Lack of fluency in spoken English blamed
After getting their licences only three and a half years ago, more than 80 per cent of the country’s call centres have gone out of business. This has created a void in the potential sector, which was supposed to fetch a considerable amount of foreign currency every year, leaving it unutilised and unexplored.
According to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), licences were issued to 426 companies in 2008 under the categories of call centres, hosted call centres and call centre service providers. Of them, 337 have surrendered their licences and do not operate any more. Among the rest, only 47 international and 19 local call centres are currently in operation. Last year, 55 international and 17 local agencies were operating.
Incidentally, steps have been taken by the authorities to fulfil three out of four demands that the BTRC, in a report, had placed before the parliamentary committee on the post and telecommunication ministry in June 2010, to take the call centres into the fast lane. The report noted that the sector could earn USD 5 billion a year.
The BTRC stressed the need for continuous power supply for licensed call centre service providers, dedicated subsidised broadband connection, arrangements for training of personnel in spoken English and alternative submarine cable connection in case of an emergency. As of now, the licensed call centres enjoy continuous power supply and are provided with a dedicated 50 per cent subsidised broadband connection. The government has made arrangements to get them connected to the alternative submarine cable, along with a back-up through the international terrestrial cable (ITC).
“Despite all these efforts, nothing has been done to train agents so that they can speak fluent English,” said Riazuddin Mosharaf, secretary general of the Bangladesh Association of Call Centre and Outsourcing (BACCO).
Mosharaf said that in 2010 the BTRC had proposed to establish a “call centre village”, like the IT parks that have taken the IT-enabled service (or ITES) sector to a new high in India. Last year, India earned USD 60 billion from the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector alone.
“But till now no such village has been established. Without proper training in English, we can’t get outbound calls that would bring foreign currency. Currently, 1,746 people are working in 47 international call centres of three categories – USA shift (11 p.m.-7 a.m.), UK shift (12 noon-8 p.m.) and Australia shift (6 a.m.-2 p.m.). Last year, the number was 1980,” Mosharaf added.
Mosharaf opined that the sector has been unable to attain even a fraction of its potential as both employers and employees still perceive it to be a part-time job. “As a result, mostly students take up call centre jobs for some extra money,” he said.
“The problem is that western countries just don’t buy things over telephone any more,” said Rashedul Islam, an agent of the Stamford Call Centre. He added that the West is yet to come out of the global economic meltdown.
“Our accent, though we try to keep it as American as possible, has made it extremely difficult for us to shoot sales. Some days ago, an American man scolded me and said that we are stealing their jobs while I was trying to score a sale”, he said.
Tawhid Hossain, finance secretary of the BACCO, said the stringent call centre regulatory act imposed by the BTRC has driven many centres out of business.
The BTRC, through a circular on October 4, 2011, had forbidden the operation of international and domestic call centres on the same premises, fearing that such a practice would prompt the call centre to go for illegal voice over internet protocol (VoIP) call termination.
“Most entrepreneurs in this sector don’t have the capital to go for separate set-ups for inbound and outbound calls. So they just switched to other business”, he said.
Maj. Gen. Jia Ahmed, chairman of the BTRC, said that in 2008, entrepreneurs used the economic boom to get call centre licences.
But most of those “enthusiastic” entrepreneurs are nowhere on the scene now, as they didn’t have sufficient knowledge about international and domestic markets, business strategies, he added.
He observed that none of the potential operators had addressed the issue of spoken English. “We’ve done our part by reducing the price of bandwidth and ensuring continuous power and internet connection. Now it’s up to the entrepreneurs to engage competent call centre agents”, he said.
-With The Independent input