We've questioned before the value of investing in contact center technology without improving call center conditions, and the ability of outsourced labor (regardless of whether it is also off-shored) to provide good customer service. These are the types of questions that are important for business decision makers to ask. If you want to go a bit further, you can read this story in Mother Jones about the experience of a writer from the U.S. training to work in a center in India. It doesn't provide much detail as to whether you should or shouldn't outsource your customer service functions (or to who), but it doesn't provide an interesting perspective on the conditions of these workplaces.

Much of the article revolves around the cultural impact that the business process outsourcing industry has brought to India, both good (more economic opportunities for women) and bad (the potential stifling of Indian culture as call center workers attempt to conceal their identities). Here are a few interesting points:

  • There are almost as many women as men working in the call centers.
  • Many of these workers are college educated, but are doing very basic work.
  • Some workers are encouraged to eat American fast food and listen to American music, even on the weekends.

But what I find most interesting about the article are the details about day to day life in the call centers. The writer, Andrew Marantz, didn't actually get to complete his training due to visa issues, but while he was able to learn about how the call centers work:

This reminded her of another rule: "No leaving the premises during work. You can smoke out front, but don't leave the gates."

On our next smoke break, I asked Mr. Long Island City if he found this rule strange. "No, it's just for safety types," he said. "Especially for the girls. Who knows what could happen to a girl on her own?" Another classmate had his own theory. "Out there it's India, man," he said, gesturing through the gate to where a goat was urinating in the street. "We go outside, and when we go back in, we bring India in with us."

Marantz was also also able to collect anecdotes from trainees who had previously worked elsewhere. Some workers also told Marantz about their experiences in phishing schemes: "They tell their information over the phone and you don't even write it, you just write the credit card. We take our commission. Next week, the company disconnects the phone."

What's most striking, though not surprising, is how much anger is directed at the Indian call center workers by the customers they are serving.

Given how much work goes into training the workers to suppress accents and use popular phrases from television, I wonder how often I've talked to someone in a call center in an offshore call center and not even realized it.