Call centres’ passage back from India

What have Powergen, Norwich Union and Lloyds TSB got in common? The answer is that they have all fallen out of love with Indian call centres.

Five minutes ago everything seemed to be coming up roses for financial service outsourcers in cities such as Mumbai and Hyderabad. Back here in Blighty, the only ringing heard in UK call centres was their own death knells.

But suddenly we are seeing a volte face and lines are apparently being cleared for a passage back from India.

Of course, the accompanying reason is yet another smoke and mirrors job – a bit like the rationalisation for the trip out. You must remember the plaintive voices of the outsourcers imploring us to believe that offshoring would deliver competitive advantages that would benefit us all.

It didn’t ring true then so we shouldn’t believe the spurious reasons for this change of heart either.

Quite simply, the initial expense of establishing and operating an offshore call centre is cheaper than doing the same thing here. So it was always about reducing operating costs, never about benefiting customers. This remains true today but with one significant difference – the cost of the operating model has changed.

The growth of Indian call centres has created more job opportunities and greater competition but the poaching of trained staff is a major bugbear. This has created high turnover and higher salaries, each seriously affecting the original cost justification. The Indian dream is turning into an operational nightmare in terms of cost and service delivery because the language barrier is proving to be a greater problem than anticipated.

Language and cultural differences were originally downplayed, based on the number of English graduates India produces each year. But obtaining a degree in a language doesn’t mean being able to converse in it in a business environment. This has been a problem.

Initially, offshoring employers had concerns that clients would take their custom elsewhere. But in reality, xenophobia was not the issue. When it came down to it, most customers just wanted good service. And it’s the failure to provide this that lies at the heart of the drift back to the UK for call centre work.

Don’t believe all this guff about improving technology. The reality is that customers in their droves are voting with their feet simply because they can’t understand or make themselves understood by Indian call centre staff. We are all fed up with 10-minute problems taking an hour to resolve because of this problem. So never mind the spin – just be grateful.