BPO

By Melissa Luz T. Lopez
Senior Reporter

The Philippines remains a market of choice for services, thanks to its educated and English-speaking residents but investors emphasize that it is Filipinos’ passion and warmth for their work that often seals the deal.

With a 43 million-strong work force churning out high-quality output, the country has cemented its position as among the key labor markets of the world, top corporate officials said during the recent BusinessWorld-PAL ASEAN Regional Forum last Nov. 24. For them, the Filipino brand is service with a heart.

“When we look at the BPO (business process outsourcing) sector and its success, it really is driven by the warmth of the Filipino population. A Filipino phone call is fundamentally more pleasant than most other nationalities in the world, and that’s just the service orientation that comes with the culture,” said Suraj Moraje, managing partner at global consulting firm McKinsey & Co., Inc.

The burgeoning BPO sector currently employs about 1.15 million Filipinos. The industry is expected to remain growing, with present outsourcing firms pursuing expansion — with some even “very aggressive” in terms of growth, said Jericho P. Go, senior vice-president of property developer Megaworld Corp.

“I have heard this somewhere: they say that in Asia, China is the muscle because of their manufacturing capacity, India would be the brain because they have a lot of intelligence in terms of software. The Philippines would be the heart, because we provide service and that’s what we’re known for,” Mr. Go said during the forum, noting the quality of daily work stands as a Filipino’s comparative advantage.

“In terms of branding, it’s all about the quality that we produce… Most often we are not the cheapest, but the way that we provide the service, the quality that we put into the products we export has been recognized by the international community.”

Fernando Zobel de Ayala, chief operating officer at Ayala Corp., sounded off the need to pour more funds into human capital development by beefing up the skills of the Filipino workforce — a feat assured by Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, who assured that the national government is pursuing the same tack.

Services growth logged 6.9% during the third quarter, helping support a 7.1% climb in the country’s gross domestic product which was the fastest pace seen in over three years.

McKinsey’s Mr. Moraje said there’s room to broaden the scope of the Filipino brand of service to other fields beyond those covered by BPOs such as education and health care, given a pool of learned and fluent professionals.

Compassion and the unsinkable Pinoy spirit are also net positives, said Alexander B. Cabrera, chairman and senior partner at Isla Lipana & Co.: “One brand that resonates in our mother tongue is malasakit. There’s not even an exact translation in English.”

“They say that for Filipinos, floods won’t stop them from going to the office if there’s a way for them to get there. They’re also the type who will take care of the people they are serving as if they are part of their own family,” Mr. Cabrera said.

Beyond quality of work, Filipino values also resonate well among foreign firms as a plus factor for the country’s work force.

“I think there’s something about the Filipino where we do not have a sense of entitlement. We earn our keep. We are always running the underdog mentality and we fight for what we think we should get,” Jose Maria A. Miñana, Jr., group president of Jollibee Foods Corp., also said when asked about the Filipino brand. “We have to start somewhere, that’s where the humility is a strength of the Filipino which we have to continue.”

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