Is India losing in voice based outsourcing?
January 25, 2010
Indian call center agents have long been the face of the Indian BPO industry to the world. The, what may in retrospect be called ludicrous phenomenon, of Indian agents taking on not just American names, but also their mannerisms and accents, to take calls from people buying insurance, getting their computers fixed and their utility bills paid spawned not just a jumbo outsourcing economy, but also led to a worldwide cultural and political impact. Yet it functioned quite effectively providing jobs and employment to hundreds of thousands in India and cost savings of millions of dollars to the firms involved.
Yet there were always murmurs of discontent, not just from those who were against the job losses outsourcing caused in the home countries, but from irate customers who would complain about unintelligible accents and bad customer service. But their objections were brushed aside in the face of the sheer cost savings that outsourcing afforded to the firms involved.
Things seem to be changing however with the emergence of other equally if not cheaper destinations for outsourcing voice based processes that have the added advantage of greater cultural affinity with the US. Philippines, which has a long history of cultural and political ties with the US is a case in point. India has in the recent past lost tens and thousands of jobs to the Philippines on account of a much better standard of English there. That apart it has much better infrastructure unlike India where transportation and power are major issues. In terms of the security scenario as well Philippines is perceived to be better placed than India.
The emergence of Philippines has been nothing short of dramatic considering that just three years back in 2007 it had hundred and fifty thousand agents to India’s three hundred thousand. Today both India and Philippines have three hundred and fifty thousand each. The trend to outsource voice based processes to countries that are culturally closer continues with the emergence of centers like South Africa, Australia, Ireland, the Caribbean and South America.
India however retains the edge in those voice operations that require in depth technological expertise. In such a scenario the accent of the agent is not that much of a drawback. Moreover there is an enormous domestic market which is increasingly using the services of these agents. India was able to hop on to the BPO voice band wagon on the strength of its colonial legacy and a large pool of English speaking young people. This enabled it to grow at a blistering pace for about a decade, but as the market matured, the outsourcers discovered that there were other destinations that were not only cheaper but also had a workforce more in tune with how an average American speaks and understands the English language.
India however have the great advantage of having an enormous work force who are technically qualified and eminently suited to working for outsourcing firms that have moved up the value chain like KPOs, technology services outsourcing, legal processes outsourcing, outsourcing of web development or content development-there really is a long list of processes and services that are increasingly being outsourced to India and at various scales of operation. What we are really witnessing is a more holistic and seamless trend of outsourcing that is far more participative in nature and augers well for the future of the world outsourcing industry.