/ 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?

Charlotte Duffy says:
24 October 2011

Personally I do prefer UK based callcentres for example CallCare. However saying that as long as the call centre staff are professionally trained and can speak fluent English it doesn’t make too much of a difference where they are from. There’s nothing worse than ringing a call centre for much needed help only to find they either have very limited knowledge or you cannot understand them.

Keith says:
9 June 2012

I have spent hours trying to make my point to and get a sensible response from foreign help centres (mainly Indian or Pakistani). The frustration i have had over the years will make me choose a service (Broadband, Banking, Telephone etc.) based upon where the help/call centre is based. British is a “must” for me.

Andy says:
1 October 2020

Totally agree. I only use companies with call centres in UK

Ray Mayhew says:
2 November 2012

I think people are missing the point. If a call centre is based abroad then money that would go to paying uk staff is being paid to foreign staff. This money is not helping the UK economy in any way.
We in the uk should be looking after our own. If 500 jobs are in India and not the UK thats 500 vacancies that do not exist. That’s 500 salaries that are not being pumped into the uk economy. I wonder what would happen if we had a policy of only allowing to outsource jobs if your job was one being lost. I wonder how many decision would be made to outsource, I suspect a lot less. I am adopting a policy of only buying or using products that if possible do not use foreign call staff and making it clear to other organisations why. I urge you to all do the same.

So is all trade bad? There are many benefits to a country buying services cheaper than they can provide themselves – and many studies demonstrating that there is indeed a net benefit in doing so.

Ramosa says:
19 March 2013

I’ve just had a long, frustrating series of conversations with Three (I was trying to cancel my contract and get my PAC code), whose call centres are based in India. I then bought a temporary SIM from Tesco, and when I needed to unlock the SIM, I spoke to a person with an English accent. (In fact, I’m 99.9999% sure I spoke to the same guy twice, which is the other problem with many call centres – you speak to a different person each time and have to explain your story all over again). So I may be biased.

To be fair, of course, I don’t know what Tesco’s response would be if I wanted to cancel with them. Realistically, the company’s reaction will be different if you’re extending your contract with them.

Also, to give the last woman I spoke to on Three her due, she was quite polite and helpful, and gave me my PAC when I asked. That’s why I – politely – told her no when she offered me three months’ free service if I stayed with Three. She was obviously just doing what her boss, or her script, told her.

As Chris said above, a major problem I have with outsourcing is that companies pay their overseas employees peanuts.

Dorrie says:
19 April 2013

I am so tired of ‘phoning my bank (Barclays) and getting through to the call centre in India, the call centre staff do not understand my accent and I do not understand theres. I asked for a certain document to be sent to me and they sent me one that bore no relation to the one I had asked for, I am now considering changing my bank (after about 30 years) but where can I find a bank in this country with their call centre and all dealings done in this country? If anyone knows please let me know.

You could do worse than Santander. They seem to have UK operators whenever I call, and the service is good to excellent whenever I contact them. Santander’s 123 current account pays 3% if you have a balance between £3K and £20K, plus cashback on your council, water, gas, electricity, ‘phone and broadband bills.

I don’t know how long this will last as Royal Bank of Scotland is due to be sold off sometime soon but I changed from Barclays many years ago. One of the real advantages is that I can telephone directly to, not just my bank, but to my branch. And the staff are so pleasant and helpful.

Nationwide. Its a building society but brilliant. my wife after 30 years with barclays has come over to Nationwide she says Barclays has never been so helpful as nationwide

Denise says:
21 August 2019

After over 30 years of banking with Barclays I changed last year to the Yorkshire Bank who have call centres in the UK and offer a much better service. Should have done it years ago.

First direct have uk call centre

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.

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.

Claire says:
1 August 2013

How is it that the implication is that you must be rascist if you want to speak to someone in the UK. Companies are taking money from UK residents and they should put back into the economy by employing staff from the UK. I also I have been misinformed by indian call staff more than once. South African call staff are generally lovely, british gas and talk talk use them, and they understand what you are on about and have been unfailingly charming and effective. However, I still think companies should employ UK residents. My heart always sinks when I am connected to an Indian or Phillipines call centre. They are fine for simple questions but anything a bit more complex and its very difficult to get a correct or effective answer. I have on occasion had a very good person but its not usual, its the exception. People from the UK usually know you mean and can answer your questions they may not always be charming but at least they are generally effective and accurate. I have had a very difficult time today with my car insurance company, needless to say after todays wasted time and misinformation which is still not sorted totally, next time renewal time arrives I will be insuring with a company who uses all UK call centres!.

Could it be that you are so prepared to leap to false conclusions and invoke absurd stereotypes to make your point.
For instance the idea that offshoring is harmful to an economy. Is it just customer service offshoring you believe is harmful or all trade? Trade between nations has been strengthening both nations for thousands of years – that is why it happens.
And the idea that Filipinos and Indians are only clever enough to answer simple questions, or that because someone from India gave you the wrong answer that means Indian’s cannot be trusted – well how could anyone construe that as racism? But for that matter how do you even know you called a centre offshore? Do you really think everyone working in the UK sounds like Ant and Dec or Joey Essex? A lot of immigrants work in call centres – you may have been calling Luton or Bradford for all you know.

