Teleperformance Opens India Center as Industry Shifts to Asia

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Teleperformance USA, a subsidiary of French worldwide teleservices conglomerate SR. Teleperformance, opened its first call center in India this month, making it the latest firm to set up an operation in Asia.


Teleperformance USA already has a presence in Canada, the Philippines and the Caribbean, and that experience helped the company in its move to India.


"India was the next step," said Dominic Dato, president/CEO of Teleperformance USA. "It allowed us to expand the diversity of our offshore offerings."


The new call center is in the Gurgaon Business District in the province of Haryana, near the city of New Delhi. Though the 500-seat facility represents new ground for Teleperformance USA, Asia is becoming familiar turf for the teleservices industry.


The late 1990s marked the start of a migration of teleservices firms from the United States, where a decade of economic boom made labor scarce, to international locations with a deeper labor pool and lower labor costs. In the past year or so, much of the industry's attention has turned to India, Pakistan and the surrounding region.


The events of Sept. 11 and its aftermath have done little to stem the tide of companies moving overseas. Since September, major players such as Convergys and ATEC Group have opened call centers in India, and American Express moved 110 jobs from a center in Utah to a facility in the Philippines.


Asia remains compelling despite heightened security concerns mainly because of the savings teleservices firms can realize through Asian locations.


Teleperformance USA would not disclose how much it stood to save by operating in India. But Outsource2India.com, a Web site that encourages U.S. businesses to outsource back-end services to Indian companies, says that labor costs for call centers in India are one-tenth of those found in the United States. Average annual per-agent costs are $5,000, according to the Web site.


Teleservices firms also are finding that the move to Asia is less difficult than it might seem. English is widely spoken in India, Pakistan and the Philippines, and recent advances in telecommunications technology have made it cost-effective to route calls from U.S. consumers to locations in Asia and back.


Furthermore, in today's global economy, companies are more experienced at moving operations overseas, making for an easier transition.


Each region in Asia has its advantages, said Amit Shankardass, enterprise solutions officer with Nashville, TN-based ClientLogic, which is preparing to open an Indian call center. For example, the population of the Philippines speaks a version of English familiar to American ears, while Indian call center agents speak a British version and must undergo accent-neutralization training when handling U.S.-based calls.


Still, crime and political violence are major issues. Dato said his company maintains a high level of security at its worldwide locations and will use those practices at the India location. Security guards, surveillance cameras and keycard entrances are the norm.


"We're committed to our employees and our customers," Dato said. "We've taken the necessary steps to secure our employees and our property."


One factor U.S. firms cannot change is the time difference between Asia and the United States, which forces call centers in Asia to operate at unusual hours to serve U.S. customers.


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