Why a perfect storm is gathering for multi-lingual hubs (and what to do about it)

Why a perfect storm is gathering for multi-lingual hubs (and what to do about it)


Words by Rory Stark and Marcel Stroop
Reading time 4 min

The Multi-Lingual Hub (MLH) approach is under pressure right now all across Europe. What are the issues they face and what does it mean for their customers? Rory Stark and Marcel Stroop ask if a perfect storm is on the horizon for this way of working.

There are 42 languages in Europe with more than a million speakers each, so it’s easy to see the appeal of the regional multi-lingual hub. It works for employees too, as any multi-lingual Berliners who’ve spent a few years mastering their kitesurfing in sunny Lisbon can tell you.

So why are there so many rumblings of discontent across the industry? Some of the issues, as you might expect, have been sparked by the pandemic. But there are longer-term challenges building too, a ‘perfect storm’ that’s already battering MLH hotspots like Sofia and Lisbon.

What are the factors at play?

Let’s start with the obvious 800lb pandemic in the room. The Coronavirus undoubtedly played a hugely disruptive role in 2020. Plenty of MLH agents chose (or were forced) to go home when COVID-19 hit last year, hunkering down in their native countries while lockdowns were in place across most of mainland Europe. Travel restrictions are still in place in many countries and for some of those MLH agents, they simply haven’t been able to get back to their host countries to work.

Those agents who did stay have found it challenging to work from home when their contact centers were forced to close. Being sent home to work from the bedroom of the rented city flat that you share with a handful of friends (or strangers), is not the same as choosing to work from home in a dedicated remote setup. It’s little surprise that we’ve been hearing industry stories of isolated agents burning out, along with infosec challenges caused by the overnight shift to WFH.

Then there’s the fact that a BPO in a city like Lisbon is dependent on a 60km radius for its talent pool. It’s fighting in an already-saturated market – one that is depleted by pandemic restrictions on the movement of labor – to recruit and then retain multi-lingual talent.

If you’re one of the many hubs based in the UK, then you also have the consequences of Brexit to contend with, increasing your paperwork and costs in the short term and shrinking your future access to European agents in the longer term

What are the consequences of all this for multi-lingual hubs?

Getting the right people. Hiring great people who know and love your brand is a tough ask when you’re trying to recruit from within a saturated talent pool. A task not made easier when it’s against a backdrop of pandemic-related uncertainty over restricted movement of labor.

Getting them at the right time. The increased scarcity of available talent means more vendors are chasing fewer people. Relocating people to these MLH cities take time (if it’s even allowed at the moment), and a traditional classroom approach to onboarding (typically taking around 6 weeks) means that there is a long recruitment timeline even when you can find the right people.

Lack of flexibility. Large contact centers are not renowned for their agility, perhaps understandably given their size and setup. Procedures and processes are often fixed and hard to change, along with traditional pricing models based on headcount rather than metrics like customer satisfaction.

Why a distributed operating model could be the solution

We think a distributed operating model (DOM) like the one we use at 5CA, can help overcome some of the issues being experienced above. Here’s how:

Access to a global talent pool with the right skills. A distributed operating model isn’t constrained by geography when it comes to hiring. At 5CA we can employ anyone anywhere, with any skill, in any language. It means business continuity is guaranteed even through a pandemic. We’re also able to ensure quality: we scour the world to find ‘fans of brands’ who are already product experts: digital natives who don’t need to rely on scripted responses to get to the heart of the customer’s query.

Rapid speed-to-competence and deployment. A DOM enables the building of a large global talent pool, one that you can approach only when you need them, so that you can scale up a team at pace. It means we can get boots on the ground (and on their headsets) in days and weeks, not a few months.

A team that can flex with your business. A distributed remote-first team team that lives and works in the cloud is one that’s agile and responsive, and able to adapt quickly to the changing demands of its customers. Businesses faced previously-unthinkable challenges last year, and organizations have had to change fast to adapt. A CX partner with a distributed operating model can give you that flexibility.

Get in touch

If you’re interested in talking some more about the storm that might be affecting your BPO (and your business), then we’d love to talk to you about how we could make things better.



Rory Stark and Marcel Stroop

Rory Stark and Marcel Stroop

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