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I Just Called to Say I Hate You

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March 2005
I Just Called to Say I Hate You

By Siddharth Srivastava

For those who thought the anti-outsourcing backlash against India, one of the biggest back-end service providers to multinational firms in the world, was an issue limited to the U.S. Presidential election, they should think again. In what has been termed as individual vigilantism by people who were affected, there are reports of an increasing number of hate calls, often blatantly racist and abusive, being made to call center operators in India, who take queries from American customers. This phenomenon has risen to alarming proportions after the U.S. election, given that incumbent George W. Bush is considered to be more positively inclined towards outsourcing than John Kerry.

The Internet, for one, which always provides a forum for what is running in people's minds, has proliferated with messages that urge fellow American citizens to wipe out the movement of jobs away from U.S., which has resulted in the coinage ?Getting Bangalored'. Call center executives, who hold a chunk of the jobs that moved offshore, especially to India, given its large English-speaking population, are facing the brunt of the ire. The following are just a few samples that are doing the rounds. Many other examples are not printable due to the explicit language.

Question: "I'm curious as to what kind of responses you have been getting. Do you use curse words at them?"

1st Reply: "I made an Indian woman cry and promise to quit her job in 60 seconds. You can do it too!"

2nd Reply: "Actually the usual response is confusion?I get the impression these are not the brightest bulbs in India's chandeliers. Often, they give me a 'courtesy laugh' as if I were joking and ask how they can help me. Usually, I limit the calls to 60 seconds anyway, so I can call back and really hammer them. I've been doing this about 20 minutes a day. It's great fun!"

3rd Reply: "I have inside knowledge of call centers, having worked in several. It's crucial that the agents be efficient. Barraging them with 60-second calls will ruin their stats and also lower their morale. Eventually, they'll start thinking 'another damn rude American xxx' every time a call comes up. All of this will have a cumulative effect. If 100 people across the U.S. would commit to spending 10 minutes a day, we could cripple them, and bring those jobs back."

Indians are particularly miffed at a recent instance at parody by a radio station that made a call to a center in India. The conversation that followed was laced with hate, sexism and racism. American radio jockeys, Star and Buc Wild, in a terrible attempt to make people laugh, broadcast an abusive call that was placed to an Indian call center worker. The 'call' was aired on their morning show on Philadelphia's Power 99 FM radio, wherein the caller places an order for beads, inquires whether the call has been outsourced to India and then abuses her. While the producers thought the script was funny, it has provoked angry responses from Indians all over the world. Though the script has been removed from the official website of the radio station, it has been picked up by several blogs on the Internet.

This is not the first time the duo, especially Star, has been involved with a distasteful and unseemly episode. Star had earlier staged singer-actress Aaliyah's death on air. He played a bloodcurdling scream followed by a loud crash (Aaliyah had died in a plane crash). Buc Wild was on vacation then, but Star's then co-host, Miss Jones, was disgusted and walked off the show.

However, in the latest instance, Star has correctly, even if unethically, approximated what is turning out to be quite a common occurrence now ? of sober Americans, instead of the usual drunken ones that exist everywhere, calling just to abuse. There are now several complaints, being widely reported by the media in India, of call center executives having to deal with customers who are downright uncouth. Executives working in call centers say that they are at the receiving end of nasty phone calls more than ever before.

Shalini J, a 22-year-old engineering graduate who works in a major call center in Mumbai, has been quoted as saying, "Earlier, people would get abusive if we didn't answer their questions satisfactorily. Now I get calls?on some days up to five a shift?from people who are calling only to abuse."

Some prominent call centers in India ? notably Wipro, Spectramind, Daksh, Exl, Convergys ? have tried to bring about technological changes as well as staff training to deal with the problem. As per the norms followed by them and the guidelines set by clients, no call can be disconnected once it is received. Some call centers have installed screeners and filters to block numbers with a repeated record of abusive calling. Others have given the option to executives to mute their response when the caller is being unnecessarily rude. This prevents the caller from hearing any spur of the moment retort by the call center executive who can continue with the conversation once the tirade is hopefully over. In this way the concerned executive can keep his/her cool and avoid being stressed, which is a very common complaint among call center operators who have to work long night shifts in order to keep U.S. time in India and also deal with a barrage of inquiries.���

The macro picture, however, seems to be bright for Indian offshore service providers. According to estimates, the business and process outsourcing industry will gross $ 5.7 billion in revenue in the year 2005. A recent McKinsey report on the Information Technology enabled sector has revised the previous figure of $ 17 billion to $ 21-24 billion by the year 2008, with India slated to garner 25 percent of the offshore market. The U.S will remain the largest source, providing 60 percent of the business.

Estimates suggest that 200,000 to 400,000 jobs have moved from the States since the outsourcing trend began in the 1990s, which is still a fraction of the 138 million jobs in America. The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) says only around 2 percent of the 10 million computer-related jobs have been sent abroad; 12 percent of IT companies have "outsourced" work compared to 3 percent of non-IT firms. The most high-end projection is by Forrester Research: a loss of 3.3 million jobs by 2015, including 1.7 million back-office jobs and 473,000 IT jobs. With the U.S. industry firmly backing outsourcing, given productivity increases, higher profits and lower costs, one does hope that ? at least in the longer run ? the latest distasteful happenings are just a blip in the phone radars.


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