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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 23:19 GMT
Abuse rattles Indian call centre staff

By Zubair Ahmed
BBC News, Mumbai

Shane Fernandes in Mumbai was recently speaking to a customer in the US about a credit card scheme.

Call Centre
Many call centre workers in India resent being abused

He thought he had won over the customer, but just at the last minute the American learnt the young, sweet-talking agent was calling from a call centre in India.

"He just refused to deal with me because he found out I was an Indian," recollects Mr Fernandes.

Others working in India's burgeoning call centres have been verbally abused and accused of taking jobs formerly carried out in Europe or the US.

Many Indian call centre workers are relatively young, having joined straight from college, and they are not used to and often find it hard to cope with the abuse.

Some leave, others have their confidence sapped.

True, tantrums by customers in the services industry are not uncommon in any country.

But it is the racial overtones that worry young professionals in India's multi-billion-dollar Business Processing Outsourcing industry.

People who give abuse should remember we're working to earn a living, we don't do it for fun
Monica, London, UK

"Some customers will ask us if we use electricity and watch TV," says Madhavi, a call centre worker who declined to give her surname and who spoke to the BBC on the condition that her company's name would not be mentioned.

"You may keep smiling, but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth," says Gaurav Mantri of Transworks, a Mumbai-based call centre.

"You won't believe it. Once a customer asked one of my colleagues if he goes to work on a bullock cart."

Job losses

An Indian organisation of professionals, called The Young Professionals Collective, recently compiled a report after talking to many call centre agents in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Delhi and Bangalore.

Call centre workers
Most callers are well behaved towards call centre workers

The body has urged the country's labour ministry to look into the complaints of racial abuses and prejudices heaped on India's young workforce.

Mumbai-based lawyer Vinod Shetty, who formed the collective, says most of the abuses reflect the frustrations of the jobs being shifted to India.

"Mostly they say Indians are dirty and that they don't have brains and they are illiterates," he says.

"Sometimes, the abuses reflect their prejudices and anger at job losses [in their own countries]."

Answering back

"Once a US customer called, after I read the welcome script he asked immediately where I was located. When I said India he said he didn't wish to continue and he hung up," says Mahal, who believes the problem starts when a customer is genuinely upset about a product or when he doesn't understand the heavy Indian accent.

Team leader Nikhil urges his junior colleagues to take it on the chin and keep smiling.

But Mr Fernandes answers back.

"I don't keep quiet on calls like these, but I make sure I don't cross the limits of decency."

Mr Fernandes is lucky. Others who have answered back have been sacked.

But customers who misbehave are in the minority.

"Yes we get loads of callers who don't think well of us, but in my experience 80% of callers are pleasant and they even say how much they love India and the Taj Mahal," says Madhavi, who has been working at a call centre for 18 months.

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