“We need to focus more on the issues that trouble us in these remote working times and innovate with technology to combat privacy concerns, quickly adapt and adopt platforms for virtual collaboration (some of which have such an impressive ability to foster teamwork) and keep an open mind. Now more than ever, we need to be ready to change.”
— Byron J. Fernandez, EVP Malaysia & India / Group CIO
COPC Inc. recently sat down with Byron J. Fernandez, EVP Malaysia & India/Group CIO, who is responsible for operations and business for TDCX in Malaysia and India, while also overseeing information management for the wider organization.
Byron is a veteran in the ITES-BPO industry in the region, and a strong proponent of the COPC Customer Experience (CX) Standard, himself being one of the 35+ Certified COPC Implementation Leaders in TDCX Malaysia. Byron has been instrumental in TDCX’s recent response to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as helping the organization be technologically prepared for such situations in the months and years leading up to the current crisis.
This interview was conducted in April 2020 by Shreekant Vijaykar, Director for Asia Operations for COPC Inc.in Kuala Lumpur.
Q: Hi Byron, thank you for your time today. It must be tough to manage the day during these trying times. How are you doing, and how is TDCX doing?
Hi Shree, no worries. Always happy to talk to you and to COPC. It has been a challenging time that is full of change and I am personally doing well and have adjusted to the new norms since things have settled down very substantially in the past days.
TDCX as an organization is also doing very well and, despite the huge push to learn, change and adapt at light speed in the past weeks, we have settled into a comfortable rhythm of business today. I am quite heartened to see even functions you would consider to be less critical take shape in these new norms of working. We won our very first industry award in 2020 through a virtual presentation – TDCX Malaysia was just named Frost and Sullivan’s 2020 Customer Experience Management Provider of the Year! Additionally, we have also been able to onboard new business and a new logo which was also won through virtual presentation and even remote site walkthroughs.
Q: You have a dual role at TDCX where you wear the operations and business hat for Malaysia and India, and at the same time you look at the information management within TDCX. Does that help you in building a synergy for a truly IT-enabled services company, and how does it work in the current crisis?
Yes, my primary qualification in IT has been very useful in setting up an IT enabled services organization. Long before the MCO and COVID situation, we were enabling dark fiber connections interoffice, high powered firewalls which can facilitate mass connections through VPN and multiple control points to our infrastructure. This DNA for enabling our offices to have networks that support remote working is also permeated throughout the group and many of our TDCX entities in other countries including Spain, which went into lockdown the same time we did in Malaysia, are also able to shift over to working from home.
Beyond the technology and enablement, I find us now being ever more focused on the people and care aspects of keeping connected to one another – without the luxury of being in-person at the office.
Q: In response to movement restrictions due to COVID-19, TDCX has been one of the first contact center providers in this region to announce an almost-full Work-At-Home solution. This is a great story for you. How did you manage to move so quickly and adapt to the change?
The move was quick mainly due to being prepared from a networks and systems point of view. But beyond that, since 2018, we had put in place work from home guidelines and had opened work from home as an option for our employees. We had to expand this scope dramatically, of course in view of the COVID situation, but the main challenge there was simply logistical. Having an inventory of connection types by employee, thinking out of the box in terms of how we shipped equipment to our employees homes and also being super connected as a team to make these things happen seamlessly, were duly addressed. Our IT team had a live channel which was active continuously for 48 hours which helped all our employees complete their setups at home. IT, Facilities and Operations were a masterclass of cooperation, managing dismantling, inventory, logistics and setup remotely.
Even before the crisis, TDCX was well positioned for the WAH environment through technology and security investments, leading to an easier, more successful transition to a remote workplace.
Q: What are the challenges that you faced while transitioning to the WAH environment that you can share? How about the infrastructure requirements, privacy concerns by the clients, changes in business relations, and the willingness of employees?
The initial challenges came in the form of getting everyone to accept the reality which we needed to deal with. There was much anxiety with both clients and our own employees alike. Some of the workstreams we take, on behalf of our clients, can be sensitive and these cause a heightened sense of fear that privacy breaches could cripple us. Infrastructurally, we were well prepared and have history of overengineering our IT solutions – which served us well. Privacy concerns have been mitigated in part through privacy screens, enhanced work from home policies that cover home office requirements, webcams, VPN accesses, multiple authentication factors and more. Many of our clients were supportive of all our efforts but we do feel pressure from some to restart work in the office now that we are on a conditional movement control order. Our employees were very willing to move and try something new, though we also have an increased usage of Employee Assistance Programmes in order to cope with some of the stresses of working at home with young children, and for others, the increased sense of isolation.
Q: Do you see this as a new normal? Does long-term remote working figure in your strategic plans for TDCX Malaysia and India?
