Foreign call centres are significantly cheaper to staff than in the UK and this has to be considered the main reason. British workers are not always happy to work for the lower wages that many call centres offer, so a foreign workforce makes sense on paper. However, there is a very serious backlash against foreign call centres, especially those dealing with money or with technical questions, because of the perceived language barrier.

Even in countries where English is an official language, such as India, Pakistan and the Philippines, local accents can make the operator difficult to understand and they often have problems with UK regional accents, particularly northern ones, Scots and Welsh. This can cause a lot of frustration on both sides.

Call barring

Most systems that claim to remove nuisance calls from coming through don’t actually work on international numbers, so cold calling companies gain by using a call centre abroad because the call at least makes the phone ring at the other end, as opposed to simply not getting through. Although an increasing number of people don’t pick up if the call says ‘International’, many still do and this means that, with the typical take-up rate of cold calling, sales do still get made.

Against this must be set the problem of mutual understanding but enough business is still transacted to make it worth the company’s while.

Larger workforce and fewer regulations

Many countries abroad don’t have such stringent employment regulations as apply in the UK and so a company can get a longer working week from each employee, often for significantly less money.

This is obviously a great advantage financially for any company, but most also consider whether someone who does not have a full understanding of the lifestyle of the potential caller can actually deliver a proper service – this has resulted in many companies relocating their call centres back to the UK after customer feedback.

Banks in particular that use UK call centres are making a special mention of it in their advertising – many more people these days use internet banking but for those unwilling or unable to do so, UK call centres are essential for their confidence levels in the product.

Companies who benefit from call centres abroad

Although generally unpopular, some foreign call centres can work. Companies with a simple product range who merely need to log orders and don’t have any aftercare customer service, can easily relocate abroad and not lose much custom. Anything where there is likely to be the need for a complaints procedure, complex instructions or delivery systems or other issues which will mean going off the script, find that customer satisfaction can be low.

Older people in particular can find a call centre abroad very frustrating to use, as they need to take things slowly and non-native English speakers often speak too fast for them to easily understand. They also do not always have the vocabulary to be able to reword things, an important part of conversing with the elderly.

Rebecca Kilburn writes about customer service for Every Contact Number