The Philippines has overtaken India to become the world leader for call centres - but the shift isn't necessarily bad news for Indian outsourcers, say Saritha Rai.
If you dialled a toll-free customer service number from any English-speaking country in the West a few years ago, you could safely wager a small fortune that your call would be routed to a call centre thousands of miles away in India. There, an executive with an assumed name and a put-on accent would field your query.
Today, such a bet would be risky: the Philippines has just dethroned India as the global hub of call centres. This year, according to analyst figures, Philippine call centre revenues will reach $5.5bn against India's $5.3bn. The country's call centre employee numbers have overtaken India's too.
Philippines president Benigno Aquino hailed the country's newfound leadership in the field, describing call centres as a "sunshine industry". In India, Raju Bhatnagar, vice president of India's outsourcing industry trade body Nasscom, told silicon.com: "Call centres cannot be India's monopoly forever."
Cheap English-speaking labour
The phenomenal rise of the Philippines has been on the back of two winning propositions - cheap manpower and plentiful English-speaking workers.
A decade ago, that was exactly India's sales pitch. A telecoms revolution in a country where once telephones were scarce created a call centre boom. Thousands of educated, English-speaking executives in vast kiosk farms handled a steady blitz of customer inquiries from multinationals as diverse as General Electric, American Express, Microsoft and British Airways.
But several challenges tripped India's progress as the world's favourite call centre destination: in a country with a seemingly bottomless supply of workers, neutralising an array of regional accents when speaking English has been the bane of trainers and workers' steady diet of American shows such as Friends and The Simpsons has not helped...
Saritha Rai is an India-based journalist and commentator who covers technology, business and society from her ringside seat in Bangalore.