According to recent article on ElSalvador.com, El Salvador’s call center (aka contact center) industry has grown by 29% over the past six years, now employing 12,000 people in 45 different facilities around the country.
PROESA, the Agency for Promotion of Exports and Investments, began planning to bring call centers to El Salvador in 2001, and by 2004 several companies had opened facilities in San Salvador, including Dell, Sykes, Teleperformance, and others. The call centers are primarily used to provide customer service and make sales calls in the United States. A 2004 article reporting on the emergence of the call center industry in El Salvador says the Central American country has a “state of the art telecommunications infrastructure, stable dollar-based economy, a sizeable bilingual workforce, competitive operation costs, and a government supportive of facilitating foreign investment.”
One of the limitations to growth over the years has been the relatively small bilingual workforce. In 2006, PROESA tried recruiting English-speaking Salvadorans in the US, promising salaries as high as $1500 a month to move to El Salvador and work in contact centers. Tim’s blog posted an article at the time about the recruitment efforts, which sparked an interesting series of comments about the reality of such a plan.
Because the majority of El Salvador’s contact centers serve US cliental, they have to compete with countries such as India and Philippines, both of which have larger populations of English-speakers. El Salvador, however, has a couple of advantages that make it competitive. One is its proximity to the US, which makes the cost of doing business less. Government officials also argue that because Salvadorans have a better understanding of US culture, they are better able to serve their customers. The average salary for a bilingual contact center agent in El Salvador is $600, roughly the same as in India and Philippines.
One company, Transactel, has grown its call centers in El Salvador by 35% in just the past year, increasing from 1,700 employees, to 2,300. They will also add another 120 contractors to help with the November – December holiday season. Transactel is also offering online services so that customers can receive help via email or chat.
Another company, Sykes, claims to provide high quality call center services to prestigious companies. Since 1999, Sykes has opened several call centers throughout Latin America, including El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Brazil. The company claims they take good care of their employees, offering educational assistance, medical services, life insurance, and more.
While contact centers are probably not the solution to El Salvador’s economic issues, it is becoming an important industry, and could provide youth with the opportunity to build their language skills, get a paycheck, and get their foot into the service sector.