Backlash to outsourcing


by El Cid
19th June, 2006 at 2:35 pm    

What a relief it is to learn that low-to-middle-ranking office work in Britain is not necessarily doomed as a result of the Indian outsourcing phenomenon.

What other conclusion can I draw from Powergen’s decision to close its call centre in India because of “appalling” levels of service.

Personally, I’m relieved that the U.S. fund manager I spoke to a fortnight ago with more than $30 billion under management may yet be wrong when he predicted carnage around the European photocopier over the next decade.

I don’t doubt that India’s service-based economy has a great future but I was frankly irritated with my bank when it outsourced its credit card security services and I started to get telephone calls from Bangalore asking me about purchases I had made. Rather than reassured by their diligence, they sometimes left me a little anxious about the state of my finances.

It takes more than a language to know a people. Oh for the reassuring tones of Bradford or Livingston call centre! Give me a parka-wearing northern monkey or deep-fried-pizza-loving jock any day — whatever their ethnicity. I know where I am then.

Outsourcing labour-intensive services willy-nilly just to save on costs is the kind of faddish and lazy corporate thinking that can give a booming industry a bad name. It can lead to simplistic and counterproductive incentive structures such as call targets.

Powergen said it would pay its British call centre staff above the going ate and get them to focus fully on resolving a query rather than answering a specific number of calls.

It’s also interesting that The Independent reports that some Indian companies are moving “near-shore”, as they call it, to run call centres from the UK.


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Filed in: Economics,South Asia






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  1. Kismet Hardy — on 19th June, 2006 at 2:51 pm  

    There was a report somewhere about high suicide rates in bangalore since call-centres started

    I feel sorry for them but if I’m freaking out at them for ruining my dinner with my family, imagine when they call up a hardcore racist

    Poor buggers

  2. funkg — on 19th June, 2006 at 3:18 pm  

    Personally i rather like my calls going to india, the staff seem so much more polite and well mannered compared to their uk counterparts especially the blokes who i get irritated with. the level of customer service in india generally is so much better in my opinion anyway, and if it means the creation of a bigger indian middle class, so be it.

  3. j0nz — on 19th June, 2006 at 3:40 pm  

    Personally i rather like my calls going to india.

    Are you mad?!

    I get terrible service from India, shocking. I do feel sorry for them, I really do, but having to spell my name three times is unbelievable I have one of the world’s easiest and shortest names.

    I’m in IT, and have found that Dell outsorurce their server support to India. It took half an hour before the other person had a basic understanding of the problem, and then told me something completely and utterly incorrect as an answer…Sometimes I am tearing my fucking hair out!

    I have spent hours wasting my time on Indian call centres. They may be polite, but I don’t feel like being polite when having to spell the most basic of things. I would say Indian call centres would be fine for non-technical things, and non-financial things.

  4. Zak — on 19th June, 2006 at 3:53 pm  

    Good call (pun intended)

  5. funkg — on 19th June, 2006 at 3:59 pm  

    i hear what you saying jonz, but spelling your name out is no worse that what you get over here (my full name is guillaume often called guy) besides i always think the women sound cute over there, so its worth spending an extra half hour on the phone just for that!

  6. Charlie Brown — on 19th June, 2006 at 4:00 pm  

    I’ve never had a bad experience with Indian Call Centres. Always found them to be courteous, clear and efficient.

  7. Sid — on 19th June, 2006 at 4:07 pm  

    I’ve had a lifetime of spelling my non-English name to UK call centre operators all my adult life. Get used to having an exotic name, John Smith. ;-)

    But I agree, Dell call centres are fucking the worst I have ever come across. I literally spent an hour or more selling my order to them because they seemed incapable of recognising “buying signals”.

  8. Neil — on 19th June, 2006 at 4:14 pm  

    I’ve never had a problem with Indian call centres,I’ve had more trouble understanding the Geordies at the Orange Call centre though they are polite and helpful.

    To the people who are immensely troubled by spelling their name for someone……welcome haha !! Its hardly likely you would know how to spell every Asian persons name, and not everyone is called John Smith

  9. sonia — on 19th June, 2006 at 4:18 pm  

    :-) yeah people used to complain no end about call centre staff full stop before, now its complaints about call centre staff in india..

  10. funkg — on 19th June, 2006 at 4:28 pm  

    the name spelling is a good topic because my family are from a partly french speaking carribean island and my name is french (guillaume) the anglo is (william)therefore william tell is really guillaume tell. although my name is totally european, that did not stop the ignorant teachers and pupils at school treating my name like it was savage and weird just because it was not english, still happens sometimes.
    i always make a point of taking my time to pronounce and spell non anglo names especially asian names correctly, as i remember what it felt like to have my name mispronounced.

  11. Charlie Brown — on 19th June, 2006 at 4:31 pm  

    When I’m on the phone to a non Asian person I don’t even bother asking them if they’d like me to spell it out for them I just say my name and go straight into spelling it, saves awkwardness for them having to ask me to spell it slowly.

