3.24.2004

All day, all night, the phone calls come in: Outsourcing the Future? Part Three The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (3/24)
"At the Creator building, hundreds of 24/7 workers file through security checkpoints onto a huge floor of brightly lit cubicles decorated in teal and other pastels. They will spend the night on the telephone behind computer screens, hawking credit cards, providing technical support for computer companies and helping American and European consumers plan their vacations, track package deliveries and sort out ATM card problems.

The other buildings in the International Tech Park Bangalore absorb thousands of additional service workers employed by AOL Member Services, Deutsche Networks Services, General Motors India, IBM Global Services, Infineon Technologies, Tata Consultancy Services and nearly 100 other international companies that are tenants of the complex."

Sounds like jobs we've had (note the tense).

"At 24/7, the workers are predominantly college graduates, yet earn a starting wage of just 10,000 rupees a month, or less than $60 a week.

In the U.S., where call centers are regarded as jobs for college students, single mothers and downsized workers, the medium salary and bonus last year was $13.05 an hour, according to Mercer Human Resources Consulting. That's $520 for a 40-hour week -- nine times the Indian pay.

The tremors from this wage difference are being felt 8,300 miles away in southwestern Pennsylvania, where development officials once chased call centers as a growth industry because of the region's relatively neutral accents and available labor pool."

It's called "the race to the bottom" look it up.

"'There's a lot of concern. We've already experienced the [decline of the] steel industry, the Rust Belt. Unless something is done we're going to see the same situation here with the service industry and the telecom industry. We will be exporting those jobs,' he said. 'It sort of makes you wonder who we're going to sell to.'"

Well we'd buy from you, but... well you know: things kinda suck right now for us and we barely have the scratch for the new Clay Aiken CD. His non-threatening, pedestrian tones make us just forget our troubles. We hear he's working on a version of 'Brother can you spare a dime?' with Jessica Simpson! (Okay, not really but it is a rumor we'd want to start, so pass it on!)

"Once they get on the telephone, the employees, most between 20 and 25 years old, typically drop their Indian names and use others that are less jarring to their American clients. Jaganath, for example, becomes Jack; Manikandan, a typical South Indian name, becomes Manny; Sangeetha turns into Sandra.

Managers say they don't encourage employees to pretend to be someone they are not, but suggest they shorten typically-complicated Indian names that may confuse Western clients."

Sandra? Everyone knows the Pep Boys are Manny, Moe & Jack!

"Because of a backlash from American, British and Australian clients, however, most Indian call centers no longer ask employees to try to imitate Western accents. Fake Southern drawls with an Indian tinge are out."

[snip]

Another goal: teaching Indian employees to say "no" when they have to. The average Indian typically apologizes and gives an indirect answer when presented with a problem, which can create difficulties when an American client demands a yes-or-no answer to a question, said V. Bharathwaj, 24/7's marketing director.

"We're less assertive by nature, more service-oriented. That's a typical cultural difference that we have," he said. "Bridging that is an important challenge."

"See, how could we possibly be taking jobs when we're so clearly docile. Nevermind the nuclear weapons technology we've developed or the near constant state of war we've been at with Pakistan for decades... we're simple, non-assertive folk!"

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