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Customer Service Filipino Style
Filipinos are very good English speakers. Any English-speaking tourist can take directions from a child on the streets here. True there would be a lot of gesticulation but more often than not they'd make it to their destination. After being rescued from the Japs in the second world war, we have always looked up to the Americans. We housed their biggest overseas military bases for decades after the war ending only in the 1990s. English has been the medium of instruction from liberation onwards. In fact we were under American rule for four years before we gained real independence though it never looked that way (there was a struggle but very little was written about the pocket wars with the Americans in the countryside on any history book).
So its really no surprise that English is much more than a second language to us and in here, if your English is passable you are assured work in a call center or a business process outsourcing company. The industry started in the late 1980s and it has provided millions of work and, fed over triple that number of mouths. I'd say this industry is instrumental in keeping the economy afloat along with the domestic helpers and nurses that we export to all parts of the world. Now we're hearing that some sectors of the American society resent that these jobs are getting outsourced to India or Asia. We were told that its all about the bottomlime, that it was just good business sense for companies to farm out their customer support department in places where labor is cheaper. I doubt if workers in the U.S. would accept the wages we are getting paid here. But for us here, call center work would be up there with bank jobs or office work in terms of pay, sometimes outsourcers pay even more. Plus we get all sorts of additional benefits like the night differential, hazard pay, clothing allowance and a fairly good health plan, a lot of incentive programs and fun activities inside and outside of work.
Anyone from a high school graduate to a retiree, who can speak English and find their way around a computer and an Avaya phone can build a career in call centers. International companies favor the Philippines because of our natural flair for customer service. We are a polite people, very proper and very hospitable. These are traits we inherited from our Spanish conquistadores of three centuries.
The industry changed the way we live our lives, we didn't have a lot of companies that operate 24-7 and so most nights the streets of the central business district of Makati are quiet and still. The industry changed all that, now the streets are never empty. There would always be a cluster of call center reps either chatting or smoking outside of the office buildings at all hours. Fast food chains operated 24-7 as well and there are a number of bars that stay open until midday to cater to those coming out of the graveyard shift. Time was when reps are trained to acquire and American accent and was strictly instructed never to mention that they are from the Philippines. Later on we'd be free to say we are in a satellite office in Asia. “Where in Asia...?” they'd ask, “Southeast Asia...” we'd answer, sometimes they would come back with “Where in Southeast Asia...?”, then we'd say ”the Philippines”. Oftentimes we'd get Filipino customers calling in and they'd ask if we could talk in Filipino, to which we'd reply that it is perfectly fine for them to speak Filipino but we're constrained to respond in English.
I never thought I could build a career in a call center. I've held five jobs since 1993 and in 2006 at 36 I applied for a call center as a customer service rep for an email account (i tried for a voice account – taking calls – but that didn't work out very well because I couldn't talk and click away on the computer at the same time, I suck at multi-tasking really...). I'm on my third year in the company now and I recently made shift supervisor overseeing 70 or so reps. A 37-year-old would be considered overt-the-hill in terms of careers here in the Philippines. In this industry however, the hits just keep on coming. I might just make junior executive yet, then I would be the oldest junior exec in our company hehehe this is like the Curious Case of Benjamin Button in reverseI! My favorite topic when I huddle the teams is how easy it really is to get ahead in the company if they work hard enough and that it could only be good for them because as one rises up the ladder, the work hours get better and the workload goes down as the pay goes up. Life is great these past months, I have more time in my hands than I know what to do with. Of course I still work like a horse but somehow early retirement is starting to look really attractive. I had this great idea of making tons of cash from home writing on the net, I haven't really planted the seeds for this idea yet, I'm just soaking it in.