  12. Sunny — on 19th June, 2006 at 4:57 pm  

    Charlie – I’d say most Asians are already used to doing the same in this country.

  13. j0nz — on 19th June, 2006 at 5:01 pm  

    I’ve had more trouble understanding the Geordies at the Orange Call centre though they are polite and helpful.

    I do agree. I have real problems understanding those Northern Irish or heavy Scottish accents as well.

    I guess I am spoilt but being asked to spell John Smith for example, three times, as if it’s the worlds strangest name! I’m not used to it – I can’t cope!!

  14. sonia — on 19th June, 2006 at 5:08 pm  

    the annoying thing about call centres whether here or in india, kalamazoo or timbuctoo is that you can’t do anything about them when they can’t get things right and you end up stuffed when you’ve ‘bought’ a train ticket and you get to the station and they say something different. it’s always the same thing – these corporations who use call centres have no accountability to us – the customers. they use the call centre as a very effective buffer.

  15. Sid — on 19th June, 2006 at 5:29 pm  

    Very true Sonia.

    Powergen, the company that gets mentioned in the original post, is a case in point. It is the most unethical, over-priced, under-serviced utility company going IMHO.

  16. funkg — on 19th June, 2006 at 5:33 pm  

    agreed sonia,

    less accountabilty=less responsibility. i really think this whole unacountabilty contributes to the increasingly uncaring, ill mannered and materialistic society that we live in.

  17. Ravi Naik — on 19th June, 2006 at 5:45 pm  

    I am sorry, but this is a PR stunt. First PowerGen is incompetent in giving proper training to their Indian call centre, and now it uses that as an advantage to say that outsourcing is a mistake and they’ve gone native to get new customers.

    And let’s face, this is an utility company – there is little technical knowledge required. On the other hand, I hear that ‘BE’ ISP (a swedish company) has an Indian call centre, and my friend was very impressed with their customer service. So, I guess the quality of the customer service is the sole responsability of the company, not on Indian call centers in general.

  18. contrarymary — on 19th June, 2006 at 5:47 pm  

    I was speaking to a friend who works at Nat West, and said that call centres are used to make company’s impenetrable to the customer. they rely on customers losing motivation through dealing with call centres, to get away with sub-standard service. I’m sure there would be very little issue with call centres (indian or not) if they were able to do what callers want!

    a couple of asides on this:

    1) apparently western backpackers/travellers are now manning call centres in India as a way of earning some money on their travels!

    2) the last time there were a raft of jobs that the resident UK workforce couldn’t cope with, there was immigration. this time, however, with the advent of technology, there’s no need for immigration. instead we can make Indian graduates anglicise their names, learn the finer nuances of EastEnders and Coronation Street and keep American and British hours, even though they’re in India.

    the 21st century global village is a wonderful place rules

  19. Taj — on 19th June, 2006 at 5:59 pm  

    I blame Alexander Graham Bell. It was so much easier when we had pigeons. And chariots.
    The two are separate types of message delivery – I’m not implying that pigeons drove chariots. That would be silly. But… I’d pay good money to see it. I’d pay bad money too, but that’s not the point; I just can’t see it happening. Birds can’t drive. And I’m not being sexist or anything because I know woman aren’t birds – it’s an offensive term I never use. Also I’m not implying that I know woman who aren’t birds in some sort of transgendered manner. And I’m not using ‘know’ in a Biblical sense there, because that sort of thing really doesn’t float my boat. All I’m saying is that you could not have a pigeon holding the reins on a chariot whilst carrying a message from, say, Milton Keynes to Sidcup. How the hell’s it going to manage the M25? Just… madness innit? Anyway… that’s all I’ve got to say on the matter.

  20. Don — on 19th June, 2006 at 6:42 pm  

    I was very effectively dealt with by an Irish call centre and when I thanked the guy for his help he replied,

  21. Don — on 19th June, 2006 at 6:57 pm  

    I was very effectively dealt with by an Irish call centre and when I thanked the guy for his help he replied,

    ‘Ah sure, we’re the dog’s bollocks.’

    Icing on the cake, really.

    But the problem I have with out-sourcing as it is practised is the way in which the corporations can – and will – cut and run at any fluctuation that gives a short term advantage. Commitment to the workforce is zero. As it is to the customers.

    Bosses are bastards by nature, but when you can dispense with a ten thousand strong work-force as easily as changing a printer cartridge, and with as much concern, it reaches a new level.

  22. Don — on 19th June, 2006 at 6:58 pm  

    oops.

  23. El Cid — on 19th June, 2006 at 7:51 pm  

    Just a quickie before I settle down for the big game — dale dale dale!!!

    when you can dispense with a ten thousand strong work-force

    Funny enough, it ain’t necessarily so Don. From what I’ve heard, Labour seems to be gaining leverage against the bosses in Bangalore (and maybe also in second-tier cities like Ahmedabad and Pune, etc).Apparently, annual worker turnover is very high (30-40%) due to high demand for skilled labour. Net net they are having to up wages to exact a bit more loyalty. It’s only an elite of workers… but still, sounds like progress to me.

