Second only to India in terms of scale, the Philippines' customer service outsourcing industry in is growing, offering well-educated English speakers willing to work the night shift.
MANILA — The Philippines is increasingly the new destination of choice for international companies wanting to outsource their call centers.
In a room lined with rows of computers, everyone here is wearing a headset and is busy answering phone calls from other parts of the globe, working all night long while everybody else is asleep.
Jana Kleibert, a lecturer from the University of Amsterdam, explains the advantage of using Filipino call centers. "The main attraction lies in the fact that there is a very large talented work force that is English-speaking — and English-speaking with an accent that is very understandable, especially to North Americans," she says. "The second thing is the work force is also well educated, which makes it easier to transfer service-based tasks. And there's a cultural affinity with North America that also helps in communicating and performing customer services."
According to The Wall Street Journal, Philippine outsourcing is second only to India in terms of scale. A story in the newspaper recently noted that outsourcers there have hired their one millionth employee after emerging as a new industry 10 years ago. The business generated $16 billion in revenue last year, or 6% of the national GDP.
Put another way, the call-center industry in the Philippines is now the third-largest dollar earner after tourism and remittances and is able to offer salaries of at least $400 a month.
Maria Concepcion Andres, 24, is a communications graduate who joined the call-center industry four years ago. "To be quite honest, it's really for the pay," she says. "From what I'd experienced before with local jobs, they give you a very low salary, and the benefits are not very competitive. Foreign companies that are based here give better benefits, so I prefer to work for them than for local companies."
But it comes with a great deal of stress, says Louie Delostrico, another call-center worker. "First of all, this means sleeping during daytime because you have to work during nighttime," she says. "And then there are the customers themselves, because a lot of them are irate. You need a lot of patience, especially when a customer is swearing at you, using profane language."
There are health consequences, says Leian Marasigan, a researcher on labor issues at the University of the Philippines. "It's the nature of the work," Marasigan says. "You answer calls all the time. There are adverse health impacts — on the throat, for example — and then of course, there's the stress of dealing with angry customers most of the time because this is customer service."
One advertisement from a leading call-center company describes its workers as a new breed of heroes for sacrificing their family and social lives to contribute to the country's economy and their families' welfare.
Unusual working hours means having fun at strange times of the day. It's 9 a.m. and Rory Zachs has just finished bowling after work with his colleagues. "I come to work at 10 p.m.," he says. "I stay all night like everybody else and work very hard. But if you don't mind I'm going to cut this discussion short now — because I'm going to go to sleep."