The lucrative call centre industry in the Philippines has become the cornerstone of the outsourcing arm of Vancouver-based Telus, according to a Globe & Mail story on call centres – a $130-billion global BPO industry that has grown by more than 10 per cent a year since 2005. Telus International’s success story in the Philippines is rarely talked about in Canadian corportate circles. From a base of 15 customers in 2005 when it first acquired Ambergis Solutions,Telus International now employs 8,500 workers scattered in three call centres in Manila providing services to about 40 clients. Revenues from the Philippine operations have quadrupled according to the Globe. Telus’ clients include several North American telecom and cable companies. Call centre workers in the Philippines provide services such as 411, billing, and technical support to customers. Other clients serviced from the Philippines include utilities and electronics firms. It also handles support for one of the world’s largest online video game makers.
Fueled by the availability of young, well-educated workers who speak “American-style” English, the call centre industry in the Philippines is thriving. and last year, it overtook India to become the call centre capital of the world. According to the G & M, every day, more than a million North Americans dial corporate customer service numbers to complain, to inquire, to activate accounts, to order products or to seek help.
The Philippine call-centre industry is growing by an average annual rate of 28 per cent for the past six years. In 2011, sector-wide revenues topped $11-billion (U.S.), accounting for about 4 per cent of the country’s GDP. Almost 640,000 Filipinos work in the industry and 75 per cent of those are located in the capital region of Metro Manila.
Calls from North America are routed to places like Market! Market!, a cavernous mall in Fort Bonifacio. They are home to about 3,000 workers at a massive call centre operated by Telus International, an arm of Canada’s second largest telecommunications company, Vancouver-based Telus Corp.
Almost all of the global outsourcing industry heavyweights – firms such as Infosys Ltd., Convergys Corp. and even a unit of the Indian multinational conglomerate Tata Group – have now launched operations in the Philippines. While India remains the dominant player in software and information technology (IT) support, the Philippines is now the preferred destination for voice-based customer service.
The starting salary for a call centre worker in the Philippines is between 12,000 and 15,000 pesos per month ($278 – $348). While entry-level call centre workers do not make as much as overseas workers, the lower cost of living in the Philippines makes a big difference, and call centre jobs allow families to stay together.
Despite its economic benefits, the call centre industry has come under fire from those who criticize the gruelling lifestyle and health risks it imposes on a workforce whose average age is about 25. Call centres are being been blamed for everything from a rise in the rate of sexually transmitted disease among young Filipinos to rising debt loads taken on by workers abusing the credit cards their new jobs have qualified them for.
BY THE NUMBERS
640,000 – number of Filipinos working in call centres or Business Process Outsourcing sector in 2011.
$11-billion – industry revenues in 2011.
1.1 million – number of Filipinos forecast to be working in the sector by 2016.
$15-billion – industry revenue projected by 2016.
Source: Business Processing Association of the Philippines national employees in the Philippines (during peak periods).
28,000 – number of Telus Corp. employees in Canada.
5 – number of countries where Telus operates call centres – Canada, United States (Las Vegas), El Salvador, Guatemala and the Philippines.
15 per cent – cost savings of operating a call centre in the Philippines compared to Latin America.
15 per cent – cost savings of operating a call centre in Latin America compared to North America.
Source: Telus International
How to tell if you’re speaking to a call centre agent in the Philippines
Patience: Filipino call centre workers are highly regarded for their ability to remain calm and accommodating with elderly or difficult customers.
Occasional Tagalog: A common slip-up for Filipino call centre workers is to address customers as “Po” instead of sir or ma’am.
Please hold: Another giveaway is the use of the phrase “for a while,” instead of “one moment.”
The tricky question:
What do Filipino call centre workers say if a customer asks where they are located? The head of Telus International’s Philippines operations, Jeffrey Uthoff, says it depends on the client. Some companies don’t want agents to reveal where they are. Telus says it would prefer if agents were able to say they are in the Philippines if asked.
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