In the UK at least, a backlash has begun. Call centres are so unpopular that a recent YouGov poll revealed that just 4 per cent of people have had a positive experience when dealing with a call centre. Over half of those asked said their biggest gripe was having to contact call centres outside of the UK and more than a third admitted to shouting and swearing at agents down the phone.
In fact, so irritated are UK residents with overseas call centres that some companies are basing marketing campaigns on the fact that their centres are based on home soil. Natwest's latest advertising campaign guarantees that customers will speak to people in Barnsley or Cardiff, rather than Bombay or Calcutta.
In recent months British firms including Powergen and AA have announced that they are bringing call centres back to the UK. Insurers Esure has also announced it is doing the same, with boss Peter Wood reportedly commenting that the trend for outsourcing is doomed.
Claudia Hathway, editor of Call Centre Focus (CCF) magazine, says that the reason many call centres don't work out is poor planning. Talking to the BBC, she said: "Many companies just didn't think the move through. It was all driven by cost, not the customer. But what's the point of saving money when a poor phone call is the first-hand experience of the quality of service. If it is a bad experience, people are not going to buy."
But Adrian Web of Esure claims that xenophobia may play a role in customers' hostility to overseas centres. "Some people definitely had a certain mindset and decided the call was going to be bad before they'd even dialled the number.
"I don't know why that should be, but when customers start voting with their feet you have to respond. You cannot fight against what the customer wants."
However, CCF's Hathaway says that poor quality service is an issue, too. "Initially a lot of people did view the overseas call centres as taking British jobs and didn't like it, but the fact that they do not get a good service is the issue now."
Branding expert Jonathan Gabay claims that dissatisfaction with foreign call centres has reached such a point that some companies have done irrevocable harm to their image because once customers are lost, they can be virtually impossible to win back. "A brand's success is about the relationship between the customer and the company," he says. "Anything that takes it apart, like a third party, makes that relationship less intimate," he says.
BBC, Call Centre Focus magazine
Review by Nick Loney