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FACELESS "ARMY" SERVING US HERE DOWN UNDER Featured

With the coming of Telstra to the Philippines, not to mention Vodaphone's partnership with Smart telecommunications, there will be much exchange of voices via call centres between Australia and the Philippines. My nephew who is an Australian, but by virtue of being born in the Philippines, had close to two years of working for a call centre in Manila, for want of a Philippine workforce experience. Having a dual-citizenship, he is allowed to work in both countries. Before he decided to return to Sydney, he had a taste of serving fellow Australians way back home from the Philippines, catering to Optus clients here in Australia. Being a broadcaster, I know how it feels to be "heard" but not "seen" like a call centre agent.  Apart from serving American clients, Filipino call centre agents serve Australia! And who knows if, like what my nephew used to be, what Paul Jeffers refers to in this article as a faceless army is another Aussie serving us here down under from the Philippines? (Eric C. Maliwat)

The Faceless Army: Filipino Call Centers.
By Paul Jeffers

As each business day begins in New York City, Wall Street becomes
flooded with expensive cars and designer suits. Meanwhile, as the sun
sets in Manila, some Filipinos get ready to start their workday at a
call center.

While the typical workforce in Manila begins to settle down for the
night, the faceless army of call-center operators are preparing to take
your call. The lives of operators, armed with dual monitors and headsets
are drastically altered in order to accommodate Western time zones. This
synchronization ensures that Filipinos are better suited to assist the
American customer.

Westerners may be unaware of the burden that operators face, as
call-center employment is far from your typical nightshift. Some workers
liken adjusting their body clocks to the sleep habits of vampires, but
that just scratches the surface of their social and cultural sacrifice.

The outsourced industry in the Philippines is expected to reach 1.3
million employees by 2016, according to Cesar Tolentino of the Contact
Center Association of the Philippines. Entry-level call operators can
earn between 10,000 to 14,500 Philippine pesos per month ($300 to $360),
excluding bonuses, allowances and incentives. That's a fairly robust
salary in the Philippines, where the cost of living is low, and taxes
are a fraction of what's paid in the West.

1. Filipinos are trained to acquire American accents and humor, so they can
better adapt to customers' needs an ocean away. Clocks on the wall
remind employees of the time they are working on across the other side
of the world. Even their holidays are based on the U.S. calendar.

2. Call-center workers of Acquire Asia Pacific take a yoga class in the
office, which is instructed by fellow employee Mallet Gamez. Gamez
wanted to share his way of relaxing in the office, and coping with the
drastic time change.

3. Call-center operators take pride in their positions, bringing in plenty
of disposable income for luxury items -- ironically, comparable to the
American population they serve.

4. India has traditionally been the leading country for call-center
outsourcing, but Filipinos have grown up watching American television,
learning American English and eating American fast food, which leads to
a more natural fit for talking to North American customers.

5. Some employees have mirrors on their desks, which remind them to smile
while talking to customers.

6. Employees are well educated and vigorously schooled to adapt to U.S.
culture.

7. "I don't have a love life; it's a joke in the office. It's because I
work too hard," call-center operator Jake said in between songs at a
karaoke bar in the early morning. Employees typically form friendship
groups around their jobs, as most of the population sleeps when they
socialize.

8. In Eastwood City, a business process outsourcing (BPO) hub in Manila,
a monument stands paying homage to call-center operators in the
Philippines. The statues wear bronze headsets, carry briefcases and have
no faces.

9. Ron, Athena and Mina are call-center operators in Eastwood City; they
eat McDonald's after work at 10 a.m. "They're so far away from us, they
can't touch us; they can just complain and complain. They talk so much,
they say bad words, but we can't get angry. We must empathize. We must
make them calm; we are going to do what we can," Ron said about the
customers.

Local businesses have also adapted to the shifting time. It's a common
sight to see groups of people drinking in the early morning, after they
finish their shifts at the call centers. Retail and service industries
are doing business with these emerging Filipino socialites, who are
dressed in designer clothing, ad wielding the latest technology in their
palms.

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