Denise says:
21 August 2019

It is not a case of how clever the operators are (they can speak English when I speak no other language), but there is no denying that they quite often do not understand local terms of speech , they speak English but do not necessarily really understand what you are trying to get at.
Also most people are not that stupid to think that we do not have foreign people living in the UK working in call centres. I generally know that the call centre is based abroad because I ask the question!

keith112 says:
22 August 2014

I work in a call centre which is based in the UK the call centre is paid by a multi billion pound UK client for dealing with thier calls, what I dont understand is why a big company pays a third party call centre to manage thier calls when i imagine it would be more efficient for them to have thier own call centre dealing with thier calls how they want without having to pay a third party for dealing with them, it seems strange. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

Many large companies outsource contact centres – there are many gains to be had in doing so. Primarily though it is a matter of focussing on a company’s core competencies. Setting up a contact centre requires capital and expertise that is not necessarily found in many companies. Outsourcing allows a company to focus on the core of what it does and give the roles of supporting that to experts in providing that support.

Christopher Pilcher says:
3 June 2022

I had to resort to using Lloyds Banks call centre to investigate an over charge of £62 on a donation to MCCBrooklyn so called charity. The waiting betwee staff changes took in total a half hour, with using Virgin;s land line ( which is in fact a BT managed set up), I think this call will cost me £10,

Ian says:
25 May 2015

I recently tried to do an on-line transaction, paying with my Barclays Debit card. The transaction was declined and a message popped up on the screen, telling me to phone a number. The first time I attempted, the screen was almost immediately replaced by another screen saying that Barclays had declined the transaction – so I tried again and was ready to press the ‘PrtScn’ button to capture the image so that I could read the phone number.
I phoned the 0847 number and the first thing that I heard was a recorded message saying that that number would not be working very much longer and that I should change my address book to record their new number.
It would have been good if Barclays could have given me the new number directly.
On the plus side, the call centre, once I got there, solved the problem.

“India with salaries expected to rise 13% this year” – so what? The average call center salary in India is about 150pounds a month. It is simply delusional to believe that there is no longer a significant cost saving to be made offshore.
Equally delusional is presenting this single anecdotal example as part of a trend.
The problem with offshore is generally one of perception rather than reality. Working with companies that offshore we find that generally CSAT or NPS results for the offshore centres are no lower, and in some cases where part of the saving is reinvested into training the scores are often higher.
Santander should look closer and WHY they cannot get their customer service to work rather than making knee-jerk reactions that cost millions.

This seems an old debate, but I wanted to point out that the ‘Ian’ above James71 is not me. And secondly, I suppose, to say that “perfect pronunciation, good diction and elocution, and excellent enunciation” are not only peculiar to “certain parts of Scotland” (where, incidentally, some accents would give Prof. Higgins a heart attack) but are a function of the individual’s ability to communicate clearly and effectively. The most coherent accent is generally accepted to be “Received Pronunciation” which originated in the Home counties and was the most widely used by the BBC from its inception to roughly the mid-’50s.

Generally don’t care where a call centre is but I get a lot of unsolicited calls from Indian call centres that are rude and aggressive, a recent Microsoft spam caller started swearing , threatening to rape my mother etc . Totally sick and disgusting, with his colleagues laughing in the background. These experiences are putting me off Indian centres and I don’t think the Indian police / government are doing anything to close these scammers down.

How can I open a UK based Call Centre in India….???

I won’t use any firm that has call centres that are not based in the UK – full stop. Poor service, poor understanding of the English language and taking much needed jobs – I vote with my feet.

Jeanette says:
13 April 2017

All call centres should be based in England so we can communicate in proper English, half the people can’t understand what we are trying to do or even how life in England is set up. What’s the point of speaking to someone who can’t understand basic English and just reads from a sheet!! When I pay good money for a service I expect good service if I have a problem.

You might be surprised at the number of call centres there are based in the UK, and how many staff in them do not have English as their first language. And then there are the local or regional accents . . .

It is possible to deal with companies that only have inland customer service centres but the diction is not always Dock Green.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I don’t think being native-born English is any guarantee of good comprehension and spoken communication skills. There are many people born overseas who have much better spoken English and higher intelligence than the average home-grown product! I think Jeanette’s point was that we shouldn’t have to deal with people in customer service roles who cannot communicate effectively with all UK citizens [many of whom do not have English as their first language – so it cuts both ways], so to that extent I agree with her. In my experience, many of the best speakers in the English language come from Pakistan and parts of Scotland as well as from parts of England and Wales. The economics of dispersing call-centres to certain English regions with lower employment costs led to a downturn in communication standards which made the eventual off-shoring to India non-detrimental.

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A good move. I dread calling HSBC, especially with a technical issue involving internet or phone banking. The agents in India may be fluent in English, but their diction is more than often extremely poor, heavily accented and they gabble far too quickly. It is for this reason I’m presently looking for a bank with a UK based call centre, after 33 years with HSBC.

alan durnin says:
30 November 2019

I do not enjoy trying to talk to people who have a poor understanding of English, let alone technical issues. if companies look at tis please put your call centres in the uk and train them properly. ps avoid virgin , totally useless

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Over time I have switched away from all suppliers who use overseas call centres as the service from these centres is generally abysmal. However, when switching to a new supplier it is becoming very difficult to find out where their customer service centres (incl email/chat) are based. Unless I can be certain that a company only uses UK based support then i will not switch to them no matter how good their prices.