The Filipino call center and BPO industries need to learn how to demonstrate value

Sales-People-Talk-Too-MuchAs expected, I ignited a small firestorm with the Filipino call center and business process outsourcing (BPO) communities with my previous article “Why the outrage over the call center agent ‘slur’ in ‘The Borrowed Wife’ fails to move me” (henceforth known as “Outrage”). Of course, I wish I could have provoked a more substantive reaction. Maybe it’s because most of them were asleep or at work by the time I published that article. Maybe it didn’t coincide with the rest day of many. No matter.

A fundamental question underlying one of the points I wanted to make there, remains unanswered:

Why is there a portion of the call center and BPO communities that is more concerned with its image at the micro/individual level than with the issues that its industry faces at the macro/collective level?

The experiences at the micro/individual level will differ greatly from person to person. The number of people who agreed with my views about the general image of call center and BPO industries in “Outrage” is comparable to those who took issue with them. Taken at the macro level, however, the issue of image becomes less relevant when compared to the macro/collective level issues highlighted, for the sole reason that those issues will affect the entire industry, regardless of whether you are hypersensitive about your image or not. Thus, the focus should shift to those issues instead of being overly concerned about how your community is being perceived by other people.

The comments left in “Outrage” may or may not be representative of the views of the majority of the call center and BPO industries. It doesn’t really matter; what does is that such sentiment exists to begin with.

If there’s anything that can be derived from that subsection, it seems that certain pockets of the call center and BPO industries are better at whining about their negative image than they are about demonstrating their value.

GRP commentator libertas, in his usual insightful form, highlighted in several comments in “Outrage” certain issues that the call center and BPO industries, as early as this time, need to think about and be prepared to inevitably face in the future:

Excerpt from comment # 1:

Cloud computing, mobile apps development, and VPN’s (virtual private networks) are changing the structures of businesses and with more virtual/networked organisations, atomised profit centres etc. then the BPO industry must understand the drivers and start being ahead of the game and be problem solvers, ideas generators – and that is where there is a real skills gap in the philippines, along with archaic management styles.

Excerpt from comment # 2:

Some call centre providers talk of only 1% making the grade in terms of English language. The obvious danger is that smaller companies reduce quality if personnel, service levels decline, customers are unhappy, a bad reputation is created, new business doesn’t come, established customers transfer elsewhere.

Quality Assurance benchmarking and new techniques in language training are not being widely utilised. The emphasis is still too much on grammar and accent neutralisation which is not as critical as customer cultural understanding and the total customer experience, which demands greater interpersonal skills.

Excerpt from comment # 3:

Companies, processes, and the nature of work are in constant change particularly as transformational structures and leadership models are established and as core processes are integrated on increasingly seamless global platforms able to rapidly adapt to new customers and changing patterns of demand. Rapid and flexible response is today’s corporate mantra.

Call centres/bpo are an important cog in the wheel, but what the Philippines and all aspiring service providers must remember is that the future winners will be those who spot the trends, rapidly adapt, and come up with creative solutions which add value.

The danger is that the Philippines is demand driven and not in itself innovating or creating home grown benefits simply implementing what others have developed and which demands high level input/expertise from overseas to project plan implement and oversee.

I suggest taking the time to read these comments through; they are not really that long. Can the call center and BPO industries categorically say that he does not know what he’s talking about, just because he doesn’t necessarily coddle their need for a positive image?

Let’s go back to the concept of demonstrating value. When we talk about value, it’s not merely the financial contribution that the call center and BPO industries make to prop up the Philippine economy, nor is it merely the cost savings that the mother companies could realize due to the Philippines being a relatively low-cost country. We are talking about even deeper, even more intangible questions that any job seeker, and especially potential investor will ask. Examples (a non-exhaustive list) below:

Why should I enter the call center and BPO industry in the Philippines?

What are the prospects for job growth/job enrichment/job enlargement in this industry?

How adaptable will the Philippines be with regards to changing trends in technology, customer service, et al.?

What will keep my company here in the Philippines even if other cheaper, more investment-friendly destinations start sprouting in other locations?

I realize, of course, that the call center and BPO industries will not need to think about these questions for some time, given that they have a very large labor pool to choose from. What this means is that these industries are not begging for people to work for them; they are being sought after. But I digress.

