Most industry observers agree that the delays caused by the recent undersea internet cable failures were a nuisance but that, by and large, the problem was dealt with quickly and effectively
It was not greeted with quite so much equanimity in an editorial piece in Outsource Magazine, which suggested that the incident highlighted all that is wrong with offshoring and took it as an opportunity to have a flippant pop at the people who work in Indian call centres.
The opinion piece, distributed via email to subscribers on 6 February 2008, postulated that the quality of customer service operations suffered at the hands of overseas operators, and that the only reason that an organisation would choose to offshore was as a cost-saving measure. The exact wording of the piece was, "If it means I can get through an entire episode of EastEnders without some cretin from Bangalore calling me up with some unsolicited inquiry then I am all for the cables remaining unrepaired."
To be fair to the writer of the piece, he swiftly apologised for any offence caused once the article was published, and made it clear that he was in support of the offshoring sector and was simply trying to provoke a response - which he has. What was interesting however, was the example that he chose to make his point - operators in India-based call centres making outbound "cold" sales calls.
Although I am not as big a fan of EastEnders as the writer of the article in Outsource seems to be, I can definitely relate to the annoyance of being cold called. What I find even more frustrating however, is that this experience is what people think of when the word offshoring or outsourcing is mentioned. Aside from the customer service experienced by people doing their banking or paying their bills - most of which is positive - the main contact that people have with Indian call centres is with cold-calling, and this is causing a reputation issue that is tainting a highly valuable economic concept through a negative "halo effect".
In other words, the public reputation of offshoring is being damaged because it is being lumped into the same basket as outbound cold calls. What is needed is clarification and some public relations expertise by relevant industry bodies as well as those companies, such as the Wipros and Infosys of this world, that have an off-shore presence within Asia. It seems a shame to me that the reputation and understanding of a multi-billion pound industry, which is at the cutting edge of a new movement in globalisation, is being pummelled through a lack of explanation to the general public.
Phil Morris is managing director at Equaterra Europe
This was first published in February 2008