While tourists have long appreciated Fiji as a premium holiday destination, an increasing number of Kiwi, and global, companies have been discovering the unique advantages of the country’s thriving call centre sector.
It may come as a surprise that more companies in New Zealand, Australia and around the world are choosing to offshore their customer service and back office support services to Fiji.
While countries such as the Philippines and India were early front-runners in this space, in recent times Fiji has gained favour, thanks to a number of positive initiatives. Today it is positioning itself as the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) “Hub of the Pacific”.
But Fiji is no newcomer – its call centre sector received global acclaim as far back as 2014 when it won the European Outsourcing Association’s Offshoring Destination of the Year Award.
“Fiji has proven through their customer service and back office support for companies ranging in size from multimillion-dollar multinationals, such as Lufthansa and DHL Express, to SMEs that they can operate to an international level of quality,” says Peter Rudd, manager trade and investment (NZ) for the Fiji Trade Commission Australia & New Zealand.
So what is key to this success?
Rudd says much of it is to do with the Fijians themselves. “With an average age of 27 and literacy rate of 96 percent Fiji has a growing workforce of tech-savvy, fluent-English speakers who are looking for alternatives to the traditional work sectors of tourism, manufacturing and agriculture.”
He believes the positive, friendly attitude gives them a competitive edge over other overseas call centre destinations. “Fijians are naturals at providing excellent customer service and their neutral accent is very familiar to both Kiwis and Australians.
“Many Kiwis also just assume they’re based in New Zealand due to the high number of Fijian diaspora living here.”
Rudd says Fijians regard call centre work as a desirable career path. Their positive attitude towards the industry has resulted in an engaged workforce with a much lower staff turnover rate compared to New Zealand or Australia.
Such is the importance of the sector to the country, the Fiji National University has developed courses focused on call centre qualifications so students can quickly transition to a call centre career.
With labour costs significantly below those in New Zealand, and the favourable exchange rate against the Kiwi dollar, there are many other incentives to outsource work to a Fijian call centre.
In an effort to shift Fiji’s economic reliance on tourism and agriculture, prior to Covid-19 the Fijian Government announced it was making the BPO sector a major priority – promoting it to international investors and creating incentives to win new business. Incentives can include up to a 13 year tax holiday, as well as duty free importation and VAT exemption on imports of equipment required for establishing a business.
It’s hardly surprising therefore that the BPO companies operating in Fiji have expansion in mind.
Rudd says a decade of strong sustainable growth in Fiji, plus the close people-to-people links with Kiwis, and shared views on climate change, present Fiji as a fantastic destination for both business and relaxation.
Alan Graham, chief commercial officer at Mindpearl, at 1000 seats the largest of Fiji’s call centres, lists three essential benchmarks behind his company’s decision to set up a 24/7 operation in Suva – namely first-world telecomms infrastructure; readily available, well-educated staff (many of whom are experienced in customer-facing roles); and superior English that is easily understood by customers across New Zealand, Australia, the US, Canada and the UK.
“Fiji is also in the same time-zone as New Zealand for most of the year, enabling alignment with New Zealand’s working day and week.”
Technology is not an issue either, with the Southern Cross cable providing fast, reliable Internet connection to the rest of the planet. With Fiji only marginally impacted by Covid-19, and the strict enforcement of health and safety measures, business continuity has been maintained throughout the pandemic, with Graham reporting not a single day’s work missed at Mindpearl.
He believes the pandemic has reinforced the need for Kiwi businesses to have a back-up plan and increased resilience. A safe, viable ‘near-shore’ call centre outsourced in Fiji helps achieve that, delivering both stability and cost efficiency.
“Multi-channel [ability] and technology play an increasing role in the BPO mix and those providers who can combine this seamlessly into their product offering have an advantage,” says Graham.
“The need and drive towards outsourcing will, however, continue to demand the basics – great language skills, a customer experience focus, and flexibility – all of which can be delivered in abundance from Fiji.”
Carol Watkins, GM of BPO provider Pacific Centrecom and head of Fiji’s BPO Council, agrees that the natural friendliness of Fijian call centre staff is a key advantage for their clients. “It helps with the customer conversations, which means there’s a better chance of converting calls into sales.”
Watkins tick-list of positives for Fiji’s BPO sector mirrors that of other call centre providers. The big selling point is its consistent quality of service, she says.
Her role at the BPO Council means she’s keen to create awareness of the supportive business environment in Fiji for potential newcomers. While it means more sector competition for incumbents, the big positive is the local employment that growth delivers.
There are big Council initiatives underway around international certification for Fiji’s BPO industry and boosting call centre-related training courses at Fiji’s tertiary institutions.
Luke Wyley is GM of Fiji-based Packleader BPO, another call centre in the 300 to 500 agent category and providing services such as CRM, IT, Billing and Finance, Human Capital and Enterprise for a number of Australian industries. He is enthusiastic about the prospects for Fiji’s BPO sector too, and believes it has much to offer clients who are looking to spread their risk and who place high importance on disaster recovery. “The government regards BPO as an essential service and has been very supportive in maintaining business continuity.”
Wyley also speaks highly of the quality of connection enabled by the Southern Cross data-link – which provides a reliable service between Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and the US.
“Fiji’s the perfect call centre location for New Zealand companies, when you consider its proximity and mutual cultural understanding.”
He believes creating awareness is the real challenge for Fiji’s BPO sector. “On the back of Covid there’s a great opportunity for this to happen.
“Fiji is the happiest place on Earth. You can hear those smiles and the enthusiasm over the phone and that undoubtedly leads to good experiences with customers.”