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A CX leader in Latam: meet Mariano Castanos Zemborain

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Mariano Castanos Zemborain is Konecta’s CEO for the Americas, having originally joined us in 2020 as our Business Development Director for the US and Latam. Through his role, he’s perfectly placed as your guide to the Latam BPO CX market, looking at the economic outlook, the key sectors such as telecoms, the embrace of AI, and what the consequences of that will be. 

Q: Mariano, can you give us a quick introduction to Konecta and its position in CX BPO in Latin America and beyond?

Mariano: Konecta is a leading player in Europe and in Latin America, and we are developing the US market very solidly, though we cannot yet say that we are leaders there. 

In the Latam region, we hold leadership positions in all the geographies where we operate. So, in Peru, we are the market leader with the largest market share, employing almost 20,000 people – which means we have a tremendous impact not only on our clients, but also on wider society. In addition, we are market leaders in Argentina, we lead the local market in Colombia, and we are also leaders in the integrated market that includes local services and services to the US. In the other markets where we are present in the region, we are always second or third in the market.

Q: And what about sectors – what is your focus?

Mariano: In terms of verticals, we are strongest in the telecommunications sector and the financial sector. And that’s due to historical reasons.

The history of Konecta begins in the financial sector thanks to Santander Bank, our first major client and partner; then we evolved and developed the financial and insurance vertical very strongly, and then we made a significant move into the telecommunications sector as well, where we hold a very strong market position. 

I think we are leaders in telecoms in almost all our geographies in this region except Colombia and Mexico. We strengthened our capabilities in this sector and that also enabled us to grow in the others. 

We are also very strong in the financial sector, owing to the historical reason I mentioned earlier. In Colombia, we are the main player for Bancolombia, which is the number one bank in the country and for many other financial and insurance entities too. In Peru, we work with multiple financial entities including BBVA.

Q: Can you tell us more about the telecoms sector? Some people in the industry tend to portray it as being less glamorous than some other sectors – what would you say to that?

Mariano: I’d say that is absolutely incorrect! However, it is true that from a business perspective, this sector is viewed as one that is systematically improving its processes, offers, and products, which means that the volume of customer interactions is systematically reduced. Not because there is a loss of value, interest, or relevance in the products offered by telecommunications companies to the market, but because the providers’ business processes are improving. To me, the telecommunications segment is one that I love, and I always say that if a CX BPO player like us does not have the ability to be profitable and provide quality service in the telecoms sector, it has little future in the market!

Q: Why’s that?

Mariano: The telecoms sector is the most demanding in terms of efficiency because of the volumes they handle and also because of their cost orientation. 

As a result, if a player is able to achieve high levels of effectiveness, quality, and profitability in the telecoms sector, then it also has the strength and capability to be very powerful in other innovative segments, such as born digital companies, high tech companies, healthcare, tourism, etc.

Q: Both telecoms and finance are sectors where digital transformation is relatively advanced, and Konecta has contributed to that. Looking at the next steps in technology and digitalization in CX BPO, is Konecta looking at the introduction or use of artificial intelligence (AI)?

Mariano: Yes, we are strongly embracing artificial intelligence, analytics capabilities and everything that involves the ‘robotization’ of our processes in our models. We find in technology and AI a very powerful tool when it comes to automating and making our processes and operations more efficient. Under the mandate of starting at home, we are in the process of AI transformation – for example, at the moment we have about 30 very profound transformation projects open, involving our processes in recruitment, training, talent management, financial, operational, work force management, etc.

So, yes, we are embracing all these new technologies of AI and analytics to improve our processes.

Q: And do you see other uses for AI in your business and CX BPO?

Mariano: Yes, we are also looking at AI for what we call an enhanced agent. 

We are developing multiple tools for our agents, which allow them to be more efficient, but we always seek to maintain that human warmth, that capacity for empathy, which at the moment cannot be replaced by AI, and to maximize that with the availability of information. We use a lot of Chat GPT for everything that involves digital channels to accelerate the process of structuring written messages, or even voice. But AI does not replace people’s ability to empathize with the needs of others, or to understand the problem, or to close a sale and complete a transaction.

