India, once the preferred location for foreign companies to set up business process outsourcing centres (BPOs), is literally losing its voice. Experts point to the shortage of quality workforce in the voice-based BPO industry, which has driven many IT companies, including TCS and Wipro, overseas.
Companies are attracted to the ready availability of superior voice talent in Latin American countries like Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Peru, making them new BPO hotspots. IBM, TCS, Accenture and Unisys have already set up centres in the region.
Recently, Wipro Technologies opened its new global delivery centre at Curitiba in Brazil to serve global and domestic clients. The Curitiba centre will extend Wipro’s IT and BPO portfolio, serving about 20 clients. Says Raman Roy, chairman and managing director, Quatrro BPO Solutions, widely regarded as the father of the Indian BPO industry: “We have not finetuned our skill sets. Appetite for this industry is huge, but our tier-II and tier-III colleges are producing mostly educated unemployable youth. Quality of the workforce in the BPO industry today is not good.”
“ We are still short on English language skills. BPOs train people for 12-15 weeks here, but still they are not ready, whereas in places like Colombo, we give training for three to four weeks and they are ready to head for work.” “Latin America is making huge strides,” says Gopi Natarajan, CEO & president, Omega Healthcare Management Services.
According to Ramesh Kamath, chief financial officer, Aditya Birla Minacs, companies are venturing overseas because these regions offer greater geographical proximity to the US. “People from Latin America can relate to the US better, compared to those from India. Voice accent is a limited issue, not the whole.” Minacs too is looking at entering South America in the near future.
Industry experts say the attrition rate of 10-11% in India’s BPO industry makes the country an unfavourable destination.
Besides, better technical support, quicker response time and near-shore advantages are some of the other factors driving BPOs abroad. “Most of these countries may also have an agreement to transfer technology that makes it more conducive for their business requirements,” says Santosh George, managing partner, Personality Plus Consultants India, which provides soft skills training for BPO and IT companies.
Last year, some clients had problems with Indian BPOs regarding their communication skills. Wipro BPO, for instance, had an issue with its client KLM on account of the same.
“Several Indian IT players got into the voice business without any real expertise, which resulted in many clients going away,” says S Nagarajan, founder of 24/7 Customer, one of the early birds in the Indian BPO space.
Many observers feel that the Indian BPO industry must set up onshore centres to tide over sluggish growth. “Only the top ones are growing, while others are struggling. Organically, growth is just about 10%-15%; so they have to look at inorganic growth,” says Kumar Parakala, global head of sourcing, KPMG.
According to Nasscom, the Indian BPO industry is worth $14.7 billion and employs one million people.