Contrary to what many people think, most call centers serving U.S. customers -- service centers in remote locations that handle telephone and Web-based inquiries -- are operated in the United States, not in India or other overseas locations.
So said Rosemary Batt, the Alice H. Cook Professor of Women and Work and professor of human resource studies at Cornell's ILR School (industrial and labor relations) and a lead author of a report on the largest-scale study to examine call center management and employment practices in Asia, Africa, South America, North America and Europe, covering almost 2,500 centers in 17 countries.
The study, "The Global Call Center Report: International Perspectives on Management and Employment," was a collaborative effort involving more than 40 scholars from 20 countries.
Consumers contact call centers, usually by telephone, to order or get help using products, activate credit cards or get information on medical diagnoses, among other reasons.
Some of the study's other key findings:
- The large majority of centers around the world -- except India -- serve their own domestic markets and consumers. There is no common global face to call centers, since they tend to take on the character of their respective countries and regions based on that country's or region's laws, customs and norms.
- Most call centers are relatively new and have emerged across the globe at about the same time, within the last five to 10 years.
- Two-thirds of all call centers are in-house operations, serving a firm's own customers. Subcontractors operate the remaining one-third of centers. In-house centers across all countries have lower turnover rates and higher quality jobs than subcontracted ones.
- Staff turnover rates and costs are high. Turnover rates in the United States range from 25 percent to over 50 percent per year, depending on the sector. Taking lost productivity into account, replacing one worker costs the equivalent of three and four months of an average worker's pay.
- More than 50 percent of centers have some form of collective representation.
Call centers, said Batt, have become a major source of employment and job creation both in the United States and around the world. Managing call centers, she added, can be challenging because of their high turnover rates, which often lead to lower service quality.
"Consumers want good service, and they typically express the lowest levels of satisfaction with call centers," said Batt. "But companies continue to shift more of their customer interactions to call centers because they are very cost efficient. Studies like this provide empirical evidence of the kinds of management practices that produce lower turnover rates and better quality jobs. The findings in this report are consistent with others I have done. There is growing evidence that centers that invest in the skills of the workforce and provide discretion to solve customer problems have lower turnover, better service quality and higher revenues."
The study was funded, in part, by the Russell Sage Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Hans Böckler Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom. For more information, see http://www.