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Member Q&A: Intuit's Balakarthik Venkataramanan on Outsourcing to "Prosperity Hubs" in the U.S.

By Emily Cowan posted 07-19-2019 12:00 AM


In 2016, global tech giant Intuit announced plans to open new contact centers in economically disadvantaged U.S. communities, aiming to create jobs and revive local economies. The company now employs more than a thousand workers at two so-called “Prosperity Hubs” in Wise, VA, and Johnstown, PA, with a third product support site, in Bluefield, WV, currently under construction. Community member Balakarthik (“Bala”) Venkataramanan, Intuit’s Director of Expert Sourcing and Partner Management, recently visited Bluefield and had this to say about the savvy local communities seeking to attract new employers for a ready but underutilized workforce.

Execs In The Know: Creating new economic opportunities for struggling communities is certainly a worthy goal. What about the business case?

Bala: The program was originally called “Mission Hope,” but we recently rebranded to “Prosperity Hubs” because it better resonates with the larger mission of Intuit, which is “Powering Prosperity Around the World.” 

Intuit has a huge outsourced customer success workforce. On an annual basis we onboard about 15,000 experts around the world. About three years back, we launched this initiative with the dream of leveraging the power of our scale in Customer Success to change the fortunes of communities in the US where there was abundance of talent but lacked opportunities.  Our business hypothesis was that by targeting these markets, we would enable our outsourced partners to become the employer of choice, which would produce better customer experiences and business results than traditional contact center markets while powering prosperity in these communities. 

EITK: How do you go about choosing where to site these Prosperity Hubs?

Bala: We have a very robust selection process that takes into account several factors including, access to great talent that can deliver amazing customer experiences, communities where we can make a difference etc.

Using our criteria, we selected Wise, VA, for our first Prosperity Hub in 2016, partnering with Sykes. We now have 900-1,000 Intuit experts providing customer support from that site. In 2017 we chose Johnstown, PA, partnering with Concentrix, and we have 200-250 experts there. We announced Bluefield, WV, as our third market just a few months ago partnering with Alorica and we plan to recruit 300 to 350 experts.

EITK: You’ve recently visited the Bluefield site. What are you seeing and hearing on the ground from community members?

Bala: It’s hard to express - you really have to experience it. The level of passion and excitement these initiatives create is these communities are phenomenal. Every single community leader, government agencies, and community improvement organizations have welcomed us and our BPO partner with open arms.

Last week when I was walking the streets of Bluefield I saw so many small businesses with “Welcome, Intuit” signs in their windows. It’s amazing to see how the entire community comes together to provide us with the kind of support we really need to accelerate this. 

And it’s not just about providing employment. These jobs improve the economic ecosystem of the entire community. Small businesses thrive, new businesses open. There’s a pizza place in Johnstown that was on the brink of closure when Intuit arrived, and the last time I visited I learned that she had just hired new workers.

EITK: There’s the obvious focus on job creation, but what about the infrastructure that’s required to support call center operations - namely wireless internet? These high-speed connections can help disadvantaged communities attract investment from other companies as well. 

Bala: I love that question, and I think my answer will surprise you. When I first started this Prosperity Hub journey, that was my assumption as well - that we’d be helping to create a technological infrastructure that would benefit the community. But in reality, most of the communities were already ahead of us. Most of the communities that I visit have the infrastructure required readily available, they just lack opportunities. 

For example, in Bluefield there’s a small business run by Michael called GigaBeam. He was born and raised in Bluefield, and his vision - even before Intuit began to explore this market - is to light up the entire city with high-speed internet. We were amazed by the capabilities he had and the work he was already doing. Now he’s helping us setting our partner site.

In many ways, the U.S. is a very misunderstood contact center market. We think about it in terms of high wages and high costs. But there are multiple communities that already have fantastic infrastructure, amazing talent, and a high potential retention rate for this type of work. When you look at the overall economic value for the business, it’s simply amazing with the level of value that can be delivered by communities like Wise, Johnstown and Bluefield. 

EITK: What’s your biggest takeaway from this experience?

Bala: It just gives a new meaning to the work that you do. When you see the impact that you have on these distressed communities, you’re not just “managing BPO partner relationships” anymore. It increases the sense of responsibility you feel. You start to look at things with a new perspective beyond just solving for the business.

Oddly enough, I first came to the U.S. about 12 years ago to manage a contact center in Conway, AR - a community much like Wise or Johnstown or Bluefield. I lived and worked in Conway for about three years. When you live in a community like that you learn so much about the people, their struggles, their culture, and their passion. 

Finally, it’s also a meaningful business model. You’re delivering high-quality customer experience in an efficient way. You create job opportunities. You change the fortunes of these communities. It’s just a win-win-win across the board.

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