For industry insiders, let me pose a simple question:

Why is it that when one refers to call centers and BPO’s in the Philippines, customer service representatives (CSR’s) and technical support representatives (TSR’s) come to mind more often than back-office support and analytics?

Doesn’t anybody wonder, for example, why India is a BPO giant despite their reputation with Filipinos for incomprehensible English? It’s because they’ve demonstrated great proficiency with technical and technological processes in spite of it.

Referring to libertas’ comments again, he implies a rather ominous prospect:

Eventually, call centers are going to be a thing of the past.

I will put this in the vernacular for more people to understand: Balang araw, malalaos at mawawala din ang mga call center sa Pilipinas.

The challenge, therefore, for the call center and BPO industries in the Philippines, is to show that they have more to offer to the global outsourcing trend than just good (but deteriorating) English, familiarity with American culture, their friendly and maaruga nature which they extol as a virtue, and a cheap and abundant labor pool.

These industries need to adapt to rapidly changing technological and business trends. Filipinos need to build up their knowledge base instead of merely following and memorizing a script.

Is the Philippines ready for change? Or rather, is it able? That is the question that has been asked of Filipino society countless times. The answer has been disappointing more times than I can count.

It’s time for the call center and BPO industries to stop whining about their negative image and develop their value proposition. Losers always whine about their best, the winners go home and f*ck the prom queen – or so that line from “The Rock” goes.

[Photo courtesy: Sterling Chase]


About FallenAngel

А вы, друзья, как ни садитесь, все в музыканты не годитесь. - But you, my friends, however you sit, not all as musicians fit.

Post Author: FallenAngel

А вы, друзья, как ни садитесь, все в музыканты не годитесь. - But you, my friends, however you sit, not all as musicians fit.

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44 Comments on "The Filipino call center and BPO industries need to learn how to demonstrate value"

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btw, it’s not the industry whining. it’s employees who aren’t speaking in behalf of the whole industry.

though, i agree. we all need to adapt to changes.


hmm, have the writer worked in the call center industry? or have friends in the field? I have worked in an office with call center operation I don’t think anything there is outdated. In fact they use pretty sophisticated technology. There is room for improvement though on the spoken english skills of the agents. Seems the demand has pressured these companies to just hire anybody. Still no reason to degrade them. These pretentious people just have no idea, They think working for a tv network makes them better. Give me a break.


I am pleased you continued the discussion and chose to pose a very pertinent question, which impacts the national economy, and which also ultimately determines the individuals own future/job security, and i am interested to learn from industry insiders of their perspectives and agenda for change/improvement for the sector as a whole.

A golden opportunity for those vociferous commenters to now display their ability to rationalise, analyse, communicate, and contribute in a constructive manner, educate a wider audience, and project a professional image.

Creative input, or silence!

Sea Bee

Robots are replacing workers in many industries; 50% of the commercial and political messages we are getting in the US are now “robo calls.” Pilots are being replaced by drones. Cars will soon be automated; replacing truck drivers and taxi drivers. Businesses are more productive, requiring fewer workers. All of this at a time of mushrooming population growth. In the future, fewer will be working and each worker will be required to support more and more non-workers. It is not a pretty picture.

“Why is there a portion of the call center and BPO communities that is more concerned with its image at the micro/individual level than with the issues that its industry faces at the macro/collective level?” Because filipinos inherently would only think small and only about themselves, enjoying the seemingly bountiful fruits of the BPO industry, and somehow majority of the individuals employed therein feel some sort of being “in a different league”, since they are now earning more than your ordinary Juan or Pedro. A sense of self entitlement if you will. That is the “me, me, me” attitude at… Read more »
As a starter consider the name – Business Process Outsourcing. The philippines is interested in outsourcing and invariably often uses that shorthand descriptor. It is the current supply side. The corporate customer who pays the money and makes the decisions in a demand driven technology sector is interested in business processes, not outsourcing per se. Only in the business processes which make his customers happier, buy more, and preferably at the lowest marginal cost without jeopardising or alienating his customers. In 5+ years he could and would change to any new improved model if it met his criteria – Business… Read more »
What the “outraged” call center agents might be doing is trying to salvage an image that actually has no glamor after all. Being a call center agent isn’t really glamorous. It’s just like being a clerk or accountant – you do a job. Of course, the call center agent job function isn’t easy, it’s difficult to do and is emotionally taxing. Some friends who have been call center agents warn against getting into it. But it isn’t really glamorous, and perhaps indeed there was no need for the outrage against a single character’s opinion (which was written in by the… Read more »

This research company is, indeed, working on a system that can destroy a lot of jobs in the call center industry:
Better to be ready before this happens.

