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Reply To: Call Centers and their scope in Pakistan

Anthony Mitchell

Pakistani firms (along with new entrants in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in South Asia) could and will hopefully be successful in the international call center field, especially if they learn from the experiences of firms elsewhere in South Asia and the Middle East.

But the mere knowledge of English and some IT skills does not and will not enable a new IT industry in any country to break into the world market. You need to know about the business practices and operational priorities of your potential clients. And adapt accordingly.

Watching a few American movies and TV shows does not make anyone an expert in U.S. business practices, yet this appears to be the primary training that many IT managers have before they attempt to break into an unfamiliar and fast-paced environment.

The risk that Pakistan’s and Sri Lanka’s IT industries face is that if they lead off with program failures or business practices that are seen as contrary to what clients expect, then it could scare off Western clients for many years to come. India was almost at that point two years ago, when U.S. clients expected more in terms of performance and QA than what Indian call centers were accustomed to providing. Hence the consolidation of the industry there now.

The experience that has had in trying to place business in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East is that neither promoters there nor their managers understand enough about business ethics and negotiating practices in the West. They also have little or no understanding of institution building methods that have been successfully employed in Indian IT firms. This is causing most firms in the region to handicap themselves unnecessarily.

With all the press hype about the international IT industry, promoters and managers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East have unrealistic expectations about how easy it is to break into the field. There is not enough discussion about how and why new facilities there need to invest in themselves, perform well in easy, core areas, and then expand from there.

Call centers in Pakistan are getting trapped in B2C programs that are going to be very hard to move away from. I have yet to encounter one single Pakistani or Middle Eastern facility that is in compliance with B2C telemarketing rules in the U.S., except for DNC rules.

For to place programs other than B2C at facilities offshore that are basically outlaw firms (from a U.S. perspective) is to jeopardize the trust and confidence of our clients. Although enforcement is rare now, U.S. clients should be careful about getting involved with any call center that is breaking U.S. laws with other clients.

With an inbound order-taking program, for example, if an outlaw facility running such a program gets caught breaking B2C telemarketing rules, then it could jeopardize the reliability of that inbound order-taking program. Who wants to let someone else run their cash register for them if that cash register could be shut down because of lawbreaking and other misconduct in the operation of collateral programs?

Pakistani and Sri Lankan facilities now appear to have an inadequate understanding of quality expectations by U.S. clients. They communicate too infrequently and too poorly with U.S. clients. Metrics reporting can be and often is shoddy. Corrective action plans are often inadequate or improperly implemented. Instructions communicated by U.S. clients are often not implemented expeditiously or at all. Mangers and promoters make good speeches, but then are often loathe to take personal responsibility to follow through and ensure that their commitments are honored. They cannot understand and often cannot support what ‘customer service’ and ‘customer centric’ really means in the IT service industry.

Technical issues plague the IT outsourcing industries in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The rush to cheap VoIP solutions will scare off inbound clients or clients that care about voice quality.

Intellectual property issues and the need to protect confidential information are poorly understood. Or openly defied. Even something as simple as service mark or trade mark piracy is poorly understood by firms in Pakistan and Sri Lanka that have branded their IT operations with the service marks and trade marks of well-known Western firms, without thinking to apply for permission first.

Resistance to technology and skills transfer from North America is compounding Pakistani and Sri Lankan firms’ market entry aspirations. Whereas top-quality Indian firms are not afraid to hire and retain significant numbers of Western managers and staff onsite throughout the life of their facilities, this practice has rarely been utilized in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

We hope that Pakistani and Sri Lankan firms can move along the IT industry learning curve and will begin to successfully implement projects that are gradually more challenging and quality-sensitive.

But as of now, we are still waiting for Pakistan and Sri Lanka to step up to the crease.

Anthony Mitchell.