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Call centres: 'Cons more than pros'
November 02, 2005
The call centre culture has always been shrouded in controversy.
A recent report by the V V Giri National Institute of Labour, an autonomous body under the Union labour ministry, compares the working conditions in call centres to those in Roman slave galleys.
Author Chetan Bhagat in his new book One Night @ The Call Centre exposes the murkier side of this otherwise glorified business.
We opened the debate to our readers and asked them to share their experience with us.
We also asked them if the call centre culture was a boon or a bane for India.
This is what they had to say:
I've been working as a tele-sales executive for about 18 months now. I have never had a bad day and, obviously, call centres are a boon for the Indian economy. More than three percent of India's Gross Domestic Product comes from the BPO sector.
The working conditions provided in this industry, specifically in call centres, is very good. The fact that night shifts can affect the biological cycle of a person is true to an extent, but there hasn't been a single day till now when I have faced a health problem because of this. It is all in the mind.
I would like to appeal to the media, which has been writing ill things about call centres to please STOP doing so. I mean, initially the media made a big issue about sexual encounters in call centre companies, which is not the true picture.
By just having a bad player in the team, no one can come to a conclusion that the whole lot is worthless. If we have to maintain the culture, everything depends on the education system and not on the foreign companies who outsource their jobs to a powerhouse like India Inc.
My rating for call centres overall, keeping in mind even a few things which speak otherwise, is good.
-- Sooraj, 20+, works for a call centre in Bangalore
Is there a planned sabotage being executed to tarnish BPO image and holocaust the industry from India? These days right from the attempts of unionising the segment to creating an uproar on any data privacy issues to the recently published reports -- I guess some people are trying their best to ensure that this industry is nipped right at the bud.
I voice my opinion in support of Mr Karnik (NASSCOM President Kiran Karnik) on the 'prison camp' reference. This is truly written in bad taste! The use of cameras and call monitoring, as referred to in the article, is an intrinsic part of the business. Credit card numbers, SSN numbers, bank PIN, etc -- the stakes are pretty high, businesses come and go overnight. Clients don't wait for things to improve.
From an agent's point of view, if s/he is doing things as they are supposed to be done, I don't see a reason why anyone would complain about the cameras or surveillance. Well it is true they might, if the cameras are installed in the restrooms. Even in Rabri-land, the recent Bihar polls are using the digital cameras for keeping the polling fair.
Next, the issue of night shifts. I don't know what the fuss is all about. Firstly, the agents are told in advance about the shifts and, secondly, they are not forced to join, they 'accept' and sign on the 'appointment letter'.
A little introspection and we will find that the night shifts have always existed in this country even before the BPO wave. So-called noble professions like doctors and engineers, railways, airlines, cargo and shipment, police, a host of other services have always been working nights since the time they were initiated. No one ever finds a report on their work-life balance. If any one is better equipped to cope up with shifts, it's the young people and that what we have in BPOs.
On the issue of growth and salary, I don't have to look very far. I myself started my BPO career as an agent in 2000 and currently am into a managerial position. On the salary front, my pay has appreciated five times from what I started with in 2000.
And someone said where's the growth? I don't know whether the studies published by the esteemed institute took into the account the frantic pace at which the industry is growing. Then, they would definitely see growth opportunities.
-- Umesh, 27, is a Six Sigma Black Belt (Quality) based out of Bangalore and Mumbai
I have worked as technical support executive for seven months in a BPO.
I do agree that a call centre might not be the best choice as a career, however I still say that call centres have helped many of us to get to our dream jobs. This is my personal experience.
After having completed my BE, I wanted to study higher and I didn't want that to be a burden for my family. So I worked there, earned some money for myself, got the education I desired and now am working in a company of my interest. Thanks to the call centre which gave me an opportunity.
There are many of us who are doing it. As far as the uncomfortable timings of work is considered, that should not be the biggest of problems considering the fact that you are offered a good salary and you are actually working towards your dream -- that is enough for you to continue to work.
Finally I say that call centres at least provide one with a time buffer in finding the right job. Additionally, you are improving your communication skills.
-- Sachin Bhutada, 23, worked as a Technical Support Executive for Vcustomer Pvt Ltd, Pune
Whilst I agree with countless others that call centres indeed provide a 'livelihood' for many of our people, somehow I feel that the cons are far more than the pros.
When I completed my post-graduation in computers (fortunately or unfortunately), I did work with a call centre for 10 months as that was the time the IT Industry was coming out of its slump.
A few of my experiences were as given below:
i. You are constantly monitored and cannot move around on the work-floor at all. Being seated at the desk, except during the fixed breaks, is an absolute necessity. Even for a toilet break, you need to inform your team-leader/supervisor! Believe me, it's true.
ii. Cellphones need to be turned off. There's a phone at the supervisor's desk, whose 'approval' you need to make calls.
iii. The pay is paltry. I used to work from 10 pm to 7 am and earn about Rs 5,800 per month which, by the way, included the night-shift allowances.
iv. Promotions at the lower level are mostly done on a secondment basis, which are never made permanent. This, I guess, is done to keep the agents on their toes and extract more work out of them.
v. One's health goes for a toss as the employees start living like vampires and are totally cut-off from friends/ family. They marry their jobs/ offices, which is never ever a good thing.
The only advantages of this job that I see are is that the pay (Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000) is good at that 'in-college' level. It's enough to buy your pizzas, CDs, mobile recharge vouchers, etc.
However, the sad part is that many of our youth are taken in by these miniscule amounts, which for them are huge at that level. They start ignoring their academics and, in some cases, give them up altogether. They feel that the pay is enough to sustain them throughout their life, which sadly is not at all true. Thus, a lot of talent gets nipped in the budding stage itself.
What these youngsters fail to realise is that approximately one out of 10 people may rise to the management levels in these call centres/BPOs and the remaining nine will be doing night shifts for the rest of their lives. By the time they realise all this, they're so deep in the rut that that it's becomes a mammoth task for them get out of it. They have no choice but to work in the conditions set by their employers.
The call centre/ BPO management pocket insane packages and do the least bit of work themselves. I remember my supervisor who was always ranting, "As you go up, whatever be the nature of the work, you need only to delegate it". The HR is extremely eloquent and thus many of us get taken in easily. Sad but true.
My advice is to always concentrate on your academics as far as possible as money always bows before knowledge, but knowledge will never bow before anything/anyone. You will get ample opportunities to earn money after finishing your education. Do not get taken in by these vultures looking for cost-effective labour. No matter what you do, you will always continue to be a 'resource' for them.
What is YOUR take on call centres?
What do you feel about the working conditions?
Are they driving our youth astray?
Have we been blinded by the call centre boom or is it truly a boon for the Indian economy?
Express your views, good, bad or ugly.
If you are a call centre employee, or part of the management team, tell us your side of the story.
Don't forget to add your name, age, designation and where you live.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier