Outsourcing Woes

Most of us who regularly watch CNN are no stranger to Lou Dobbs, the anchorman of Lou Dobbs Tonight , a man unmistakably on a tv crusade to “take back” America. Dobbs, a staunch critic of job outsourcing and illegal immigration is not viewed as racist or xenophobic perhaps due to his fair, professional and intelligent handling of the show, always making sure that both sides of the pole are adequately represented with experts and authorities who are thoroughly conversant with the controversial subjects. On the issue of job outsourcing however, Dobbs had been a little to harsh on the pro side of the camp, often pinning his guests to the corner by his passionate and brutally frank questions such as “ you know that outsourcing jobs to other countries results in job losses in America – why are you doing it and where is your common sense?” Fact is whatever Dobbs says, it still boils down to the math – the choice between higher unemployment numbers or wealthier corporations and the fat tax revenues it brings to the coffers.

But Dobbs may have rang the bell loud enough to stir emotions within America and the world for that matter. The British Observer reports that American and British customers are turning Indian call centre workers away from their jobs by their rudeness and racist attitudes. The emotional toll on the Indian workers is quite a concern, that approx 50% of the estimated 350,000 workers have sought professional counseling. The are reports that certain websites in the U.S. have started publishing phone numbers of companies using Indian call centres along with a listing Indian swear words. Aside from the backlash on the job losses,the cultural part of the whole deal might be something that has been overlooked by the outsourcing gurus. Accent and conversational skill do matter but Yanks and Brits are not exactly pleased with remembering the customer service associate’s name that is 10 letters long with 8 consonants in them! If this silent revolution continues unabated and causes significant deterioration of quality of service then the call centre outsourcing industry might be in hot waters. Or perhaps the industry is just experiencing aftershocks to signal the complexity of the issue, making companies think and be selective with the type of call centre they want to outsource, that you simply can’t outsource them all.


10 Responses

  1. Well, no brainer just move them to Phils. We are more versatile, more hospitable, more accomodating and the best in the east 🙂

  2. Now the westerners are the ones airing their woes. I remember there used to be a time (or is it still that way these days) when Pinoy activists aggressively voiced out their disdain for this buzzword called “globalization” (that’s globalisation to Brits, Aussies and Indians, mind you).

    Now it is becoming clearer by the minute that the countries with less expensive labor (ok, labour) are those that have the comparative advantage in labor-intensive industries, and even knowledge-based ICT.

    And even if the barriers to full factor (i.e. capital, labor, knowledge) mobility will never be completely torn down given geographic, political, and social circumstances, we are continuously gearing toward a state near this ideal.

    However, somehow, I can relate with the advocacies represented by the afore-mentioned activism. It is the more developed world, after all, that wields more political leverage and economic influence. So even with our comparative advantage, firms and industries may still opt to keep jobs within their borders. So it’s not a debate only within the economic arena, after all, but one that involves politics of will and diplomacy.

    That’s international and socio-political economics at work!

    What’s next? Outsourcing of bloggers?


  3. oh! I thought call centers made our lives easier. It seems to me now that the it has created more problems than has solved. Now the issue of discrimination following globalization. It has created new problems after solving some.

    Your comment to my blog is really insightful. Post anytime. While reading your blog, you remind me of a reporter friend:


    It’s not that I am promoting his site but it’s good for the brain to be reading blogs with a different concept as mine. Yours is a good read.

  4. expert – agree..Pinoys have their strengths no doubt. We are probably a bit more tuned to western culture than our Indian counterparts. We probably cost a bit more too??

    angelo – btw, Canadians are also “s”, “re” and “our” folks who write like Brits but speak like Yanks! The pitfalls of globalisation are probably unfolding before our eyes but you are right in that the more developed world still holds the trump card in this whole globalisation shebang.

    teacher sol – thanks and much obliged. We are lucky to have a teacher who can share her ideas and experiences and who we can dialog with on such important issues as education and children !

  5. A bit different to the topic at hand but in my case I do vent a lot to these call center people, whatever their background is, wherever they came from, coz my laptop, pda, mp3 player, isp, credit card, etc. etc. is mucking up and it makes you mad to the bone when you consider the thousands of dollars you pay for such items that fuck up every so often and if i could only mash the head of the engineers who made this or the ceo of the company with a sledgehammer i would but unable to do that i just lash at the person at the other end of the company’s phone line just so they would realize how sucky their products are and hope that they will tell their superiors that their products stink (which they probably won’t).

  6. outsourcing slaughters the many opportunities which is supposed to be given to a country’s own people but i think first and second world countries have comparative edges when it comes to outsourcing – shedding layers of management and laying off thousands of workers – and they are not even disturbed.

  7. Anonymous’ comment reflects the feelings of most customers who can’t help the feeling of frustration when dealing with customer service assistants who are in another continent and might be just talking robots. The preception of “detachment” might not be necessarily true because these assistants have tools and escalation channels to the experts but again, perception is perception and the only way to change it is to improve and strive for service excellence.

    Bing… how true indeed. To most companies, the concern for employees comes last – profit first.

  8. BW,
    KUMUSTA, scan – shared check authorization network, is a national neg database for bad cks moved their call center to india.
    i get calls from theme everyday because we shared info wth them as far as people writing cks. there are times that people i spk wth are very difficult to undertand because of the strong accent, i get same complaints from my staff when scan reps call in. pinoy on the other hand, i dnt thnk wld have the same problems, bec we do spk good english (2nd language)and we dnt have the strong accent that other countries have. again, why did they move the call ctr to india, cheaper labor — money talks. so despite customer dissatisfaction, comp are still going to outsource labor to other countries

  9. Howdy to you too Arvin. Great to be exchanging ideas with you. Agree with you that those companies that dipped their fingers into call center outsourcing are finding it difficult to revert back to where they were. My take on the whole thing is – it is scary to outsource overseas critical applications where the stakes are higher. I also see the frustration of people when all of a sudden their jobs are lost. Although my job is not in call center operations per se, part of my consulting job deals with call center design and support and I can relate to feelings and concerns of people in the industry. I agree with you that RP has a lot of potential. In a conference I attended last year, the gurus are saying that RP is ranked 5th in the world together with Singapore in terms of overall skills. India is tops mainly because they are much cheaper.

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