Elsa Zambrano Implements People-First Strategy

Sitel's CHRO builds brand loyalty by putting people first, fostering a strategy that creates ambassadors

At Sitel, people come first. Its 61,100 associates are the main asset of a company that promises world-class customer experience to a global clientele located in sixty-two countries. “Our success can only come through our associates,” says Elsa Zambrano, Sitel’s chief human resources officer. “The nature of our business is about people communicating with people. We want this shared experience to be top-notch for everyone involved.”

Elsa Zambrano, Sitel
Elsa Zambrano, Sitel

Zambrano played an active role in the development of the company’s “people first” strategy, which is based on the principle that satisfied associates are able to offer a much better experience to the customer.

The cornerstones of Sitel’s brand philosophy are knowledge sharing, global strength combined with local flexibility, operational excellence, and the people-first culture, which Zambrano developed and implemented. The strategy focused on four main areas.

“The first one is the spirit of appreciation at the workplace. If people feel appreciated and recognized for what they do, they perform better,” Zambrano says. “Associated with it is the spirit of belonging, of being part of a team, which in turn makes our employees happy to come to work. When they truly love what they do, our customer care representatives become our best brand ambassadors.”

Then there is the importance of trust, both within the team and in the company at large. “Our associates trust their managers to take care of them,” Zambrano says. “We have created a number of leadership training programs so our leaders know how to engage with team members, listen to them, and meet their needs.”

Finally, Zambrano refers to the steady career path development that Sitel offers. “We constantly invest in training for our associates and provide many opportunities for their career advancement,” she says. “We are behind all our team members as they learn and grow through the organization. At Sitel, everybody is valued equally—customer service associates, global leaders, and the CEO.”

As part of the company rewards and recognition strategy, self-motivated associates who exemplify the people-first attitude are honored every year during Sitel’s Customer Service Week, an international event celebrated in twenty-one countries.

“If people feel appreciated and recognized for what they do, they perform better. Associated with it is the spirit of belonging, of being part of a team, which in turn makes our employees happy to come to work.”

“We reward their willingness to go the extra mile, to make sure that we are providing the best possible customer experience,” she says. Zambrano’s experience includes talent acquisition, university relations, learning and development, and business partnership.

Zambrano has held a variety of positions in human resources throughout her career, thanks in part to her bachelor’s degree in business management from San Jose State University and a master’s degree in organizational development from the University of San Francisco. She worked at Applied Materials in head recruitment strategies for fifteen years and was executive director of human resources at Dell.

“Having had such a variety of positions in diverse industries has broadened my problem-solving perspective,” she says. “At Sitel, we have around six hundred human resources professionals, and it is my privilege and honor to lead them, reshaping how we look at the traditional workforce and becoming more creative in order to get the work done.”

In addition to her human resources team, Zambrano is also proud of her Latino heritage. Both her parents are of Mexican origin. She was born in Texas, like all her brothers and sisters. After studying and working for many years in California, she returned to her native state and now lives in Round Rock, Texas.

Though she currently works around fifty hours a week, Zambrano still finds time for her family—a husband and two children—that inspires her. “I have been married to the same man, Mike Zambrano, for twenty-six years,” she says.

One of the most defining moments in her career—and her family—was an expat assignment, when she was appointed director of human resources for Dell’s Latin America division. Her family moved to Panama and lived there from 2007 to 2009.

“It was a great experience both professionally and personally,” she says. “I did a lot of talent development, since Dell had a few emerging markets at that time. My job was to make sure that human resources methodology and systems were properly implemented and to bring best practices to the region, optimizing the leadership structure.”

Zambrano also traveled through the region, which improved her multilingual skills. “My business Spanish got much better and I also became quite fluent in conversational Portuguese,” she says.

Her travel experiences equipped her for her role at Sitel, where she leads the company’s global human resources efforts, which include hiring the right people, engaging and retaining them, and developing their careers.

“This is an aspirational role for me,” she says. “Having had all my degrees in human resources and considering my background in the field, it is wonderful to have a top-level job in that function.”

With almost three decades of experience, Zambrano has a wealth of knowledge to share. “The first thing you need to succeed is to stay flexible,” Zambrano says. “Sometimes the results of a particular job are not exactly what you expected, but the experience you acquire can be very beneficial to your long-term career. Hard work is a must, no matter what field you are in. Finally, keeping your energy levels high is key in today’s environment, where everybody is doing more with less.”