Business Process Outsourcing or BPO centres started mushrooming in Gurgaon a little more than five years ago — promising youngsters the good life with career growth, perks and fat salaries. What made it all very attractive was the fact that one required only a graduation degree and a not-so-gruelling selection process to make it to the swanky work floor of a call centre. Then came the stories of stressed out executives and unearthly working hours, and other negative reports that made a person think twice before joining a BPO. And the slowdown made it worse.
There are, however, many who have stuck around in BPOs, people who say they would not want to do anything else. Ahmad Siddiqui, who joined a leading BPO firm just under three years ago, says he is content. “We get good money, food and transport are taken care of. I will continue working in a BPO company all my life. It is a very good career.”
NASSCOM stats state that more than 1.1 million people are employed in the BPO industry in India, with a big number below the age of 30. The industry is expected to employ 2.5-3 million by 2010, contributing to 7-8 per cent of the national income.
“The capital BPOs that aren’t dependent on other companies still have loads to to offer. Companies like IBM, Accenture and Cognizant are not hostage to the outside projects,” says V Suresh, senior vice-president and sales head, naukri.com.
Even Infosys has indicated that it would honour its commitment to hire 18,000 students who pass in July 2009.
Gaining the edge
So who can make it to a BPO? Those with a technical background along with good communication skills always have an edge. Prateek Sharma (name changed), who got a networking diploma from a private institute after his graduation, managed to get a good job in Convergys in Gurgaon in 2007. He says, “At the entry level and even at the senior level, executives with technical knowledge are paid more. We solve the technical queries of foreign clients.”
Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), which is offshoring of knowledge-intensive business processes, requires domain expertise, e.g in law, medicine or finance. A KPO employee is expected to have better qualifications, skills and knowledge compared to his/her BPO counterpart.
What’s it about?
A customer care executive (also known as agent) works in a BPO centre, an offshore unit for ‘client’ companies based in the US, UK and Australia. The executive answers calls made by the client company’s customers. For instance, in the case of a telecommunication company based in the UK, an agent sitting in Gurgaon answers calls made by British customers.
Before an agent is put on the job, s/he gets product, voice and accent training. Products can range from mobile services or Internet or computer systems, and voice and accent training helps the trainee deal with/be comprehensible to foreign callers.
How do I get there?
Any graduate who cracks the written test and interview can grab a job in a BPO company. Walk-in interviews are held often. One can also apply through a placement agent.
In the written test: Questions are of Class X level and cover English, quantitative aptitude and logical reasoning.
In the interview: Spoken English is tested. A candidate is made to narrate his/her life experiences. Some of the most common questions in BPO interviews include: Tell us about your college life; the last movie you saw and narrate its story
Institutes & URLs
IGNOU: It has recently started a six-month online course in BPO in collaboration with Accenture.
NIIT Uniqua: It runs a programme in collaboration with Genpact to train students
Hero Mindmine: It gives certificates approved by the BPO Certification Institute (BCI)
'Domestic BPO is the next big thing in this sector'
With stability, the industry is ready to become more self-sufficient
There have been several changes in the industry in the past 10 years. Earlier, a job in a BPO (call centre) was considered a stop-gap arrangement for most job seekers. Has the scenario changed?
Now a majority of the youngsters who come for an interview want to join the industry for the long haul. The BPO industry has become stable now after the dramatic growths until 2003-04.
Can youngsters still make a long-term career in the industry without earning a management degree?
Yes, certainly. One can even reach the senior position of an assistant vice president (AVP) without a management degree. If you have the right attitude and are eager to assume responsibilities, you are bound to grow very fast.
What are the qualities one must have to make it big here?
At the entry level, one can join with/without any noteworthy skill as we don’t look for a specific set of skills. We have some established processes within which one is supposed to work. For example, if someone has an infotech background, they will have to undergo our training anyway.
To grow in the long run, one must have the ability to learn newer skills. If one is engaged in customer service, one shouldn’t be averse to moving to back-office operations or to the collection process. Not only across processes, movement between departments like operations, training, quality and HR is normal, too.
Now that the industry has stability, what is the next big thing?
I believe it’s the concept of domestic call centres that is gaining ground and is likely to make it big in the coming days.
Interviewed by Vimal Chander Joshi