And then, thirdly with AI, we are looking at the processes of our clients, since they generally rely on us as a strategic partner in improving business processes. We always say that we want to help them move transactions to self-management and save our human talent capabilities for critical processes.

So, to summarize where we are on AI, we have this triple perspective on AI:

  • Improving our own processes to be more efficient and provide better quality service to our clients.
  • Improving the capabilities of our agents in their day-to-day management and work through these capabilities.
  • And then helping our clients transform their own business processes and become more efficient.

Q: Do you think the embrace of AI will affect the labour market in the customer management sector?

Mariano: I can't guarantee what will end up happening, and I don't think anyone can. But it is always good to look at past experiences to better prepare for future challenges. 

If you look back, humanity has experienced many absolutely transformational revolutions. Not only the first and second industrial revolution but also the revolution generated by computing and the revolution generated by the internet. And now comes the revolution of artificial intelligence. In all those transformation processes, there was always fear of job losses, but if you look back in history, new solutions always brought new complexities and new opportunities. 

Clearly, artificial intelligence will accelerate the automation and simplification of many transactions in customer management. But I can guarantee that many other complexities will appear that will need human talent.

What is happening immediately is that, clearly, a number of transactions that did not generate any value for the customer, the company or the people, are being automated, and human talent is being saved for transactions of much more value for the company, the customer and the people. The typical high-volume transactions of calling to ask for the account balance, or asking about bills - all are being delivered in an automated way. Now there is much more concentration on those valuable interactions, with this enhanced agent having access to many more resources to better meet the customer's needs and create a better experience, to be more efficient for the company, and to have a job of much more value.

So, in the immediate term, I believe that the impact is positive. A number of low-value calls are being removed and talent is being turned to those of higher value. If you look at our workforce, it is growing significantly. If you look at our main competitors, except for someone who is doing it very poorly, it is something very similar. So, the volume of business is growing.

Looking toward the future, I believe that there will be many circumstances or transactions that will be very well resolved by artificial intelligence tools, but I strongly believe that competitive environments, the launch of new products, new market dynamics will require interactions of more value, with a huge human component.

Q: What are your projections for your year-end results for the Americas?

Mariano: Our projections for year-end are showing very good growth in revenues and margins. We are closing in upon achieving Great Place to Work certification in all our countries, which was not the case in previous years. We are building very good relationships with new clients, closing the year with 52 new logos, 52 companies that trusted Konecta to manage their customer processes. And in terms of our social impact initiatives, we have met the objectives we set for ourselves, and for those that we did not reach 100%, we are reinforcing them for next year with plans for them.

At the same time, our markets are affected by the global economic slowdown. We feel it in our conversations with our clients, and absolutely all clients have identified opportunities for efficiency, to get more results with less, precisely to face the challenges that this global context generates for all our clients. So, in this context, we have had to be doubly demanding in all our own initiatives to also improve our own efficiency.

That’s why we’re becoming a much more digital company, and hence all these initiatives that I told you about - the implementation of solutions, capabilities, or AI projects, the search for automation, and improving business processes. 

Q: And finally, looking beyond the year-end, how do you see the future outlook?

Mariano: Regarding our own business, we are very positive. This is a very atomized business, and we have a lot of market share to win. According to market analysts, including Frost and Everest, the net growth projection of the BPO industry continues to be growth. In this environment, we have really strengthened our positioning, we are growing more than the market, and this year we gained more market share against our competitors.

And globally, we are concluding the integration with the last acquisition we made, which is Comdata, a leading company in Italy, France, Turkey, Morocco, Madagascar.

I believe that we are going to close the year as a single integrated company, and then enhancing our new capabilities, with this new footprint, positioning ourselves as a true global player and partner of our clients at a global level. I’m really excited about what lies ahead!

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