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Washington Bill seeks call centre identity

Parvathy Ullatil in Mumbai | April 19, 2004 07:31 IST

In what could prove to be a trend among US states, a Bill introduced in the Washington state legislature would require call centre agents to identify themselves, their company and their geographical location every time they make a call to or receive a call from the United States. 
 
Introduced by Zack Hudgins, Steve Conway and Sandra Romero, among others, in February 2004, House Bill 3,186 had been referred to the state legislature's committee on commerce and labour, chaired by Conway. 

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At present, most call centre agents in India use pseudonyms to conceal their non-American identity and their accent is neutralised to make them more acceptable to customers in the US. The Bill adds sections to an Act on consumer knowledge of contact centre operations. 
 
A new section states: "At the request of a party using telephonic or electronic communications with an employee of a contact centre, the employee must identify: (1) the name and location of his or her employer; and (2) if applicable, the name, location, and telephone number of the entity contracting with the contact centre." 
 
Another new section states: "An employee at a contact centre may not solicit any personal information, whether using telephonic or electronic communications, unless the employee first informs the party that disclosing that information to the employee is optional and receives the affirmative consent of the party to whom the information relates."

Hudgins and his allies are hoping to make the Bill's stipulations applicable to any company registered to do business in Washington state. 
 
The Bill's purpose is to make call centres more responsive to their customers. But considering the anti-offshoring sentiment prevalent in the US, the Bill, if passed, could have a major impact on India's call centre industry. 
 
A large chunk of the Indian call centre business comes from telemarketing and credit card collection, both of which could be hit if call agents are required to divulge their identities in full.

"When it comes to customer service, this regulation will not have much impact as the customer is not too bothered about who and where the information is coming from. But when you are trying to sell something or collect something, it will be a problem," said Susir Kumar, director of Intelenet, the Tata Consultancy Services and HDFC joint venture call centre company. 
 
But Kumar argues that though in the short term such a regulation may be a cause for concern, in the long term US residents will become comfortable with the fact that they are being serviced by people all over the world. 
 
According to an Icra report on the Indian BPO industry, released in January, around 250 call centres in India employ 33,800 people. 
 
In the run-up to the US presidential elections, offshoring has become an increasingly sensitive issue in the US. US politicians have been taking up the cause of US workers who lost jobs to India and other nations. 
 
US politicians have also said that US residents are becoming vulnerable to identity theft, because offshore call centres have access to their personal information -- including social security numbers, credit card numbers and driver's license numbers which they can misuse. 
 
There is more -- Hudgins has joined hands with fellow democrats Conway and Sandra Romero to put forth two proposals before the Washington state House commerce and labor committee to ban all state business from being sent offshore. 
 
House Bill 2405 would prohibit state government services from being performed outside of the United States, while House Bill 2768 would prohibit state agencies from outsourcing the work to foreign companies or to companies that would then sub-contract state work offshore. 
 
These bills are part of the 60 odd anti-offshoring bills tabled in various US states. So far none of these bills has made it to the legislation stage. "These controversial regulations may not ever become laws as they will face stiff opposition from pro-business lobbies in both the house and the senate in the US," remarked an industry observer here. 
 
Tough call

  • Washinton state House Bill 3,186 says an employee of a contact centre must identify the name and location of his or her employer; and if applicable, the name, location, and telephone number of the entity contracting with the contact centre.
  • At present, most call centre agents in India use pseudonyms to conceal their non-American identity.
  • The Bill says that an employee at a contact centre may not solicit any personal information unless he or she first informs the party that disclosing that information is optional and receives the affirmative consent of the party.

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