Outsourcing – Home or away?

What does the future hold for UK and Indian call centres?

Over the past couple of decades, we have seen the call centre boom take place in India as centres moved there from more developed countries like the UK. This huge growth has several explanations; firstly the cheapness of using call centres based here, which helps increase companies’ incomes. In the UK, the average salary for a worker in a call centre is around £12,500 per year, whereas in India this is just £1,200. The boom was also encouraged within India as it was seen by many as a road to development and a good opportunity for graduates to find work. There is also the wealth of English-speaking workers, with more in India than in the UK and USA combined.

However, recently call centres have been moved back into the UK as the British reaffirm local outsourcing. For example Santander, a Spanish-owned bank, relocated all of its English-language call centre work to the UK. Similarly the insurance group Aviva brought some operations back to Norwich, and New Call Telecom’s customer service work has been moved from Mumbai to Burnley. And why is this happening? Well as most of us know first-hand, calls from foreign call centres can sometimes be frustrating, often due to language-barriers or different accents, and so many customers have complained of this or even decided to stop using certain services, making businesses keen to eliminate this apparent problem.

There are also issues for the workers themselves, with problems like abusive language from frustrated customers. Such difficulties and the retreat of UK companies from India bring up the question of what will become of Indian call centres and their workers. Many may find themselves losing out to workers in places like the Philippines which are increasingly becoming competition to India as the latter’s wages rise, detracting from its attractiveness as an outsourcing location. UK call centres, on the other hand, would begin to thrive once more, and those people who had lost their jobs as the centres moved abroad would be able to take these again.

Predictions suggest that the number of call centres in India has peaked and is on its way down as competition, not only from the UK and other company’s ‘home-countries’ take over, but also from places like the Philippines, as mentioned, Africa and Mexico. Therefore the reduction in call centres in India is not expected to be directly proportional to the increase of that within the UK, though there will be a definite rise in these.

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