Once considered the call-centre capital of the world, India has lost out to the Philippines. In five years, 10 per cent of Indioa's share of global outsourced voice-related services was lost to the Philippines.

If you call customer service, it is more likely now that you will end up speaking to a Mike in Manila, rather than Dhruv in Delhi.

And the reasons for this hang up are many – industry experts said Filipinos have better communication skills, and they speak English in a way that can be better understood by more people.

Dheeren Singh, manager at GNXT Recruiters, said: "If I talk about the problems, the problem is communication, their accent. People from other countries are not able to understand. Apart from this, our government is not helpful at all. Infrastructure is a problem as well."

High costs of land and office rental have also put pressure on the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in India. Call centres are especially vulnerable, since a typical business will need space for 150 to 200 employees.

Staff attrition is high, and companies said they lost many international clients because they do not have enough qualified people for the job. Part of the reason for that is low salaries and late night shifts.

Mr Singh added: "Women and youth, they don't want to get into BPOs because it is a very tough job. We have seen many incidents in the past as well, where a girl is working at night and she doesn't feel safe, so people don't want to join BPOs. They have other industries, which is in the daytime — they prefer to join those sectors."

Still, there are some who believe the call centre industry can return to its high-growth days — with government support, better infrastructure and training facilities.

DS Rawat, secretary general of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, said: "I think we have a bright chance if we concentrate on three things — strengthen our infrastructure and create world-class infrastructure, particularly in the states; we create the Human Resource Development centres; and we really need to become aggressive to bring some of the top companies."

Many companies dealing in BPO are starting to move away from voice-related services — partly because it is not easy to change the Indian accent, but also because it will be hard to compete with the Philippines, which has a well-educated workforce and cultural affinity to the US, where many of the calls originate.


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