Jahnavi Kaushik, a customer care executive with a leading business process outsourcing agency, was shocked when an overseas caller abused her and blamed India for his pink slip.
Reema Kapoor, a telemarketing agent with another BPO organisation had a similar story to tell. An overseas customer was convinced that she was giving him an excellent product but would not buy it from an Indian as he belonged to an anti-outsourcing lobby.
Reema or Jahnavi are not isolated cases. As the controversy on outsourcing snowballs, the billion-dollar BPO industry in India has started facing backlash calls.
Insiders say the frequency of such calls has been low so far but as outsourcing grows, anti-India feelings as well as the frequency of backlash calls will increase.
"I will not say that backlash calls are very frequent but there is no denying the fact that sometimes we get irate people, even from call-centres in the United States complaining Indians are responsible for downsizing there," says Anirvan Mookherjee, working as a supervisor in a BPO firm.
"The frequency of such calls is not more than 1 in 40, but as outsourcing rises their number might go up as the anti India sentiments will flare up," he adds.
Rajiv Kotnala, manager in a leading BPO company, also admits that outsourcing backlash has been there and says, "There have been cases where they call up and debate the issue over telephone. Sometimes it is done soberly and sometimes nastily but the frequency of such calls has been low so far."
One wonders how despite the acquired accent and alias being used on calls, the Indians are singled-out by the customers calling from overseas?
"It is the accent which is the give-away. They listen to your accent and want to know where you are located. They are aware that you are not from the United States," Anirvan says and adds calls inquiring your whereabouts are prominent.
Kanishka Sarabhai, working in the customer care unit of a BPO says, "Earlier we were supposed to hide our location but now the company policy has changed and if the customer overseas inquiries we do disclose our identity and location."
Rajiv agrees that people want to know which part of the world you belong to when they listen to your accent. He agrees that Indian accent is easy to single out but adds US is a multiracial country having various accents itself.
"In US itself the accent of a person residing in Georgia is so different from that in Pensylvania that they do not react abruptly to our accents but our intonations and jaw-movements are so different from theirs that it is easy to identify us and they want to know where do we belong to."
Rajiv further attributes difference in accents of Indians on calls to the fact that different BPOs are working on different accents. "While someone is focussing on neutralising the accent, other is concentrating on a global accent and yet another on American accent. There is no unanimity on the usage of accent in the industry so far."
Vipin Prabhakar, a customer care agent agrees with Rajiv that even in the US there are varied accents and says, "We are comfortable with the accent in general but while talking to someone like a Latin American, language barrier becomes prominent."
"A time comes when one gets frustrated speaking in the imported accent, the customer still does not understand what is being said. That is when I start talking in my natural accent."
At times it seems you are losing your identity by being someone else, says Kanishka and adds, "Even Amitabh Bachchan can act for not more than three hours in a movie but we are faking an accent and an identity continuously for eight hours. I guess we are better actors than him."
Thus while some trash the outsourcing backlash as a political gimmick in the race of Presidential elections in the US, others fear that the whip will crack on them any time.
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