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Article by Mohan Babu

Inside the mind of a BPO worker

While the debate over benefits and disadvantages of outsourcing rages in the US, India continues to be the customer care hub for more and more companies. For Indian call centre operators, what is it like to be supporting customer calls from halfway across the globe? MOHAN BABU highlights the experiences of one such former operator

Not a day goes by without an article on Business Process or IT Outsourcing (BPO/ITO)—a trend that has helped thousands of Indian graduates find a meaningful and lucrative(?) vocation. In a country with high rate of joblessness, this is definitely welcome. Graduates with a BA, BCom or other degree, who otherwise would join the ranks of unemployed youth, are finding a welcome break in the nascent field of call centre management.

While the debate over benefits and disadvantages of outsourcing rages, sourcing of low-end work, especially the management and staffing of call centre staff is definitely a win-win proposition. In the West, where a career as a call centre (aka telemarketing) agent is seen as being just a notch over that of flipping burgers, attracting and retaining operators is a logistical nightmare for managers, especially with extremely high attrition and burnout rates. By outsourcing such jobs, Western companies are better positioned to focus on their core competence. In this game, all is well and everyone is happy, right? Well, almost.

I recently had an interesting conversation with an ex-call centre worker, an engineer who moved to be with her spouse in the US after they got married. The young lady, let’s call her Jane (an Americanised moniker given to her by her call centre boss) had mixed feelings about her stint at the call centre. We got talking, and she told me about how she joined the firm in the ‘tech corridor’ in Bangalore right after graduating from engineering college. The support centre where she worked was designed to handle calls for a large American PC manufacturer, and the operators including Jane fielded all kinds of technical calls. There were about 1,000 others like her who worked for the company in shifts round the clock. Most of them were graduate engineers in their early twenties. The company would hire from a pool of eager and talented graduates and put them through an intensive hands-on training for about two weeks before letting them field live calls. During training, the engineers would be taught to use the software used during call support and were expected to master the internals of the different makes of PCs sold by the company.

What was it like to be supporting customer calls from halfway across the globe, I wondered. Jane told me that there was hardly such a thing as a ‘typical day’ since the demographics, expertise and tech-savvyness of the callers varied widely. Some would be complete novices who had just picked up the PC in a box from a supermarket and needed assistance even connecting the monitor to the CPU. Of course, they would not know what a CPU was, other than it being a ‘big box’ with wires protruding out. On the other side of the spectrum were callers who were conversant with the internals of hardware and software, who were facing problem with configuring a particular version of a driver software that they had already successfully installed.

Jane told me how she learned to deal with different callers, guiding them by asking the right questions without being too intrusive. She described the gratification she sometimes received after successfully helping callers who would be vocal in showering praises. Of course, she also had her fair share of irate callers who were obnoxious, abusive and unwilling to work with Jane who was trying to help them. Some, like one memorable caller perhaps had a (valid?) reason to be irate: he called the day he divorced his wife and wanted Jane to help him ensure that every file, document and ‘memory’ of his ex-wife was purged from the system. He was on the verge of physically destroying the CPU when he called the customer service hoping to salvage his investment. To his credit, when he started to talking to Jane, he realised that she was in a position to help him and Jane had to wear two hats during that call: one as a systems administrator and the other as a counsellor and therapist.

Jane had many such interesting, and sometimes amusing anecdotes to narrate and I started to get an idea of the highly intense and sometimes stressful nature of the work—that of being on the phone attending to and solving other’s problems involved. Shorn of the glamour, the job was definitely challenging and excruciating, sometimes involving skills one has not even been trained to use.

Jane worked on that job for a little under two years and said that if she had an option to revisit a career as a call centre operator, with the benefit of hindsight, she would probably have second thoughts. Having said that, for every Jane who has been through the groove, there are probably a hundred others eagerly willing to fill her shoes at the call centre in Bangalore, India. And the cycle continues.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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