MYTH & Reality about Contact Centres in India.

  By Niels Kjellerup, Editor and Publisher of Call Centre Managers Forum  February 20th 2001.Email nk (cut and paste)

 How the idea, that India would be an ideal place to set up greenfield Customer Service Contact Centers, has gained support by Corporate America puzzles me every day, as I go through the 5-6 Emails from India offering me outsourced Call Centre services.  In June last year I spent a week in New Delhi discussing the possibilities of establishing a Call Centre Industry there – we discussed the pro’s & con’s. My own sentiment was mostly negative – so let me share with you my observations . 

The Pro's: 

  1. India has a large population of highly educated people, a well developed software and CTI Industry and a large unemployed workforce- cost of labour is real cheap. The second language in India is English. 

  2. Several large Computer Software Integrators with a proven track record in both software development, implementation & application area.

That was basically the PRO-side.

The Con's: Let me try to list for you the reasons why I consider establishing a Call Centre Industry in India a difficult proposition – 

1)      The English spoken by Indians is a very heavy dialect – in fact, in face to face conversations, I found it very difficult to understand what was said. How will this play out over the telephone with people much less educated that my conversation partners ? Consider for a moment, that in 1981 when GE established The GE Answer Center in Louisville Kentucky 3 months was spent researching which American dialect would best be suited for all Americans before the location was decided upon. So here we’re 20 years later and an average American are expected to understand Indian-English – quite a challenge to both the customers and the staff.

2)      The non-existent Customer Service Culture in India will make training of reps mandatory and difficult, since such a luxury as service is not part of everyday life in India.

3)      The Infrastructure is bad, no, make that antiquated :

        The attempts by a major US Corporation to set up a satellite link has so far been expensive and not very successful.

        Electricity infrastructure is going from bad to worse – in fact during my stay at a 5* Hotel and at the corporate HQ of a big multi national company we had on average 7 black-outs a day where the generators would kick in after 2-3 seconds.

        The Telephony system is analog and inadequate. It took on average 3 attempts just to get a line of out my Hotel. The Telecom market is NOT deregulated, and international calls are very expensive. (In fact I got billed US$ 350 for a 14 minute call to Australia). This article (click here) gives you an idea of the madness involved in getting a simple licence to hook up your call centre with a network. Licences are NOT given to the place but to the operation !!!

The business culture and the mix of Government intervention will be a cultural shock for Western Business People with no previous experience.

Add to this a  lack of a Call Centre Industry and very few people with Call Centre experience which makes it very hard to recruit Call Centre managers with a proven track record.

 My own conclusion:  

  1. The Indian Call Centre Boom  will be short lived unless its based on Indian Joint Venture Partners with experience in handling both regulatory hurdles and ensuring that the necessary infrastructure is in place. 

  2. When India develops its own Customer Service Culture and has de-regulated its Telecom sector, then maybe we’ll see a sustainable Call Centre Industry to service the large Indian market place.

  3. India is well placed to handled back office fulfilment and Business process delivery systems in areas such as Internet-, HR- & Accounting Services, Transaction Processing Services plus Customer Service.

  4. The Projected Cost savings is best realised by joining up with an Indian Company with a proven track record in IT & project management. Beware of short term relationships offering " a pie in the sky".

Major Corporations re-locating India call centre - 13.08.03 by Niels Kjellerup.

With GE Capital returning its Australian Customer Service operation from New Delhi back to Melbourne the exodus from the so called low cost call centre operations has started. With staff turnover reported of more than 70% what we're witnessing is lack of Management Know How with total focus on keeping call cost low - with no or little focus on Call Outcome and creating future revenue from customers a call centre, any call centre, disintegrates a become a Galley Slave and finally becomes a Toxic Call centre with annual staff turnover of +35%. No cost benefit to the sponsor and a lot of unhappy customers.

 Additional Note (5 April 01 by Niels Kjellerup, Editor) : Datamonitor issued "Indian CRM Outsourcing" March 2001 (Ref code BFTC 0527). It validates my views of  the difficulties of overcoming the language barrier & the bad telephony infrastructure. It omits mentioning the problem with un-reliable power supply and doesn't mention 'how the lack of a customer service culture' makes training of reps difficult at best. The report points out, that Vendors to the Contact Industry is experiencing a bonanza selling to Outsourcers. It suggests the best way to go is a joint venture with local companies to minimise risk and overcome the different business culture in India, thus avoiding the difficulties experienced by GE Capital and British Airways setting up In-house Contact Centres. The report can be order here or  

Additional Note ( 19 March 2002) - I seems I might have been too mild in my criticism of Management practices in Indian Call Centres. A year has passed and in both the UK, Australia and in the USA customers are actively rebelling against 'the Indian version of Customer Service' - talk radio, satirical TV-programs all poke fun or anger at the Cheap and Dirty Customer Service being practiced by mostly un-experienced call centre managers in India. This Email received by a training practitioner in the Southern Indian city of Chennai -

Additional Note (6 September 2002) I have been receiving several Emails from Customer in the US & the UK describing their customer experience with an Indian Service Center. 

This one from James DeBeau, Irvine, CA 92620:

I'm 36 year old male in California. After a particularly frustrating call with an Indian call center, I did a quick internet search and read an article you wrote discussing the pros and cons of Indian call centers.  Could not agree with you more - I hope it is a short-lived fad as well.  Nothing against Indians, of course, where education and plenty of English speakers have made for many excellent computer scientists, engineers, etc. But they generally should NOT in positions where they interact with the general public. I can almost live with the dialect.  What burns me is: 
1.  Absolutely NO deviation from "the script".  I've had some of these guys actually re-read the preceding line when asked a question they could not answer.  Then I go ballistic when I ask, in a conciliatory manner: "Look, if you don't know the answer, that's ok, just say so and admit that, or find someone who does".  They never do. 
2.  Perhaps the ONE ITEM that I despise the most, though, is the overall disingenuousness of the operations.  I had to call AOL recently several times, and was greeted by various male voices (never women, by the way) who introduced themselves as "Mike", "Steve", "Brian", and "Walter".  GIVE ME A BREAK!!!  NO ONE in India is given names like Mike, Steve, Brian, and Walter.  COME's just bold faced lying!  I actually did have one guy admit that they take those names "to make callers feel more at ease".  As if the accent doesn't give it away??????.  Friend, I KNOW you're from India!  That's ok......just don't BS me about it!!. And perhaps it's not THAT big of a deal, but it sure rubs me the wrong way. 
Take care 

Back to What's New or Home Page or read The Growing Pain of India's Contact Centre Industry or Dell Help Desk in India.