Saturday, July 9, 2011

The idea of a call centre: Innovative and Idiotic

Well, the title may seem absurd at the very first look; it makes some sense if you read through it further. In the present era the survival of business houses and their products stand only on one factor: “SERVICES”. If the service of the company A is better than the service of the company B, then company B in the long run is destined to be doomed, unless it wakes up and competes and plugs its loopholes. This is why the BPO (Business process outsourcing) sector has gained the prime space in today’s economy. It has done wonders and has increased the avenues to the common man. Be it in the variety of products that he gets to choose from or the employment opportunities that come his way, it is the term call centre has done many impossible things possible. While the business in the services sector is more targets oriented, the employee base remains the neglected lot. They are made to believe that the voice at the other end is always superior. Ironical, it may seem! These are the reasons that propel me to write this article.

Raman Roy is considered to be the father of the Indian BPO industry. What he saw was unemployment, which everybody else saw. What he realised was an opportunity to get cost-effective labour compared to the west, which nobody else realised! A business opportunity, most often is just a step ahead of realising it. When you don’t visualise, you don’t realise! That is the equation basically.  It feels so good when you call up a particular service and the voice at the other end politely thanks you for calling and answers your queries professionally.  The concept has radicalised the way people do business.  India has been the global hub for outsourcing. Mr. Roy’s realisation was “cost-effective labour”. This is what we get in India. And this why we remain the numero uno in bagging the outsourcing orders. This is the only edifice that the industry today is standing on. You shake this and the entire structure falls! This is how strong we are!   Indians are considered to be amongst the most intelligent people in the world. But that comes only after the prime factor of cost –effective and which most of us call “cheap”.

Tell your neighbour that I work in a BPO. Ooooh! BPooo is it? Dint you gets a better IT job?! Pat comes the reply! I bet!  Does it mean that there should be sub standard treatment for the BPO employees? The question that swirls in my mind is what has made the BPO sector untouchable? One of my colleagues rightly commented the other day, when you work in a BPO you should essentially lower your IQ. The customers whom you speak with or chat with are unaware of most of the things. It’s important to get down to the level of your customer and then talk. Because, the first thing that is taught to you when you enter a BPO unit is that: “Customer is your God”. It’s a different matter that most of them don’t follow it.  Most of India’s labour in the call centre industry works for the west. And for that it’s mandatory for employees to work in the night. Working in the night has been a social taboo. I feel this will remain the same throughout. This makes BPO the last job option for many. Well, in a globalised world to keep pace with the happenings around, working round the clock has been a norm. The cause of concern is not this. But the real tragedy is that, the employees are taught to budge to whatever the western customers say, learn it their way and believe they are always right and superior to us. The imitation of the west should stop. Aping them is going to do more harm than good.  Walk around a BPO unit and you see people dressed shabbily, men and women addicted to drugs and the greater tragedy is that they call it polished lifestyle.

It’s a mirage that gets created in the sub conscious minds of the people. Since the lifestyle of the employees gets changed completely when compared with the rest of the world, they are more prone to social retardness. I am amazed at the basic operations of the BPO. Let’s say a company ‘A’ sells and supports the problems with the Air conditioners that they manufacture. Ideally, if all the air conditioners that they manufacture work completely fine, then no one in the BPO unit would have a job. Knowing that they won’t work fine the company recruits hundreds of people for support services.  Let’s keep a minimal amount of margin for errors. Because to err is human and we all are humans. If you get 1000 people calling per day telling that their air conditioner is not working then you can imagine the efficiency of the company. Such companies establish a BPO and wash off their sins. If you are right, you don’t need to budge or care for anybody. This is the rule for happy living. If your products are world class with minimal flaws then you don’t need to boot-lick your customers. You don’t need to worry about the billions of rupees you spend in your customer support. You can invest that money into research and get a more better and efficient product. Isn’t that customer delight? Well, if you really thought so.  

Since the basic equation itself is somewhere wrong and messed up and something else is making up for it, the BPO industry is going good and strong with people. Obviously a master’s degree holder cannot say on the call: “Well, I am extremely sorry Mr. Customer for you having to face this problem. I apologise for your inconvenience.”  Why should you apologise for their mistake? This is why people with varied educational background are hired in this sector. This creates a wide amount of disparity in the work culture. People with high qualifications would never want to go to a call centre because they feel isolated there with no one to buy their thoughts.  I feel that the employment strata in the industry should change. Considering the long term objective the industry is very vulnerable. It all depends in the mood of the customer!

Just like me, you should have also wondered about the hue and cry over the US president’s visit to India. The majority share in the pie of outsourcing comes from the US. When the US president throws a statement saying that “we will reconsider the outsourcing options”, our entire nation has a chill running through its spine. Are we supposed to live like this? We have never thought of indigenous options. Because the dollar value will always be more than the rupee!  An employee in the states would ask 5 times more money to do the job than his counterpart in India. When Tom Friedman said, the world is flat; indeed it carried many different perceptions. I feel the world is crooked! There is no one willing to bend it back straight. While we don’t get to see at all different angles in one go we experience that in our day to day life.

The idea of a call centre is innovative nonetheless but what has to change is the way the organisation mirrors itself to the society. From idiotic to innovative, not the other way round!