The international call center industry has a mixed reputation. Many nations have seen Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) businesses set up, but not all have managed to achieve the huge success seen by BPO companies in the Philippines. In almost all cases this has been down to problems with communication.
Communication difficulties are the biggest single cause of complaints by customers about their experiences with offshore call centers. Most people can relate to a story of a long call made even longer because they were struggling to understand a heavily accented call agent, or being forced to repeat and re-word their questions and requests before they were finally understood and their call resolved.
Part of the success of BPOs in the Philippines has been the high level of English fluency in the country. However, the cultural influence of the west is a hidden part of this. Many countries can, like the Philippines, boast of an educated population with a high proportion of English speakers. However, true fluency is usually only attained with a knowledge of not just language, but also of culture.
Formal language tuition is just that: formal. It’s not uncommon for someone speaking English as a second language to have a better understanding of formal grammar than a native English speaker. The native English speaker, however, knows the rules intuitively and can also break them or hear them being broken without losing, and sometimes even adding, meaning and understanding. Think of Yoda’s broken syntax and how hearing it carries with it not just the meaning of the words, but meanings from an entirely different galaxy.
It’s the shared cultural understanding that makes this possible. And BPO vendors in the Philippines benefit from this because of the country’s history, especially its connections with the USA throughout much of the twentieth century, and the ongoing cultural exchange between the Philippines and the west.
These benefits are felt particularly strongly in metropolitan areas where the population tends to have higher proportions of highly educated and English-fluent staff. Companies like Manila-based PITON-Global benefit from this by being able to recruit highly educated staff who can communicate effortlessly with English-speaking customers, while not being thrown by slang or idioms. While these staff command higher salaries, they provide excellent value because through better communication, they give customers, BPO companies in the Philippines and their clients better outcomes, and that’s good for everyone.