/ 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


Call centres that do not use a script ( or no apparent one) immediately create the impression that they are listening to your particular needs and will respond accordingly – that is what most people want.

Of course this requires good linguistic skills and it helps if the accent isnt strong. A UK based call centre is probably better positioned to deliver although strong regional accents can be an issue for some customers.

None of this makes much difference though if the organisation doesnt have the systems in place to provide good customer service and resolve problems quickly.

Sophie Gilbert says:
17 July 2011

I’m ambivalent about this.

One of the best instances of good service I’ve ever had was from somebody in India. Yes, the person’s accent was difficult for me to understand at times, and this wasn’t helped by the poor quality of the telephone line (rather ironic since I was phoning Virgin’s customer service, who supply my landline service), but at the end of the day I was helped very politely, patiently and efficiently. So on the one hand I’d rather be helped well by someone from India than badly by people from round the corner, as I have also had from Virgin’s customer “service”, people who for a start sounded as if they couldn’t care less and subsequently provided nothing that you could remotely call service.

On the other hand I can’t say I’m over happy with seeing people from abroad being employed when there doesn’t appear to be enough jobs to go round in this country.

Interesting dilemma.

L says:
7 May 2012

I have had help from many people in Indian call centers, but would rather be helped from an English Person and ‘British Taxpayer’ that I can understand!!! Our Economy should come first in such difficult times!!! The Government should give incentives to UK Companies to bring back jobs to the UK and protect our interests before bailing out other countries

Jon Barton says:
5 June 2015

Yes, I can hear what people are saying on here about overseas call centres and UK based one, the only way you would actually understand this is to work in one of them, I have worked in several of them, though I must admit even I have had some confusion when I worked for British gas some years ago they had just sent up one tel and it was a nightmare trying to transfer customers that had rang us to get them and all they would say is please let it be someone from England I can’t understands them.

However in the job I do now I can’t tell you who its with but I deal with people all over the UK and the contract with the government. I find it increasingly hard when a lot of them know about 10 words in english and all I can say to them is can you get someone on the phone that speaks more english so they can translate this to you.

So in that effect they have the same problem which we face when the person on the other end of the phone cannot understand us as well, its a catch 22 situation but the main reason why UK companies do use overseas or offshore as they are called is just because of the pay. Did you know that most UK companies that have people working in their offshore contact centres have to have a Degree? well yes they do and have to have a excellent understanding of english to work there but here’s the snag, because of the GMT time difference a lot of these people are working nights because over there is is nighttime and sleeping through the day in a hot country might be hard, so of a nighttime they get tried and this is where the services fails, thats one aspect of it, another one is the pay, they pay them half the money they would pay anyone in the UK so let’s look at B gas for an example these days a contact server advisor there is on about 22,000 so they will be paid either 10,000 or 11,000 a year. over here you would get overtime pay if they wanted you to work extra hours at time and a 1/2 or double or even treble over there its the same rate of pay they are already on.

But, from an article i saw in the guain sometime ago that a lot of companies now have listened to their customers and are movie those jobs back to the UK, so long as a person has the education and is educated up to the level they can perform their duties everyone should be happy but you have to consider this sometimes things happen beyond the customer service advisor range and it takes time to fix so the next time you shout at us all remember we are doing everything to help you.

there been sometime when people say things to you, you feel like telling them where to go but you can’t, just imagine if you were face to face with that person would they say the things they do on the phone to you? I would say no they wouldnt. however if anyone did speak to me like that face to face then I would not be writing this now shall we say.

so i am sure i will get some replies to this but there’s always one thing to say about all of this contact centres that people that do complain about them and have never worked in one you should try it before shouting at us lot, its definitely an experience

Em says:
17 July 2011

As consumers, we have a right to know where goods originate. We can make an informed choice about whether to buy local produce, support UK or EU companies, or export our wealth to countries like China and India to support their industrial and economic growth. I’m not arguing against free trade, simply that each consumer has the right to choose and can even apply a small measure of economic sanctions according to their political concience.

I don’t understand why services are exempt from this requirement to disclose, particularly as major outgoings such as energy, telecoms and motor insurance are hardly discretionary spends. If I have a pension with a UK insurance company, I can decide how my funds are invested. But I have no right to knowledge or control over where the management chooses to run its operations.

A company’s bland statement that “they intend to keep operations in the UK” is just current policy, with no contractual or legal significance, and hides what may already have been off-shored. In addition to call centres, this can include administration, under the euphamism BPO (business process outsourcing), and IT (computer systems and data), causing the direct loss of many UK job opportunities. It also means your personal data is being exported to areas where there are no criminal sanctions for unauthorised use and disclosure.