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The BBC's Jill McGivering in Delhi
"Students are taught how to cultivate an American or British accent"
 real 28k

Friday, 20 October, 2000, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Calling India is sound business
A call centre operator
Many UK call centres are moving out to India
By Jill McGivering in Delhi

Many Western companies are gradually moving their telephone enquiries and telesales operations to India.

Low wages are one reason for this decision as most companies pay between half and a third as much as they would pay for the same services in the United States or the United Kingdom.

The call centre agent would say... 'what a terrible snowstorm we have today' even though he's sitting in India where outside it's 34 degrees

McKinsey's Marc Vollenweider

Analysts in India say that the demand for personnel to man these call centres is explosive.

At most of these call centres, young Indian graduates handle calls from the other part of the world.

Special training

Most of them have never been to the West and are taught the art of making conversation at institutes that have sprung up to cater to this new demand.

As well as brushing up on pronunciation, students are taught how to make small talk - and how to cultivate an American or British accent.

Kurien Joseph, a trainer at Sapphire Callnet, says the trainees also get cultural training to help their conversations along.

Indian woman on the phone
The operators are taught to make small talk
This involves imparting knowledge about steak and kidney pie and of course, the British weather.

"We're so used to having bright sunshine here that for most Indians it would be silly to talk about the weather at all," says Mr Joseph. "But if you look at it from the British point of view, you have one sunny day after so many days and we say 'Oh, a fine day!'."

In telesales especially, establishing rapport is crucial - and Indian callers are taught special techniques to make the person at the other end of the phone think they're in the same neighbourhood.

They adopt western names - changing from Govinda and Pallavi to John and Susan.

Business tricks

Marc Vollenweider of McKinsey has been analysing the market. He's come across all sorts of tricks - including a small weather map display of where the call is coming from.

"The call centre agent would then be able to answer in a very targeted manner and say: 'what a terrible snowstorm we have today!' even though he's sitting in India where outside it's 34 degrees."

There's so much business with the internet.... that those call centres will still exist and we'll be looking to fill up the extra seats that they need

Air Infotech's Katherine Dance
Katherine Dance has left a UK call centre to run a brand new one outside Delhi, called Air Infotech.

It is just starting up - hoping to grow from a 100 workers to 6,000 in the next year.

A third of her enquiries come from the UK.

Competition is cut throat - and most companies insist on total secrecy.

Good prospects

Many household names in the UK are testing the water but seem anxious about hostile publicity if people find out they're relocating customer services to India.

Katherine Dance says many fear a backlash if UK jobs are lost - but she's confident that won't happen.

"There's so much business with the internet, with the companies.... with the need for call centres, there's enough business that those call centres will still exist and we'll be looking to fill up the extra seats that they need," she says.

Indian workers also have to work hard to change attitudes.

Some western businesses aren't convinced that standards here will be as high.

The aim of these young start-ups is to prove that India is not only cheaper, it's also just as good.

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See also:

14 Sep 00 | South Asia
Microsoft announces India deal
17 Mar 00 | South Asia
India's high-tech hopes
13 Mar 00 | South Asia
Murdoch eyes 'cyber' Bangalore
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