/ Money

It doesn’t matter where the call centre is, it’s about service

Call centre workers

There was much rejoicing in certain sections of the media last week when Santander announced its intention to bring all its call centres back to the UK from India. Does a call centre’s location matter to you?

The bank, which is consistently bottom of our customer satisfaction surveys, said that the switch was all about improving its service.

Santander’s chief executive Ana Botin commented:

‘Improving our service is the top priority… our customers tell us they prefer call centres to be in the UK and not offshore.’

This sudden concern for customer satisfaction is very laudable. And the move is set to create as many as 500 new jobs in Glasgow, Leicester and Liverpool.

The mass homecoming

Santander is not the only corporate giant to move their call centre operations ‘back home’. Two years ago, BT moved 2,000 jobs back to Blighty. Aviva and Powergen have done the same. And last week, New Call Telecom said it was leaving Mumbai to open a call centre in Burnley.

So is customer service the real reason for the repatriation of call centres?

It’s certainly true that the stereotype of linguistic problems and a lack of local knowledge has lodged itself inside the public’s imagination and, in some cases, these have been a real problem. Local knowledge may well be useful for certain industries, such as railways and even some banking services.

However, accents and an in-depth knowledge of ATMs in Altrincham may not be the real reason for the move – it could, in fact, be all about the bottom line.

The bottom line

Wages and costs are rocketing in India with salaries expected to rise 13% this year. The subcontinent is no longer the cheap destination it used to be.

Claudia Hathway, editor of Call Centre Focus, was quoted as saying:

‘Despite the rhetoric of listening to what customers want, rising costs are the true reason for companies coming back onshore.’

Call centre staff are not at the top of most customers’ gripes with banks – poor products with even worse rates take that prize. But if banks are really listening to consumers, then perhaps moving call centres to the UK is a very small step in the right direction.

Or perhaps it’s just a cynical way of cutting costs and maximising PR opportunities. In a truly global industry, does it really matter if your call centre is based in Lahore or Liverpool?


In some ways it is immaterial where the call-centre is located so long as the staff can communicate effectively and know their business, which is not always guaranteed in the UK. But since these operations are funded from the payments made by customers for the services provided it is better if the money stays in the UK and goes into the pockets of our own citizens. Much has been made of the language difficulties of Asian call-centre operatives but for most of us that is not a real problem, especially since there are so many regional accents and ethnic languages spoken in this country. Ideally all English-language call-centres would be situated in certain parts of Scotland where perfect pronunciation, good diction and elocution, and excellent enunciation prevail. The most important service the companies behind the call-centres could provide is to staff them adequately. I am fed up with hearing [for over twenty minutes before giving up] “We are experiencing a very high number of calls at the moment . . .” ; this is code for “We do not have enough staff to give a satisfactory service and want to shunt the less-essential calls to a different time or day”. The big energy companies seem to be the worst in this respect.

bramhall says:
18 March 2012

I so agree with the excellent quality of diction and verbal grammar in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands. How do they manage so well?
I am English from SE England and find the general level of speech here much inferior to Scotland.


All Call centres must be in the UK !!! and staff to communicate effectively and know their business which is ALWAYS not when the call centre is located abroad especially in India etc.
It must be compulsory to inform customers about the call centres.

James Harrison says:
16 July 2011

It is indeed a real problem when one cannot understand the simple string of ‘English’ words garbled by those from anywhere in the world. India is by far the worst offender, but newcastle, the north-west and Scotland follow closely. Oddly enough, I find the Irish (Eireann) accent the easiest to follow. Maybe their educational principles are better? A poorly-spoken person may easily understand poor and garbled English, but there are a lot of us who do really try to speak and write English as well as possible.


really! you struggle with local dialects? doesn’t that worry you as an individual!


I agree with John’s post above. The real issue for me is that companies shouldn’t be exporting jobs that can be done for a largely similar price in the UK – wages paid in the UK feed back into the UK economy through both tax and domestic spending. This in turn boosts UK business.

As an example, I am a customer of both First Direct and Sainsbury’s Bank. Their call centres in Yorkshire and Scotland respectively feel human and respond to the exact question being posed, rather than a script.

As for James’ comments about regional accents, this has nothing to do with the local accent and more to do with the individual concerned. Most Scottish and northern accents are easy to understand – to suggest that there is a ‘right’ accent in which to speak English is mistaken, and to generalise about regional educational standards is patronising. Yes, I’m from the north (and proud of it) and yes, I can both make myself understood and understand others from various parts of the country. Perhaps misplaced snobbery is a greater hurdle to mutual understanding than the respective individuals’ accents?


All Call centre should be back to U.K. It is only matter of time, when someone accounts detail is grabbed or leaked by unknown person in that country. It may be cost saving for the companies but for the customers , it is very painful experience for them. This is very highly risky business to keep call centre out of U.K.
Bring them all back to U.K.
Make it compulsory to all companies to inform their customers about where are their call centres so they can switch to other company..


Why do you think identity fraud can only happen overseas?


because invariably that’s where it happens