War prompts reduced call volumes at Indian BPOs

Friday, 21 March 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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BANGALORE: Outbound calls from Indian call centres appear to have slowed down or completely stopped after the U.S. went to war against Iraq, impacting business of the sunrise industry.

The industry, which handles a "substantial" amount of telemarketing assignments from Fortune 500 and 1000 companies in the U.S., is preparing for an extended sales cycle as company officials are expected to postpone visits to India.

"Indian call centres are bound to face the impact. At least one company has been told not to sell credit cards to American citizens for the next three days as a mark of respect to sentiments there," an industry official said.

"Fortune 500 companies are extremely sensitive to their clients' sentiment. It is like what if the clients' son is at the war front. But it is still not clear if the company will pay for stopping the outbound calls," the official added.

"Our agents have been told to first find out if the client is viewing television. If so, he or she is expected to apologise and fix an appointment to make the next call," said an employee of another call centre that voluntarily stopped outbound calls for some time Thursday. "The job has become tougher."

The last time outbound calls were stopped was when terror attacks took place in the U.S. in September 2001.

"Customers, of course, paid for it because it was a shock to the entire world. But the situation is different now. So it all depends upon the customer and the call centre to decide what kind of payment is +made when we are not logged in on the dialler," an official added.

Officials of Indian call centres got the first whiff of the impending business retardation three days ago when U.S. President George Bush set a deadline of 48 hours for Iraq President Saddam Hussein to abdicate power.

Call centre officials were told by their customers not to make outbound calls for the next one hour as U.S. citizens were glued to the television, listening to their president.

When war began Thursday, the situation changed with the customer company asking the call centres not to make calls for the next three days.

But not all customers appear to be as "conservative or hypersensitive" as the credit card company.

Telemarketing is generally seen as a "nuisance" although it is a major section of the marketing industry in the U.S.

Several companies have told call centre officials that it is "business as usual", with special instructions to respect the sentiments of the Americans.

Industry officials, however, have already used video conferencing facilities to beef up business with new customers.

"The client was scheduled to come later this week here. But given the situation there, we had a two-and-a-half hour video conference (Thursday)," said a top official of another call centre.

"Sales cycle time for any deal takes between six and nine months. It will probably get extended by a month now. But it all depends on how long the war will continue," said a senior official of a major call centre.

The length of the war is a matter of concern here.

"So far no travel advisory has gone out. If the U.S. does ask its citizens not to travel and if the war goes on for a long time, it would impact on the call centres here," said one official.

"Like any other industry, the call centre industry is also gripped by uncertainty."
Source: IANS
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