|Wednesday 08 August, 2001
Is the hype over India's call centre industry justified?
Call centres are apparently the latest fledgling industry hoping to piggyback the success of India's information technology boom.
Hundreds have opened over the last couple of years, providing back office services to big overseas investors.
Only a few months ago the industry was predicted to create 100,000 jobs and generate trillions of dollars for the Indian economy, but the current mood seems less optimistic
Telephonists are the backbone of the new sunrise industry of call centres. They draw on the availability of a large pool of young, computer savvy English speaking graduates.
Despite their expertise, the graduates undergo intensive training before answering their first official call.
|"Learning to understand English with an American accent is just the start of it. Telephonists also take lessons in culture and the whole US way of life." Sanjeev Srivastava |
The industry has also opened a new window of opportunity for linguistic instructors in India. But it is not just about accent and grammar, according to English language instructor, Douglas Breckenridge:
"Here in this call centre, we are focussing on both, culture and linguistics.
"Now from the culture side, we don't want to give them the fake way of thinking American because that is not enough. We want them to understand why Americans think the way they think.
"On the linguistic side, we teach them two things - firstly how to speak like an American. Now, the goal here isn't to make them become Americans, it is to make them understandable to Americans because Americans can't understand an Indian accent.
"We modify a few things in the accent as well to because not all Americans talk like me. There are over 226 different dialects in America."
Keeping staff motivated is also an increasing problem. There is already serious overcapacity in the Indian call centre industry, with regular stories of everything being in place bar the customers.
Rizvan Koita, the chief executive of Tarnsworks Call Centre, insists these are just teething problems:-
"As we try and create a new industry, I think there's a certain level of investment - whether it's in terms of money or effort or time - that companies need to put in before they can reap the benefits of an emerging marketplace.
"I think in the last year we have seen that companies are trying to put in this effort and I don't really see that there has been any downturn per se. What may be the reason is that the growth has not lived up to some of the very aggressive expectations that some of the companies might have set for themselves."
|"Growth has not lived up to some of the very aggressive expectations that some of the companies might have set for themselves." Rizvan Koita |
But many big names are refusing to become downbeat.
India's biggest private sector company, Reliance Industries, is planning a 100,000 seat call centre which should become operational next year. Raju Bhatnagar from the E-Funds call centre maintains there is still plenty of room for growth:
"it's really ensuring that we, as a country, as an industry, maintain a minimum level of quality of the product that is being delivered.
"We must try not to fight and cut down on costs because the moment you cut down on costs beyond a point, it boils down to cutting corners on equipment, training, processes, which overall has a negative impact on quality."
Only two years old, the call centre business in India is in the midst of a transition. Analysts still see a lot of promise in the sector and are comfortable with optimistic profit projections.
But the economic slowdown has proved that it is no business for fly by night operators looking for a fast buck.
|"In India call centres are a business in which only those with deep pockets and a commitment to quality will survive." Sanjeev Srivastava |