Researching indisys i found this extract on the call center industry illuminating “The call center is being relegated to a fallback position; customers try other options first and only place a call to a contact center when they really need to speak to a live person. This trend is reflected in the many studies conducted during the past year or two that have indicated that consumers, when presented with the choice, would prefer to use a mobile application on their smartphone than interact with a call center” My takeaway from the extract is that customer care via mobile will be… Read more »
Honestly, I work for the call center industry and all I can say is the only thing going for them is they offer much better salary than anything else out there in this country. The fact remains though that the BPO industry is a glaring proof that graduating college with a piece of paper isn’t going to open doors anymore. Raging under-employment is the term. Our country is offering employment opportunities all right. Just not the right ones we’ve studied and graduate for in college. People may say that we at least have a job. I agree to a point.… Read more »

you gained my utmost respect. this article is better than the first one. now i can say, “i agree with you”. keep it up.

Bpo/kpo – philippines ( sorry v long – started typing and got carried away!) Some specific areas which i consider should be addressed, if not already in place to a suitably high standard. Vision To position the philippines as a one-stop shop and quality provider for Virtual Business Partnerships (VBP) – ( VBP’s dont exist – i made up the acronym – but it is meant to reflect being individual and forward thinking rather than copying and following what others do) it also embraces the sub-sectors call centers, BPO, KPO, Virtual Assistants, design houses etc. The philippines – your virtual… Read more »
As both a recruiter and trainer-consultant for several different call centers, I agree that the language pro/deficiency problem is getting more and more evident. With a saturated job market, recruitment teams at this point are scraping the bottom of the barrel, and agents are hopping from one employer to another, just watching out for the next good signing bonus. And I’m the guy who has to screen and train them. For a country that benefits so much from the call center industry, the Philippine government has done shockingly little towards the long-term development of the industry, ie improving the educational… Read more »
Hermilie smith

Thanks for the interesting news about the call centres. Now the call centres are emerging field for employment as it serves the customer. This field only requires the fluency in different languages.

Call centers are gainful employment & I think people should make the best of the opportunity. There are additional issues with employees such as maturity, interoffice afffairs, drinking, family problems that are brought to work. This costs the BPO more as they must pay In Touch org or some other to deal with issues that are not considered work issues elsewhere. For the employee the benefits are often good, use them. Indian nationals have an accent but their English & personality is wonderful to work with, their comprehension high. Filipinos have ok English, average comprehension and argue or are hurt… Read more »

OH Mga feeling bugok, eh kahit Japanese sensitive din eh ha hahahah Makapuna kayo sa Pinoy lol

Jiro Sato
It’s time for the call center and BPO industries to stop whining about their negative image and develop their value proposition. Losers always whine about their best, the winners go home and f*ck the prom queen – or so that line from “The Rock” goes. Hmmm. I don’t really know how to react to both your blog articles on the BPO industry. But let me try reacting: BTW I’m reacting to your article and not to that TV show (which i really couldn’t care less about). 1. I started as an agent. Eventually I got several promotions leading to me… Read more »

“Britain’s biggest mobile phone company, EE, is moving 1,000 jobs back to the UK from The Philippines after admitting customers grew frustrated with overseas call centres.

Under EE’s plan it will pull all customer service staff out of the Philippines, where it opened its call centre in early 2011, although it will still have offices in India and South Africa.

Mr Swantee said: ‘Previously people were calling six, seven, eight times to get issues resolved.”
Daily mail 20 feb 2014


India has a great sense of humour compared to the Philippines. The people I know have a healthy, self-deprecating attitude about the failings of their government and embrace like-minded criticism, rather than getting emotional and shutting down their brains.

The idea that Filipinos could possibly look down on Indians from their position at the bottom of the heap is laughable.

Austin Ruflo

Filipinos are good at English communication skills