    As for foreign call centres.. for me, it’s matter of taste — something to judge on a case by case basis. I don’t give a monkey’s about some outsourcing. Dell, from what I’ve heard sounds notoriously bad, but I have no problem in spirit with computer backup services being outsourced. I also don’t really care whether the cold call I’m getting for Toucan telephones is from Bangalore or from Barking — they’re gonna get short shrift from me either way. But if my bank switches its customer services abroad, they are taking me for granted and will lose my business — no two ways about it.

  24. El Cid — on 19th June, 2006 at 7:55 pm  

    P.S.
    I also don’t mind that the company supplying me with electricity is German-owned.
    And Ravi.. I don’t disagree that this was good PR for Powergen.

  25. Chris Stiles — on 19th June, 2006 at 8:14 pm  


    the annoying thing about call centres whether here or in india, kalamazoo or timbuctoo is that you can’t do anything about them when they can’t get things right and you end up stuffed when you’ve ‘bought’ a train ticket and you get to the station and they say something different.

    Quite – the basic problem was companies viewing call centres and the support function purely as cost centres which had to be cost-optimised to the lowest point possible.

    Once this happened peripheral issues started serving as lightning rods for customers anger. Or to put it another way, if they had kept the call centres in Glasgow and kept the cost cutting mentality you’d be reading about ‘A rise in English/Scottish antagonism’ in the papers.

    Poor quality call centres in India didn’t cause racism and prejudice, they just exacerbated existing latent prejudices.

  26. El Cid — on 19th June, 2006 at 10:00 pm  

    Poor quality call centres in India didn’t cause racism and prejudice, they just exacerbated existing latent prejudices.

    Easy Chris, I don’t recall anyone using the ‘r’ word here. This is Pickled Politics not PC Politics.

    Moreover, I don’t see why call centres necessarily have a bad name with you. They don’t with me. I’m very pleased with my Leeds/Livingstone-based service from First Direct. Who’s got the latent prejudices now huh? (only kidding)

  27. katy newton — on 19th June, 2006 at 10:49 pm  

    Everyone at my bank is reasonably polite whether they’re in Bangalore or Cardiff so I don’t really notice the difference to be honest. None of them are terribly friendly but then I probably wouldn’t be if I worked in a call centre either. I’ve only ever once had a real problem making myself understood and that was because the person I was speaking to wasn’t familiar with English place names so couldn’t work out which branch I was talking about.

  28. Vikrant — on 20th June, 2006 at 8:40 am  

    Personally i rather like my calls going to india.

    Are you mad?!

    lol even i have to spell out my name. Since my very Maharashtrian first name ( Améy ) is unheard of in South India. On top of that they get the pronounciation wrong. Damn it irks me a lot…

  29. BC — on 20th June, 2006 at 9:47 am  

    A massively talented pool of people who are committed to offering their best, working unsociable hours and under tremendous pressure and insecurity… Funny how history repeats itself… let’s wait for the riots in Bangalore to happen.

  30. Chris Stiles — on 20th June, 2006 at 11:33 am  


    Moreover, I don’t see why call centres necessarily have a bad name with you. They don’t with me. I’m very pleased with my Leeds/Livingstone-based service from First Direct.

    Call centres do not necessarily have a bad name – please read what I wrote; “the basic problem was companies viewing call centres and the support function purely as cost centres which had to be cost-optimised to the lowest point possible”.

    That a company whose entire strategy is based upon call centres (First Direct) should get it right is no suprise. In their case they can’t afford to view them on a purely cost basis – as they wouldn’t have a business if they did. Similiarly I had no problems with Flemings call centres.

  31. Kavita — on 20th June, 2006 at 11:45 am  

    The main problems with Indian call centres like everything else is that, India jumped onto the bandwagon of globalisation without having infrastructure, training, and administrative support facilities in place.

    What should have happened is that, there should have been government appointed call centre development authority or something of that sort, in every state, which should act as an one stop information and advice centre for perspective foreign investments in call centre business. It should also provide training and support services to call centre staff as well as investors. By doing so, the states would have had the infrastructure to bid for foreign investments, as they would have provided well trained personells.

    Most call centres setting up in India have to provide the training themselves and it is time consuming and straining on their resources. While some private institutions have set up they are not fully geared on customer services and the practice of formal approach.

  32. Kavita — on 20th June, 2006 at 11:47 am  

    sorry correction: ‘practice of informal approach’ not ‘formal’

  33. Alice Wright — on 29th June, 2006 at 7:56 pm  

    This site has been keeping track of the companies who outsource. I used to post there when they had a forum, but it got a bit rowdy and I think it had to go. Pity.

    http://www.informedchoices.co.uk

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