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Indian Call Centers May No Longer Be Worth The Trouble

While offshoring call center work to India can save businesses millions, the practice can very quickly become a boondoggle if quality of service slips. The latest example of this came last week when a British Telecom executive called those customers who complain about being routed to an offshore service agent "bigots."
While offshoring call center work to India can save businesses millions, the practice can very quickly become a boondoggle if quality of service slips. The latest example of this came last week when a British Telecom executive called those customers who complain about being routed to an offshore service agent "bigots."The word was uttered by Meryl Bushell, BT's chief procurement officer, speaking at a business conference in London. Referring to the often hostile reaction of BT customers not pleased that they must deal with a service rep who is thousands of miles away and whose command of English may be quite dodgy, Bushell said the following: "There are some bigots who are very rude. There are times I have been ashamed to be British."

With those words, Bushell flunked marketing 101. She is effectively blaming the customer for a problem of BT's own making. How else does she expect customers to respond if they're forced to deal with an agent who, in the worst case, is unintelligible and, in the best case, is restricted to walking callers through a forest of scripted responses that may have little bearing on the problem at hand?

This isn't just an issue for BT. In my own experience of late, I've noticed a sharp decline in the English proficieny of the Indian call center workers I deal with in my daily life. I think the reason is fairly obvious. More and more businesses are rushing to place call center work in India but the country's supply of workers capable of conversing freely in English as it is spoken in the West is limited. More and more, Indians with marginal English skills are being put into customer facing call center positions with predictable results--frustration at both ends of the call.

This bodes ill for the growth of the Indian call center industry. IT outsourcing to the country will continue to skyrocket because technical work is not as dependent on language and heavy accents don't matter so much when writing, say, a Web services application. But call center work is quite different. As more and more businesses receive complaints about poor customer service from India, I suspect many of them will reevaluate whether the savings are worth it.

There are plenty of middle-cost areas where English is the first language, such as Australia, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, or middle America, that may provide better overall value for a company's call center dollar. Those are places with which Meryl Bushell and BT should become more familiar, instead of just blaming their customers for refusing to accept poor service.

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