Absolutely, Shree! We used to discuss BCP operational sites and build those into our resiliency plans. What COVID-19 taught us is that all these measures were for naught and amounted to nothing in the face of a pandemic like this one.
Taking a leaf out of ARPA’s playbook for the Internet tells us that being able to operate in a “network node mode” of having everyone in their individual homes would be the ultimate in resilience. We can also be sure that this situation which is now unprecedented can potentially recur. I believe the new norm will exist in some shape or form – even as we move back into the office – a contingent team will always be ready to work from home.
Q: In what way do you think the way we need to manage the WAH and Remote working staff is different from the usual, traditional contact center scenario? And do you see a need in the industry to build skills and competencies for this?
TDCX Malaysia has evolved in the past five years to become an incredibly close-knit community. This reflects not only in our community events and interactions; it even shows in our office builds. That’s something that has almost ground to a halt and the community has to move from being “real” to “virtual”. The skillsets and competencies are so different! There is a heightened need and reliance on maturity and autonomy for our frontliners. Is there a need to build skills to cope with this? Absolutely!
Q: You have over 37 Certified COPC Implementation Leaders in Malaysia itself – you included – and more in other regions. How do you see the benefit of this in terms of the team skills and knowledge, and their ability to manage business?
Wow, that’s a loaded question Shree! Many of our larger clients with scaled operations in customer experience use the COPC CX Standard themselves in their own organizations and it is great to speak the same language. Afterall, no one else has a Table F, if you know what I mean.
Beyond that, the framework for improvement offered by the COPC CX Standard is often called upon by our many Certified COPC Implementation Leaders to improve the quality of their operations. One thing I did, somewhat differently, was to certify our heads of HR and IT. I truly believe that coming to the depth of understanding offered by COPC Inc. has made a massive difference in their ability, and indeed, their will to deliver the HR and IT needs of the organization.
Q: What has been your personal experience in going through COPC Inc. training and competency building sessions, and managing staff who have gone through these certifications and trainings? What are the top impact areas?
The facilitator for my class was brilliant and did a lot to get us through the program. From getting to class at 8 am to finishing assignments as late as 9 pm – it was a very committed undertaking and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I have since delivered this same message to everyone taking on certification – dedicate the time and focus to complete it. Having all of us certified allows for us to quickly zoom in to areas where we are either behind on our capabilities or where we need to consult to change the mindset of some of our clients who are not aspiring to best practice. The top impact areas for me are the ability to convince and push through change agendas to improve our service delivery and organizational capability.
Q: Coming back to remote working, what do you think are the key success factors in the long run for contact centers and outsourcers, especially in Asia region?
I think remote working is going to be a key success factor for Asian call centers. Many Asian countries have brilliant infrastructure, high speed Internet penetration and indeed the correct maturity levels and economic importance in our respective countries. We need to focus more on the issues that trouble us in these remote working times and innovate with technology to combat privacy concerns, quickly adapt and adopt platforms for virtual collaboration (some of which have such an impressive ability to foster teamwork) and keep an open mind. Now more than ever, we need to be ready to change.
Collaborative online tools help TDCX team members stay connected and adapt to a rapidly changing environment.
Q: What is TDCX doing in terms of remote working, employee skills, and performance management that can be considered best practices in the industry?
Without giving away too much of our secret sauce, Shree, I would say our practices in daily huddles, employee engagement (hint: some of us host cooking channels, IT upgrading and even home improvement organization wide) and our trust in the brilliant people we hire is what I would consider to be our own best practices. Many of the people who are working with us now are feeling more empowered than ever and producing some of their best work. With that being said, we need to be vigilant in identifying people who are struggling, encourage taking leave and breaks even if people can’t leave their homes and focus on the wellness of our people during this time when the luxury of seeing them in person is no longer afforded to us.
Q: Finally, what do you think are the top focus areas for the immediate future for our industry? How can managers and leaders prepare for the immediate future?
I think the top focus area is in IT security and privacy. Organizations need to focus on keeping their data safe and their connections secure. The threat of cyber-attacks has never been clearer and more present for our industry than it is right now, and we need to be watchful and ready. As for our managers and leaders, they need to learn to lead and inspire in these new norms, something we feel somewhat crippled by without the ability to see and speak to our people in person. I have always been a fan of authentic leadership and in times like this it is wonderful to see this being practiced and demonstrated in so many ways. At TDCX, we continue to build and innovate and teach our leaders through online platforms and media which we are building in-house to prepare leadership for tomorrow.
TDCX is a home-grown BPO powerhouse that delivers outsourced digital customer care and sales acceleration solutions to the world’s best and most valuable brands. Operating in state-of-the-art campuses in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Spain, and Colombia, TDCX has a track record of success with clients in digital advertising, e-commerce, travel and hospitality, technology, automotive, consumer electronics, and fintech sectors. TDCX has won over 230 industry awards.