developing our capability around complex complaint handling and dealing with customers in debt – many of whom have never been in arrears but find themselves for the first time ever – hence the reason for our further push and success of our award-winning ReachOut offering.

There’s still lots to do and consider for the whole industry for 2024 when we return from the Christmas break. I think we will see Cape Town remaining the number one offshoring choice for the English-speaking voice, and the trend for back-office support still being led by India which is still very much in demand.

I also predict that larger businesses in the UK, who have traditionally been anti-outsource and anti-offshore, will reconsider their standpoint due to pressure on their operating expenditure. It’s a trend we’re already seeing with financial services and insurance firms following the surge from UK energy retail firms, of which over 90% of companies are now being worked from South Africa. It’s also inevitable we will see further consolidation within the BPO industry, but the most successful are likely to be the ones focusing on what they do best.

One thing for sure is that the pressures on the cost-of-living will continue throughout 2024. Inflation is still extremely high and whilst more recently we have seen some positive downward movement, it is forecasted that interest rates won’t move massively which will affect many, especially those coming to the end of a fixed-rate mortgage.  It is forecasted that increased debt levels will keep rising, meaning that more than ever businesses must find ways to understand and work with people struggling to pay their bills.

The year ahead for Sigma Connected

2024 is a big year for us, our employees and our clients.

As I’ve said, across the Atlantic we want to increase our USA offering and have a plan locked-in to achieve that, which includes using our experienced offshoring operation in South Africa.

It’s also very important for us to be a responsible business. During 2023 we have measured our carbon footprint across the UK and South Africa and will be looking at ways to reducing our emissions during 2024, with a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030. Part of our responsibility also sits with helping the communities in which our employees live and work. Our Sigma Community Foundation, through which we have provided thousands of pounds in support for local charities and good causes, including more recently War Child, will continue.

But on the whole, with 2023 being so successful for us, we plan to do more of the same in 2024. There will be further growth in South Africa, more new jobs in Cape Town, many more new “Shadow’ recruits brought in and we plan to pilot an office in Johannesburg.

We will also build on the 200+ internal promotions we’ve seen this year, continue to listen to our people and maintain the culture we have worked so hard to build. The most precious thing to us is to keep the DNA and culture of Sigma Connected as we grow. It must continue to feel like a family that puts our people first.

Overall, our ambition remains, we want to be the best BPO to work with and for. And we will continually strive to be that. Speaking to many industry colleagues, I know the sector as a whole wants to step up its game, look after people, find new ways to engage, and support those who are struggling the most. Those aren’t difficult things to conquer if the right people and right strategies are in place.

Whatever you are doing, and wherever you will be over the festive season, I wish you and your loved ones a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Gary

About the author

Gary Gilburd is the CEO and co-founder of the Sigma Connected Group. Readers can connect with Gary on LinkedIn

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