Browse by year:
Infosys of Customer Service!
Sunday, October 1, 2000

In fact, a consumer was more likely to be yelled at than offered courtesy, admits P.V. Kannan, co-founder of 24/7 Customer.com. So what’s he doing with a customer service company based in India that seeks Western clients?

Kannan believes that the country’s people and their businesses have radically changed, and that the opportunity is ripe to create what he calls “an Infosys in the customer service space.” In twenty-first century India, automakers bring cars to a prospective customer’s doorstep for test drives, pizza places deliver free if they are late and dot-coms appear to be in a death race for more eyeballs, as competition attains new vibrancy in the liberalized economy. In the emerging market dynamics, a successful company will be the one that can provide quality customer service, says Kannan, a second-time entrepreneur.

“India has come a long way,” says CEO Prakash Gurbaxani. Its hotel industry is now among the best in the world — and so are its private airlines. There is no reason to believe that a customer service organization like 24/7 cannot meet the best global standards, he adds. “It’s not the people, but the organization” that hold the key, asserts Gurbaxani, who had a decade long stint in US industry before heading back to India to develop Pradip Kar’s Microland group of companies.

Angel investor Ram Shriram, a co-founder of Junglee, is upbeat on the “quality of labor, knowledge and skills” in India. The former Amazon executive who played a facilitating role in the founding of 24/7, says, “Compared to countries like Ireland, the Philippines, or just any other, India is far ahead,” also because of the easy availability of English-speaking people.

In line with its assertion that people are a company’s best resources, 24/7 says it has invested a great deal in training its staff, initially to handle email and later to take calls from global clients. Kannan says the company is setting a ratio of one supervisor for every five customer-service representatives, in comparison with the US industry average of one to twenty. 24/7 has licensed technology from Kana Communications, a leader in e-customer relationship management software, and is housed in Bangalore’s software technology park.

AltaVista was the first US company to sign on to 24/7’s service. More recently, Rediff, India’s leading portal, has also become a client, but to turn in a pretty penny as profit, 24/7 is counting on snaring more clients in the US rather than in India. The Bangalore startup is counting on the considerable cost advantages over rival US companies to become an “Infosys” of the customer support industry.

“There is at least a ten to one advantage in terms of sheer labor costs, not to speak of the quality,” asserts Shriram, apologizing for being a “little impetuous.” Even nine to ten months ago, US companies could hire customer service representatives at reasonable cost by throwing in stock options, but now wages are at the rate of $25-28 per hour, creating significant cost advantage that Infosys has, for years, leveraged in software services.

Share on LinkedIn